Features of the Visual and Active
Portfolio Method – Steve McCrea
I came to know that “there is another way” after trying to teach 6 classes of 20 kids, 45 minutes per class. The focus was on presenting the material efficiently and effectively. The Madeleine Hunter method of teaching is the standard of “good teaching.”
The research by Howard Gardner makes it clear that the Hunter method is effective in ensuring that more than one teaching method is used and more than one learning style is given a chance to “latch onto” the material.
However, most people who study Gardner have not gone one step farther. They didn’t read pages 161 and following about how to evaluate the learning.
Even we who have taking the RSA course for CELTA (teaching English to Adults) have a false sense of knowing what to do next after presenting the material of the day. We know we have to check understanding and then move on to connect the material to real examples in English for practice. The effort is designed to ensure that materials are presented to a variety of learning styles.
However, let’s take a moment to breathe and reflect on the purpose of the language school (and on any class): it is not to present an effective curriculum. The purpose of a school is to meet the needs of each individual student. The idea expressed by Gardner and put into action by Dennis Littky is to ensure that teaching changes to meet the needs of the individual student. The steps include:
Adding an element of relationship.
(mobile phone and email contacts, invitations to lunch or snacks outside the classroom)
Building the curriculum from relevance . (What does the student want to know or learn?)
Creating opportunities to learn through action, through performances of understanding and mentoring.
Evaluation is not through written tests but through recorded exhibition so that the student has to feel and see the gaps and know where the next step is. Through feedback from the teacher and (if the student isn’t shy) from the audience (and self evaluation after looking at the video), the student then knows the next layer of learning that needs to take place.
Independent Work Time takes up a larger part of the class schedule. Building a portfolio is more important than running through a check list of grammar and vocabulary (listen, speak, write, read). The expectations of the students are changed, because most people who go to Littky’s school have to be persuaded to see that studying only what you want to study will lead to a rigorous result.
How can effective teaching and “Teaching for Understanding” (the code phrase developed by Lois Hetland, Ed.D, a disciple of Howard Gardner) be accepted by students who have come to expect “traditional classrooms”?
Samples of a portfolio created by other students and standard “packages” showing what students have produced is a good example. Performances of Understanding can be produced at lower levels of proficiency, but this method is more obvious at advanced intermediate.
EVERY PART OF THE CLASS CAN BE VIDEOTAPED for later review (since some students find it difficult to take notes and pay attention). The videos can be converted to a video on CD at a rate of about 2 hours per 700 megabytes.
The key is found by making a parallel set of key standards. The Met Center, Littky’s group, does not teach Math, History, Science and English – they ask students to develop their own goals for qualitative and quantitative reasoning, empirical reasoning and communication. These areas can be supplemented with ESOL or EFL structure and the EFL teacher can restate what needs to be sought by the students. In the Visual and Active Method, the students learn skill areas or interest areas, not artificial "chapters" related to grammar and vocabulary.
(Some students will not accept this functional description of a language class, and they will need to pursue the making of a portfolio based on the structure of the textbook.)
We can see some similarities – and therefore the materials developed by Littky have some relevance to all methods of teaching. The Madeleine Hunter model remains in place (to support students who want structure) and the classes have a textbook and class time (as they do in the Littky school). The key focus is on asking the student to seek outside learning opportunities that are connected to their aspirations. An executive at a power plant in Japan should spend time touring a plant… but do more. He should sit and shadow the mentor. The chapter on Mentoring in Littky’s book shows that there is not always a burden of mentoring… there is a feeling of adding a dimension to the mentor’s job. “I get paid to show another person why I love my work.”
The focus for teachers could be on pushing and guiding students to develop a portfolio to show that students have demonstrated or performed understanding by making presentations. The exit portfolio can be a CD with performances on video showing basic skills of pronunciation and grammar (with students teaching units to the camera). The teacher can then ask students to go out to the “real world” to video themselves in situations with shopkeepers and volunteer situations.
BAD EXAMPLE of mentoring
I was studying Spanish in a small program in Chalchihuites, Mexico near Zacatecas and the program offered an “experience in real Mexico” working side by side Mexican employees. I filed cards for 3 hours in the city hall (no interaction with the staff). After the initial hand signals I didn’t have to talk or listen for the next three hours, yet I was “immersed” in the culture of the work place.
GOOD EXAMPLE of mentoring
One of my students, Johana, said that she loves being corrected by young kids. “They tell you exactly the truth.” The EFL teacher (Mr. Mac) got her the volunteer sheet for Virginia Shuman Young Magnet school and she plans to volunteer two hours next week in a school. That’s using English in a real sense. A photo of that opportunity or a video camera on Johana can be part of her portfolio.
Small cameras if the student doesn’t have a digital camera.
Burning software on a laptop in the school. It's best that the computer is NOT connected to the network.
Portfolio system (clear plastic sleeves with three punched holes for storage in a three ring binder) needs to be set up to engage the students.
List of potential mentoring and volunteering locations in the area of the school.
Most students learn another language better in a classroom that is visual and active.
Students can be pushed to create portfolios to show their understanding. (See Gardner, Littky and Hedland)
Students can be pushed to find relationships outside the classroom to pursue interests and build their vocabulary through use in mentorships and volunteering positions.
Video equipment will allow students to bring back information that they want to practice.
Video equipment in their home allow them to practice pronunciation and listening on computers (see the series of CDs that I distribute to my students).
For more information, write to VisualAndActive@gmail.com