Thursday, October 11, 2012

Part 1 Visual And Active Method with Portfolios and Projects

People ask me, “What happens in your classroom? 
Why do students like your class so much?”

I reply, “I read a book and I visited a remarkable school in Rhode Island.  I changed how I teach and I base my method on what I saw at that school.”
-- Steve McCrea

Here’s what I saw at the school:

  1. The teacher is an advisor.
  2. Each student has an individual plan (and the teacher also has a plan for the class)  -- sometimes teams of students work on different projects based on their interests. 
  3. Each student has a portfolio (showing his work)
  4. Tests are verbal and given by standing up and presenting information, then answering questions.
  5. Grades are written.  They are not numbers.  The teacher makes time to write a letter to each student.
  6. Former students are welcomed into the school and are considered mentors to the current group of students.  Alumni
  7. Students work with outside mentors.  “Learning through doing interesting projects” is the main idea.

PAPERWORK – Here are the worksheets that I give to students:

The Individual Education Plan:  The student tells me his goal for using English 5 years from now.  What will his job be?   The sheet gives homework (essays, dialog, pronunciation practice, vocabulary groups).

The Task List:  I encourage interruptions.  I give students permission to practice speaking while I’m speaking.  The Task List gives the students some ideas for interrupting me.

Structure of the Class:  This page helps students plan their work and participation in the class.  They know when they are expected to write and when they are asked to make a presentation.  The worksheet helps to address “passive” expectations that “the teacher knows what I’m supposed to be learning.” 

Break Out Of The Pentagon:  Most students go to five places (sleep, school, eat, beach and shopping) and they complain, “I never meet anyone.”  Well, here are places on this map that have told me, “Sure, ask your students to come to our store and volunteer.”

Other Features of the Visual and Active Classroom
Adding an element of relationship. 
(cell phone and email contacts, invitations to lunch or snacks outside the classroom)

(Some of Steve’s students using computers)
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 through recorded exhibition so that the student has to feel and see the gaps and know where the next step is. 

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).  We can discover the language practice in the projects that the student chooses to do.
I came to know that “there is another way” after trying to teach 6 classes of 20 kids, 50 minutes per class.   The focus in that traditional school was on how well the teacher presented the material, efficiently and effectively.  The Madeleine Hunter method of teaching is the standard of “good teaching.”  (Did the teacher deliver a solid, well-organized lesson?  Did the teacher achieve the objectives of the lesson?  Did the students produce the expected results?)  I was told to “teach to the middle 80 percent.  We’ll remediate the lower students and give extra work to the upper ten percent.”  One lesson for all students, one size fits all.

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 did not go one step farther.  They didn’t read the section following page 161 about how to evaluate the learning.   He calls for “a performance of understanding” and describes how students with different learning styles might benefit from being able to express their understanding in different ways.

Even we who have taking the RSA course for CELTA (Certificate for English Language Teaching 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 practice is usually effective in getting the student to make a clear sound and to using the form correctly.   The program is designed to ensure that materials are presented to a variety of learning styles.  CELTA is an effective way of reaching a variety of students – but the next step is to make the work personal.

go to part 2

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