Thursday, October 11, 2012

Part 2 Visual And Active Method with Portfolios and Projects

Part 2

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the purpose of the language school (and on any class):   A school does not exist 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:

a)  Adding an element of relationship.
(mobile phone and email contacts, invitations to lunch or snacks outside the classroom)

b)  Building the curriculum from relevance. (What does the student want to know or learn?)

c)  Creating opportunities to learn through action, through performances of understanding and mentoring..

d)  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.

e)  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 observers who visit 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 are a good way of presenting examples to “non-believers.”   Performances of Understanding can be produced at lower levels of proficiency, but this method is more obvious at intermediate and advanced levels.  
for later review (since some students find it difficult to make 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.  The portfolio system is flexible and lets each student define what is in the portfolio.)

We can see some similarities between the school in Rhode Island and our language school – 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.

Are you hungry?  Do you bring interesting things into the classroom to stimulate students into asking questions?

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.  Yuck.  It was safe because 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.  (This idea comes from Gardner, Littky and Lois 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).

Steve McCrea
Visual and Active Educational Consultants
+1 954 646 8246 
If you want to be trained to become a Visual and Active trainer or to receive the VATT certificate, contact us.   GO TO PART 3

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