Posts Tagged ‘student voice’
Archaic Ways of Teaching Grammar
We construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.
Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages. As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn languages.
It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better. Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum. (Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?)
Learning Needs a Context
I often discuss and blog about teaching content within a context, that learning needs a context. . .
How often have students been asked to memorize mass amounts of facts – historical dates, vocabulary words, science facts; get tested on them, just to forget almost all those memorized facts a week or two later? Given that is this learning experience is more common than not, why do educators insist on continuing this archaic and ineffective instructional practice?
The visual image I use to describe this is that there are all of these unconnected facts floating around in the learner’s brain. Since they have nothing to connect to, they end up flying away. This is especially true for abstract concepts including memorizing grammar rules.
The key to increased understanding is providing a context for the facts and the rules. The context becomes the glue to increase the stickiness, the longevity of long term memory of those facts and rules. This is especially true for abstract concepts such as grammar rules. These concepts need something concrete with which to attach.
Providing a Context for Grammar Instruction
I teach gifted elementary level classes with a good portion of the students being English Language Learners. This translates into ELA grammar making even less sense for them than for English only learners. I do a lot of maker education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and STEAM (adding arts to it) activities with them, and ask them to document their learning through taking photos and blogging about those activities using their Chromebooks. Because of the article about grammar and talking with the school’s literacy coach, I decided to bring grammar-in-context into my classrooms. How I’ve done this is through projecting individual blog posts onto the Smartboard. The writer of the blog opens his or her blog post in an editing mode. Another learner reads the blog post out loud. The rest of the learners make suggestions for improvement as it is read out loud. I help guide them asking questions like:
- Does that sound right?
- Is that the correct verb for that noun?
- What tense should that verb be?
- What type of punctuation in the different pauses?
- Is that spelling correct?
- Is that possessive? If so, what is the punctuation?
. . . and again, these questions and the suggested edits are done in the context of the individual learners’ blog posts that have already been composed.
Here is an example of one such blog prior to editing:
. . . and here is the edited version:
It is not perfect but, as can be seen, is much better.
Some of my observations from this process that I noted includes:
- Learners eagerly volunteer to have their blog posts reviewed. First, they really enjoy having their posts read out loud. Second, I believe this is also due to the focus being on improving their means to communicate better not for a grade.
- The learners know that their blogs are viewed by their own classmates and their sister school (I teach gifted education at two schools and have opened my Kidblog to both schools to view one another’s posts). They have authentic audiences and what to present their best selves.
- As it becomes a group exercise, the other class members seem to enjoy the challenge and become engaged in offering corrections and improvements.
- To keep up the motivation and make it manageable, I only do 2 or 3 during any giving sitting.
This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level. This actually is a definition of differentiation.
Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)
One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.
Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning. Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:
Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?
Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?
The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do. The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.
Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.
Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.
I believe it is every educator’s responsibility to help insure that learners are addressing the following questions during each school day:
- What questions am I asking today?
- What answers am I seeking today?
- What am I exploring today?
- What am I making today?
- What am I finding exciting today?
- How am I playing and having fun today?
- How am I using failure to inform my learning today?
- What am I doing today to cooperate with others?
- How am I documenting my learning today?
- How am I sharing with others what I am learning today?
- What am I doing today that has the potential to benefit the world?
This piece was actually sparked by an interview of Lady Gaga by Soledad O’ Brien at the Born This Way Emotion Revolution Summit where Gaga stated, “It’s time to stop telling learners what to do and start listening for we can do for them.”
One of those accepted practices, sadly, in most educational settings is that the teacher is the authority to be respected and listened to without question. Listening to students is not a practice that is often taught in teacher education programs.
There is a current movement, in some circles, to promote and honor student voice. But, and this is a huge but, if educators are serious about honoring student voice, they need to first learn how to listen, really listen to their students.
Students who are given a voice in setting goals gain ownership in what they’re learning. Teachers who listen to what students tell them they need to learn gain more than just a better understanding of the children they teach — they gain clarity on their roadmap to better teaching. And when conversations about teaching and learning are allowed to happen, teachers and students develop mutual trust and high expectations. (Want to Improve Teaching? Listen to Students)
Sadly, upon doing a Google search about why’s and how’s on educators listening to students, I found very little on the topic. It really gives the message – reinforces that teachers listening to students is not seen as part of best classroom practices. So my goal of this post is to offer some suggestions on how to listen to learners.
Listening Skills for Educators
- Attend to the speaking learner with an open mind; without any agenda except to just listen.
- Use body language and nonverbal cues that demonstrate a focus on the speaking learner.
- Practice empathy skills with both verbal and nonverbal responses.
- Engage in informal conversations encouraging learners to talk about non-school related topics.
- Summarize what you heard the learner saying.
- Reflect back to the learner what you believe to be the thoughts and feelings behind the stated message.
- Ask open-ended questions if and when you don’t understand what the learner is saying and/or if you need further information.
- Inquire about how learners connect to their learning; about their metacognitive strategies.
Benefits of Listening to Learners
The benefits of encouraging and listening to student voices, and then acting upon what they say include:
- Positive classroom culture which can lead to a positive school culture,
- Improved teaching and learning,
- Better teacher-student relationships,
- Learners see themselves as active partners in their own education; they become more invested in their learning,
- Learners feeling that they are in a safe environment where they are willing and able to express concerns, ask questions, ask for help, take risks.