Monday, June 4, 2007

Recommended Teaching Approaches to Ensure Student Learning

How can we improve student learning in urban schools or any school for that matter? Well, there is no magic bullet, so I won't pretend as if I have the answer. However, I do have are a few recommendations based on my experiences as a classroom observer and resource assistant to a science teacher at a metropolitan urban high school in the Midwest United States. The high school was more reminiscent of "Fair Eastside" than anything. Almost every student received free lunch, the drop-out rate was about 50%, far too many of the students were parents, and gang-related violence was not at all uncommon. My first year at the school included 2 complete police lock-downs of the school ending only when several students had been arrested and were weapons discovered.

Most people ask: "How can students be expected to learn in such an environment?"
My answer is "Set high expectations for all students, especially for those young people who society, their neighbors, even their own families, expect to be failures. Expect the best from them, because the truest and purest potential resides as much in them as it does in the most affluent and well-prepared sub-urban students."

Recommendation #1. Set the tone early.
I favor non-traditional teaching approaches. Non-traditional means getting away from the chalk-talk or sage on the stage format of teaching. All teaching approaches, activities, etc. should begin with the end in mind, i.e., focus on what you would like for your students to learn, When introducing teaching approaches such as inquiry or problem-based learning, begin on the first day of class. Far too many students (urban, rural, and suburban) have become accustomed to teacher-centered experiences. Because of this, and their familiarity and ability to exploit such a system, they will not be apt to change. But give them time. Be firm. Reinforce expectations throughout the first few days or weeks of class.

Recommendation #2. Emphasize student responsibility.
Many people expect teachers to simply pour knowledge into a pupil's head. This is called the empty-vessel approach to teaching. No one is an empty vessel. Students have pre-conceived notions of lessons, may have been previously introduced to the material, may have some experience, and at the very least, has some serious mis-conceptions about the subject. So it is important to alert the students that learning is what pupils do. Teaching is what instructors do. And I believe that teachers should help facilitate learning. Help student erase incorrect notions and modify/revise incorrect or incomplete ideas about a subject. but it is imperative for everyone to understand one important thing: TEACHERS CANNOT MAKE STUDENTS LEARN. Students are responsible for reading, completing homework assignments, studying, etc. Challenge students to come to class prepared and to become critical thinkers.

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