Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Industrial Age Is Over

by AJ

Littky made another great point... about restructuring schools. Our current systems are based on a factory model. Hordes of students roll down the education assembly line. Workers (teachers) see them for a short time... assemble a specialized bit of knowledge for them (English, in my case), then send them down the line to the next worker.

The students have no real connection to the teacher; and the teacher has no real connection to the students. We dont have enough time to really know them as human beings. We dont have time to explore their deep interests and passions. We dont have time to meet with them one on one on a regular basis.

Its a dehumanizing approach... students are treated like machines, not human beings. Its not great for the teachers either-- we are treated as mindless factory workers.

Restructuring (that is to say, total destruction followed by rebuilding) is imperative. Someday I may have the necessary money... and willingness to stay in one place for a while.. to create my own school. Ill do it right.

But until then, I must twist and subvert the organizations I work in.

Given the constraints of working in a traditional school... what can I do?
Some ideas:

1. Get Help! As mentioned before, Ive got too many students and not enough time to attend carefully to all of them. So I need help. I need volunteers. I need interns. I need mentors. I need partners. Finding and recruiting them is a key part of my job.

2. Individualize the curriculum as much as possible. Ive tried this a little with my BAS class. Each student created their own learning goals and plan. Every few weeks I have a short conference with each student to discuss their goals and progress. They also post to their blogs every week, so I can keep up to date with them in that way too. This has worked very well.... so I want to take it further.

One way is the open class approach I mentioned. For those (very) few students who are super motivated.. I will offer them the opportunity for lots of free classes... this way I can see those students much more often.

Ill also have more of my students do blogs.. as its a good tool for learning about them, encouraging them, practicing writing, making connections, etc...

Ill institute a menu approach for assignments... allowing each student to tailor their syllabus to their own preferences.

Ill use personal learning goals and individual mini-conferences with ALL of my classes.

3. Continuing Ed
The main reason Im prototyping an online course is to offer continuing English input for my students after they leave my class. The super-motivated ones can continue to learn after the semester ends by being in the online self-study course. In this way, I can keep in touch... and they can move towards total learning autonomy.

4. Prioritize
I hate to say it, but some classes have more potential than others... due to the constraints imposed by the school. This semester, for example: My BAS class offers the most potential. Im in complete control of the content, curriculum, evaluation, and assignments.

On the other hand, I have very little influence on my English for Russian Studies class. Another teacher determined the curriculum and evaluation. My co-teacher determines assignments and grades. Furthermore, the students are far less motivated to learn English.

I could spend equal energy on both... but I believe in picking your battles. I know I (and my students) will get a much better return on invested energy by putting more energy into the BAS class and less into the Russian Studies class. So, I tend to cruise with the Russian class... dont try much new or different.

And I focus the bulk of my energies where I will make the biggest impact (BAS class & others to varying degrees). I recommend this approach for teachers who have many classes with lots of students. You can't be everything to everyone.

5. Hang Out
The formal "I am Lord Teacher and you are lowly students" approach makes it impossible to individualize learning. I detest that mindset. One of the easiest and most effective ways to develop individual rapport with students is to simply hang out. This might take the form of in-class parties (I encourage my students to bring food and drink). It might mean after class parties or outings. It might mean a weekly "study session" for any/all interested students. In the States, a few grad school professors were fond of having a drink at a pub with their students. A coffee would work just as well with underage students. In fact, why not move the classroom to a local coffee shop every now and then?

All of these ideas... and more to come... have the same goal: to interact with students as individual human beings. Its no longer helpful or effective to treat them all the same (if it ever was).

Good business managers treat their team members as individuals and help each person reach their unique potential. Great coaches recognize and develop the unique talents of each player (can you imagine a coach who treated all players exactly the same... ie. "I know you are a striker, but you have to practice being a goal keeper too, just like everyone else").

Great teachers likewise recognize and develop the unique talents of each of their students.. and do not force them to be the same.