Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, January 13, 2006

Next Step: Customization

by AJ

This week I FINALLY got into a flow with my students. We've got a basic daily routine of TPR Storytelling, Textbook (unfortunately :(, Authentic articles, and Interview/Discussions. While Ive got a lot of work to do to improve my use of these techniques.. things are basically going well.

So far so good. But there's one BIG problem. This is a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Im doing exactly the same thing with all of the students. They all read the same article, do the same stories, and work through the same activities. Which is fine to a point. But...... I want the class to evolve a step further.

Here's a quote from Dennis Littky about the direction I hope to go:

"Most schools are boring and irrelevant for a great deal of students. Our underlying principle is to take one student at a time and try to help them find their passions and their interests. And then allow them to find people in the community to help them with those passions and those interests.

And so every student has their own curriculum. There is a reason why we have such a high attendance rate, why we have a low dropout rate—it's because students get to work around something that's very important to them.

We have a school where probably 98 percent of the students will talk to you about a passion they have. They will talk about loving animals and working in the zoo and doing research on penguins. Or they will talk about their love of music, and working in a music studio with a Brown professor. And then we get them to read, write, and think around that.

The students actually create products related to their passion. The students working in the music studio would create a CD of their band, or the student working in the zoo might create a proposal to the zoo staff about what kinds of habitats they need to develop in order to support the acquisitions of new animals they're considering. So, it's real products."

Im now in the perfect setting to try this approach. When at Thammasat University, I had several large classes... perhaps 150-200 total students per semester. No way I could take an individualized approach with them.

But I now have only one class of about 12 students. And I see them everyday for four hours. Its an ideal setting for a customized approach.

After reading several interviews with Littky, I think the key (for me) will be connections. Part of Littky's success is a result of the excellent volunteer mentors that work with his school. Obviously, one teacher cannot be an expert on everything. Ive got students who are interested in cooking, hip-hop dance, music, custom cars, ballet, salsa dancing. I have no expertise with any of these subjects.

What I need to do is find experts in each of these areas, recruit them as volunteers, and pair them with the appropriate students. I then need to work with the mentor & student to map out research and projects related to their interests... including a means of presenting what they learn to the rest of the class.

Will this completely replace other class activities (TPRS, articles for the whole class, etc.)? No, of course not.

But I do envision custom learning activities gradually absorbing more class time.