Tag Archives: students

What Students Want

31 Jan

For the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to and reading a number of articles on education,  specifically schools in America, as I prepare my return to the United States after having taught overseas for almost 10 years.

What I’ve come across has left me hopeful and optimistic despite the grim statistics and the general consensus that the American education system is in crisis. What stood out for me are the numerous creative solutions that individuals are employing to transform teaching – one student at a time.

In many of the government studies and reports that I came across, ‘reforming’, ‘improving’ and ‘fixing’ what is wrong with today’s schools focused on issues dealing with teachers, tools and testing. While these are undeniably important components of education, rarely did reports incorporate students’ concerns, desires, and vision.

I came across a video on YouTube presented by a high school senior sharing the top ten expectations that students have of schools.

Technology, creativity, and choice were expectations that were expressed by the students on the video and also by a number of students across America when eSchool News asked its readers “What’s the one thing you hear most often from students about what they want in school?” Knowing that the student population is one that is quite diverse at many levels (race, ethnicity, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, language, interest, abilities, learning styles and learning needs), I decided to take a small poll of the student population that I teach in Hanoi. In response to the question, “What do you want from school?” The top five answers were:

  1. More interactive technology
  2. Less boring subjects
  3. More choice
  4. More time to reflect on what I learn
  5. More explanation of why I need to learn what I am learning and how it will help ME in the future

My students’ responses were overwhelmingly similar to those given by students across America. What these answers undeniably suggest is that despite their uniqueness and diversity, students everywhere want the same things from their education, and if we were dig a little deeper, we would find that what they really want is to have ownership of and feel connected to their learning experiences; in other words, what students want and what they should have is Student Centered Learning or SCL.

What is Student Centered Learning?

Student Centered Learning (SCL) places the student at the center of the learning process. As such, students influence the content, materials, activities, and pace of learning.  SCL inspires and motivates. It allows for choice while presenting students with active learning opportunities. Working in a team in an SCL environment develops communication and collaborative skills. In-depth thinking about a subject promotes critical thinking and ensures long-term retention. This model of instruction results in a deeper understanding of a subject and a positive attitude toward learning in general. SCL awakens, once again, the curiosity that human beings have but often forget to employ. It opens up the doors of creativity and allows for different styles of learning. SCL encourages students to become independent learners and ultimately to be in charge of their own education.

In this shift from teaching to learning, teachers become mentors that provide students with opportunities to learn independently and from one another, guiding and coaching them on different skills that can help them best achieve their learning goals. In an SCL classroom, parents and community members are tutors and mentors, sharing in their passion and expertise while providing connection and real-world applications for learning.

Technology facilitates the delivery of information and complements student centered learning. It makes individualized instruction feasible and tailored information delivery achievable.

Looking at all the benefits that Student Centered Learning offers to learners, why is it not then the pedagogy of choice? For the next few blogs, I will be looking at the role of teachers, existing teaching tools, as well as the role of testing in today’s schools, and how they can each, with a little tweaking, make teaching about learning.

At the end of the school year…

16 Jun

At the end of the academic year, it is good to take time to reflect on the progress made in one’s teaching, the challenges encountered, and the vision and goals one holds for the next academic year. Teaching is a unique profession in that it allows us a fresh start at the beginning of each academic year and reflection ensures that we are continually growing in our teaching career.

As I reflect back to this year, I find myself pondering the question what does it mean to be a teacher? Is being a teacher in Hanoi different from being a teacher in Dubai, Chicago or Montreal or any other city? Has my role as a teacher changed from the time I first taught in 1986?

It is a known fact that good teaching encompasses the development of a child as a whole and is, without doubt, a very challenging and demanding profession. After parents, teachers play the most vital role in shaping a child’s character and molding future generations.

In a funny and inspiring talk on TED Talks Education, Rita Pierson addresses the question of what is good teaching. She urges teachers to build relationships with their students. Good teaching, she points out, is about human connections and the building of significant relationships. She shares examples from her own experience of teaching and that of her mother reminding us once again that the influence that a teacher has on students goes beyond the imparting of knowledge or the teaching of concepts and skills.

 

As I reflect back on this year and all of my previous years, I know that teaching has not changed for me. From the onset of my career as a teacher, it has always been about my students’ overall well-being. In Hanoi or in any other city, teaching for me has been about cultivating my students’ curiosity, motivating and inspiring them to be the best they can be, and always reminding them that they have all that they need to be anything they wish to be.

Rita Pierson talks about children needing a champion, someone who does not give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and who insists that they become the best they can be. What I have learned in my 20 years of teaching is that I can be that champion in my students’ lives.

As I step back and reflect on this academic year, I know that every one of my students learned one thing well and that is that they are special human beings who mattered greatly to me. In time, they may not remember all the English words I taught them but I am certain they will always remember how I made them feel.