A Teacher Hits the Target

A Teacher Hits the Target

I learned a lot about how to give learning a physical component from the late Christina Patterson. I had always been good at using manipulatives, getting people moving and so on, but Christina pushed physicality to a new level for me.

One year, near the beginning of term, she took a whole class to the local archery club for a morning of lessons from the club pro, followed by lunch.

When they all got back to the classroom, Christina got the discussion started with “What did you learn about hitting a target?” and made a list as students talked. Continue reading

Getting the Most out of Your Teacher

As August slips by, I’m reminded of activities that start the new year, which I put under the heading of “How to manage your teacher,” an essential skill for every student, at whatever level.

One year I asked my department head, the inimitable Vicki Noonan, to help me with an experiment. I said I couldn’t give her any details, but would she come in and give a presentation to my adult literacy class Continue reading

Not a Fairy Tale

Not a Fairy Tale

“Ruby slippers” by RadioFan at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

In a recent post I told the story of Naomi, who said “I pass” for more than three months in our basic literacy class, refusing all invitations to take part in group reading, writing and math sessions, or to do any private work in those areas; who instead spent her time making and colouring banners.

She was able to refuse to take part because of the classroom rule “Just say pass,” which is one of my mainstays in teaching adult literacy. She sat on the outskirts of the class, watching, until she could find a way to participate that was comfortable for her. She tested us for three months until she decided she could trust the situation, until she decided it was safe for her. Continue reading

We Wait for Naomi

We Wait for Naomi

Naomi started in September, a quiet young woman with a wary eye. She began to say “I pass” immediately upon hearing the classroom rule, Pass if you want to.”

We were team teaching the literacy class, in two interconnecting rooms. In one we held group sessions in reading, writing, math and science; in the other students could work individually on assignments or on private literacy work (filling out forms, reading and responding to business letters, etc.). We teachers scheduled ourselves so that we each taught some of the group sessions, and spent the rest of our time in the other room, helping students individually. Students were free to choose to take the scheduled classes, or to spend time working on their own. Some students spent all their time in the group sessions, and did assignments at home; most divided their time between the two rooms.

Naomi was different. She chose not to go to any scheduled classes. Every hour or so, as the group activity changed, one of us would invite her to join the next group session.  She would pass. The teachers figured it might take her a few days to get comfortable enough to join the group. Continue reading

Just Say “I Pass.”

Just Say “I Pass.”

When I took bridge lessons many years ago, our teacher asked us to go home and practice bidding. “Just look in the mirror,” he instructed us, “And say, ‘I pass.’ That is the bid that you’ll make most often.  And that is the bid that will keep you out of trouble as a beginner.”

We don’t play bridge in my literacy or ABE classes, but I do teach people to say the magic phrase, “I pass.” My second classroom rule is “You can pass if you want to.” Continue reading

Read a Book a Week

Read a Book a Week

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“Read a book a week” is the assignment I finally came to for all my literacy and ABE classes. It was Debbie who got me there. I don’t know about you, but when I started teaching, I used the same  ways of doing things that my teachers had used. I had watched teachers for 12 years in school, and then for four years at university. Talk about on-the-job training! A year in the Faculty of Education did very little to dull the impressions made by watching teachers teach, year-in, year-out. Continue reading

Who’s Engaged Here?

Who’s Engaged Here?

When I help students see and articulate what they do know, they may notice areas where they have trouble. For example, someone may say, “I make most of my mistakes when the denominators are different,” or “I get mixed up because I don’t know when to double the letter if I’m adding ‘ing.’”

When a student notices where he makes errors, that is a big step, a huge leap forward in learning.  But it is quite different from me telling him where he needs help. When he analyzes his work and notices the patterns of errors he makes, it is a sign that he is fully engaged in the process, and has taken control of his learning.

When I analyze his work and point out the pattern of his errors to him, it is a sign that I am fully engaged in the process, but he may or may not be paying attention. (from Marking for Confidence)