I am writing again about a workshop I attended last week: Implementing Activity Centers Using the Standards for Effective Pedagogy, conducted by Dr. Annela Teemant and Dr. Serena Tyra from IUPUI. The focus of the workshop is to assist teachers in making critical shifts in their instructional practices to improve differentiation for English Language learners- to increase content and language achievement for ELLs.
It is difficult to sum up a full week in a few paragraphs, so I am writing about ideas and activities that stand out, and I will include some links to resources.
We looked at different perspectives of education that inform our instructional practice, comparing the behaviorist construct of Pavlov and Skinner, the cognitive constructivist Piaget, and social constructivist Vygotsky. I found this to be interesting and important- I think we sometimes just get into habits in the classroom and don’t think about why we do what we do or what the implications are. For example, how do you see the role of the teacher- manager, supervisor; facilitator, guide; mediator, mentor, actuator- and what does that say about how the student role is viewed- passive receptor of information; active construction within the mind; active construction with others and self-negotiating meaning.
One critical shift is to increase the amount of time spent in small groups in the classroom. Using Activity Centers means a variety of learning activities are in progress simultaneously, students have systematic opportunities to work with all other classmates, teacher and students work together on real products and problems, and conversation is a primary teaching interaction.
During the workshop, we tried a lot of ways of providing opportunities to work with others: the idea was put forth that if you want your students to learn by talking to each other throughout the year, or throughout the day, you need to get them involved in purposeful conversation within ten minutes of arriving in the classroom. We had some type of conversational task each morning, and we were never with the same partner. We counted off, we formed two facing lines and then moved the lines to a new partner for each question we discussed, we grouped by grade levels and other areas of interest- the teacher was intentional in creating a variety of groups to get us to talk to everyone.
The instructional conversation takes place at the teacher center. The teacher is a full participant in the group, but there is more student talk than teacher talk. The teacher plans questions to elicit response from the students, so students can respond to and build on each other’s comments. The conversation is planned around a clear academic goal. The teacher anticipates responses and has follow-up questions planned in advance. The questions use higher order thinking skills. An emphasis is to increase time that students use academic language.
An important idea is that in speaking of challenging activities, challenge refers to complex thinking required to do the task, not to making tasks harder. Activity centers are designed to ensure student success in moving from the lower levels of rote knowledge all the way up to synthesis and evaluation, through interacting and feedback.
In research based on the 6 Principles, the data indicated that teacher use of Critical Stance was the strongest predictor of gain in English proficiency. Elements of Critical Stance include using multiple sources of information, multiple perspectives, and multiple modalities of learning and engaging learners in taking action to solve a real problem.
Another helpful piece from the workshop was a new look at the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and multiple handouts with related questions, strategies and activities.
Here are some links: