December 30, 2011
I am always mindful that when I am seriously zealous of any position I advocate that I am probably giving pause to a critical reader who has to wonder if I wave the flag too quickly!
That was why I put up some caution flags in the last post and will speak to two more today so that when you do jump in you will know both the plusses and the minuses .
Experiential teaching strategies typically take longer instructional time than chalk and talk strategies – They just do. For several reasons; one being that since students typically have not had the chance to experience experiential learning on any regular basis, it takes them a long time to acclimate to the expectations of these kinds of strategies. Then too, as you will learn when we get to designing such strategies, the thoughtful teacher – designer – creator is usually obliged to create simplified models of whatever you intend to teach. For example, if you mean to “simulate” the Middle East crises, it’s darn hard to simplify that to a few short paragraphs!
The pace of the experiential sequence then has to be carefully drawn and most importantly structured for periodic reflection to extract the process thinking for your students. This isn’t done with two snaps of the fingers.
Naturally the objection rises that teachers simply don’t have “all day” or all year to bog down on a given unit or topic. I’d like to argue that point and could if we began to think about the VALUE of the time spent on such strategies and how the skillful teacher could leverage these strategies’ effectiveness in light of the perception of the infernal expectations of paper and pencil examination assessments. But I’ll save that for a rainy blog day and affirm that teachers nonetheless must watch the clock so to speak.
So to use my “Choose and choose wisely” mantra I am advising particularly as you get used to these kinds of strategies to choose and or design such instructional strategies when you know that you can extract the skills and content you need your students to practice and master as you professionally deem appropriate.
You’ve got to know your audience and your audience! That is not a typo. By your audience AND your audience I am speaking to at least two sets of folks who are involved directly or indirectly when you use strategies that THEY aren’t used to.
The first is your students.
The second is administrators and parents / community.
Not every student is well suited to successfully engage simulation / experiential learning strategies JUST as not every student is well suited to benefit from your conventional chalk and talk teaching strategies to which they are all too often unfortunately submitted. If your class on whole is immature, cannot focus, has not learned how to think collaboratively and / or critically do not jump in with both feet. Instead build in more simple lesson activities so that students begin to acclimate to the pace of and the expectations of constructivist learning. It will come, don’t worry, but you need to think it through.
By taking students’ pulses by the way I don’t necessarily mean that students whom we may shy from challenging because of their learning styles or disabilities are not good candidates for experiential learning. To the contrary! Often, very often, these are exactly the kinds of students who shine in such activities! Money back promise.
Administrators and community can sometimes be obstructionists to experiential learning. Starting with parents who may not have ever had the opportunity to learn in this fashion and who think that all students must or should learn as passive actors, it becomes important for you as teacher to be mindful of this sensibility and to communicate to them how you teach and why this teaching is in their child’s best interest.
Unfortunately, there are administrators like this too. Add in that they may be uncomfortable with classrooms that are student-chatter and may have extra student movement, etc.
The best way(s) to do this begin with your being able to provide a strong instructional rationale about why you are using this strategy; provide expertise in how you will put it in place; AND how you will effectively evaluate the students’ achievement in content and / or skills mastery.
We will keep going down the list in the next blog. By the way, I am running a Serious Games webinar on School Leadership 2.0 next Thursday, January 5th. Google the site for information.
Happy New Year.