How a progressive curriculum is implemented OR Why playing Minecraft is a good example of the learning process

Okay, so I caught you on the clickbait. Bear with me. Minecraft will eventually appear on this post. In number 4 to be exact.

The scope of any progressive school is the same as any traditional school because we are all under the Department of Education. The department hands down a curriculum that guides schools on content. Then what differentiates the progressive school from all others when they need to follow the same scope? Actually , even progressive schools may have different APPROACHES on being progressive but the following are the general definitives on a progressive approach:

1. They maintain small class sizes. Even if there is a set scope provided by the Department of Education, the small class size allows the teacher to check out the individual strength and weakness of each child and can check if the class in general can assimilate the curriculum.

2. The teachers are given freedom to implement the curriculum based on class skill level. If they find a child that has difficulty even with a developmentally appropriate curriculum, the teachers recommend for a developmental-pediatric consult to rule out any learning disability. On the other hand, if they find that their students are ready for concepts in the next level, they are exposed to such concepts in class.

3. Activities are planned to make the curriculum more experiential for the students. Learning through experience is the Dewey mantra. If I ask you what you remember most in school, it is usually wrapped around a story.. “I remember the story of The Little Prince because  I had so much fun drawing the snake eating an elephant which everyone thought was a hat” or “I remember the order of the presidents because a teacher sang a rap song in class! Hilarious! ” I hardly hear anyone say, “I remember the poem that Jose Rizal wrote because of a Social Studies exam I studied for”!

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To learn road safety and traffic rules, these students went to a Child Safety simulation place for their Social Studies lesson on Community.

 

4. The teachers use creative ways to pique the interest of the students. So much so that the students themselves are interested enough to research on their own and deepen or advance the concept. This is crucial. Finland’s excellent education system is based on internal motivation. They create lesson plans that makes the learner more curious of the topic to willingly research about it on his own. Check out the kids who play the computer game , Minecraft. They know every detail of the game! This is because it piqued their interest, they researched on their own and they have a community of other learners to bounce off ideas with! Now if every school concept can be creatively planned like this game, more kids can enjoy the learning process more.

5. There is peer-to-peer learning or group work. As described, playing Minecraft is a perfect example in today’s children’s learning process. An important part of the process is peer-to-peer learning. Children playing any computer game, starting a hobby or reading a book, usually consults the internet for other children doing the same thing and they learn from each other! The student then becomes a teacher. And that is crucial in a progressive classroom — the opportunity for students to bounce off ideas with one another with effective mediation from the teacher. This is why progressive classrooms are set up with the opportunity to group chairs and tables together and group work is a major part of the lesson plan. This not only encourages peer-to-peer learning, it also strengthens the student’s socio-emotional skill of working well with others.

6. Their developmental checklists (specially at the preschool level) is revisited annually to check if the skills are still applicable to the current age level. For samples of developmental checklists, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children. For the elementary and secondary levels, most schools follow a prescribed curriculum by the state. All have the same goals, the difference is in the method of achieving the goals.

Ultimately, the question is, do children who have undergone progressive programs reach their full potential? They do! I have witnessed all of our students go on to different secondary schools and one thing is common for all of them. Because we have encouraged their strengths and helped them with their weaknesses, because we molded the curriculum around them so they can better understand it, because there is a sense of trust between teacher and student, they have gone on and conquered whatever curriculum they are faced with, whether traditional or progressive.

Teacher Tina’s Parenting Tips

After a year and a half in DZMM‘s Kapamilya Konek, I was invited by inspirational speaker Anthony Pangilinan to be a monthly guest and weekly contributor to his weekly Radyo5 show, “Magbago Tayo!”, a show that inspires change in all aspects of life.

As for my weekly contribution, the show has a short segment to present Teacher Tina’s Parenting Tips. As Family Life and Child Development specialists, teachers are not only experts in school but are advocates of the forging of parent-child relationships at home.

Since it was the week of the Chinese New Year, my tips were based on quotes from the movie Mulan (a favorite of my kids!) :

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These tips can be seen by watching “Magbago Tayo!” at TV5 Channel 59, can be heard in FM 92.3 every Saturday at 8:00 am and can be read on this blog :)

Looking for a progressive high school?

Raya High is the answer! One of the country’s premier progressive schools, The Raya School, led by power educators Ani Almario and CP David has finally decided to open a high school. Most progressive schools in Manila offer preschool and elementary levels only but they took the plunge and moved forward.. paving the way for all of us to follow suit in the future! That’s great news for most parents and progressive elementary schools whose graduates are looking for a similar learning environment. Teacher Ani spoke to the parents of our graduating class to share their philosophy and goals for Raya High and presented this diagram: The-Raya-Child-copyrightThey will start their high school in their current location at 109 Scout Fernandez, Quezon City and will eventually move to their new campus in Fairview, QC by 2017. For inquiries regarding Raya High, you can call the Raya School at 922.9254.

How the progressive approach can make you a better teacher..even if you teach in a traditional school!

Last week, we had another Progressive Early Childhood Education seminar up North. Before we speak with teachers, we get information on the school and how our approach can complement and not go against their existing curriculum. The approach and basic concepts of progressive education can help any teacher, regardless if their school is progressive or not. So teachers, listen up!

teacher

1. Know your students. Progressive education is child-centered. However, most traditional schools usually have packaged curricula that need to be unpacked regardless of the developmental skills of the students. One size should fit all. In reality, not all the students can follow the same pace.

During the first weeks of class, try to make a short observation log for each student that not only contains basic information but also interests, strengths, and weaknesses that you observed. If you notice a student having hard time with your Math lesson plan, for example, suggest websites that offer free Math activities. They can do this when they get home.

I understand that most school teachers have more than 25 students in a class and this may be difficult to do. But trust me when I say that your teaching can actually become easier if you try to get to know your students more and prescribe ways to work on their weaknesses and highlight their strengths.

2. Make activities more experiential. “Think of your most vivid school memory, whether good or bad.” I asked this from our recently concluded teacher seminar and their replies confirmed John Dewey’s belief of experiential learning or learning through experiences. One teacher said, “I remember a poetry reading contest that I joined and I was supposed to read ‘O Captain, My Captain’. Since the role needed me to look poor, my parents made me dress up in a dirty dress and they washed coffee all over me to make me look dirty. I cried when I saw the other participants who were spankingly clean!! I turned to my parents and said ‘How can you dress me up this way?!’ I had no choice but to read my poem in dirty clothes. Lo and behold, I won the contest!”

I asked that teacher, “Who wrote ‘O Captain, My Captain’?” She answered, “Walt Whitman”. The poetry reading contest happened 10 years ago and not only did she remember the author, I can bet she can recite the whole poem still. Why? Because it was wrapped around the experience of joining that poetry contest.

Children learn through experience and they remember things that they are involved in. I then told that group of teachers, that they are now the memory-makers of their students. I hardly hear children say they remembered something because they studied for it in school. They remember things that they have experienced rather than things they’ve memorized.

3. Use themes close to the interest of the students. In our school, our teacher are keen observers and listeners. They usually know what their students are currently watching, reading, playing , eating, etc. because they engage in a lot of conversations with them. I had to watch through PowerPuff Girls, Barney all the way to today’s Sofia the First and Dora the Explorer; read The Hunger Games Trilogy and other young adult literature and listen to Taylor Swift‘s whole RED album, just to learn what they’re interested in! Once you know this, you can use these to deliver your lesson plan and voila, you will get their much coveted attention.

4. Unleash your creativity! Believe me when I say that all of us are creative. Check out your strength and use that to jumpstart your creativity in your teaching. If you are a teacher who can sing, find songs that you can change the lyrics to suit your lesson plan and sing to your students. If you can draw, why not have illustrations in your powerpoint that you yourself drew? Find new ways to deliver an otherwise boring lesson plan and , again, you will get your students’ much coveted attention.

5. Work with parents. Your students are members of basic family units that influence their beliefs, behavior and values. You will only meet the goals you set for your students if you partner up with the people they spend most of their time with.  Apart from the scheduled Parent-Teacher Conferences, try to have small chats with parents during drop-off and pick-up times.

**We would like to thank the preschool teachers and Bachelor of Elementary Education  students of First City Providential College for last week’s PRESCHOOL EDUCATION seminar! If you want us to talk to your teachers or parents, you can contact us at teachertinazamora(at)gmail(dot)com.

How an ‘Advanced Curriculum’ can actually ruin learning

This started out as a summary of progressivist John Dewey’s writing on Traditional VS Progressive Education entitled Experience and Education. But when I was writing it, I realized that each point needed their own post!

Let’s start with this:

“..to imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality”

There are many schools known to impose skills and information that is not age-appropriate to their students. “It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” (Dewey, Experience and Education)

A lot of parents are hooked into this perceived “advancement” a lot of schools sell that their students will be taught skills way above their developmental capacity. I’ve seen moms pretending to gasp in disbelief, “Imagine they’re teaching Algebra in the 3rd grade!”** saying it with a secret smile of pride that their 8 year old is already finding the value of X.

What happens ? The students will either seem like geniuses for a short amount of time and forget everything they were taught OR they will be stressed in the process of learning all this information and hate school altogether.

You may say that in a class of 40 children, there are only a few who can’t cope with an advanced curriculum. They are then labelled several things: lazy, slow, or diagnosed instantly with Attention Deficit Disorder. The parents try to figure out what is wrong with their child when in fact, most of the time, it only comes with the burden of a curriculum way outside their developmental capacity.

The teachers are frustrated that their students just don’t get it. “Even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.“, said Dewey. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who have no choice but to implement a lesson plan way above their class’ ability. They’re positive that the kids won’t get it. And yet they continue on and even make tests and exams that cover the impossible because it is in their job description to do so. Even the teachers are giving up!

So does this make the students who pass these advancements geniuses? Maybe. Definitely, there are children whose strength is the retention of information, critical thinking, etc. I believe that there are children who can be given advanced concepts. But it has to be determined if the student is having high grades because he totally understood the concepts, comprehended the topics OR just MEMORIZED the information. Because believe me, a lot of students get high grades from memorizing facts … and then completely forget about them a minute after the exam. So where’s the learning there?

I am also for the exposure of advanced concepts to students who are ready for it. Why not go the next level if a student is obviously ready to do so?  But what about the other students whose strength lies in the arts or sports?  Unfortunately, the current curricula of advancement focus only on the academic subjects such as Math and Science. The purpose of which is the filtering out of supposedly of “slow” students instead of aiming for every child to learn.

**This is an invented example. Heaven forbid there is such a school teaching Algebra in the third grade!

Are the students in progressive schools having too much fun?

It is a common misconception that a progressive school is one big playground where kids are just playing all day, not memorizing enough info and are just too free… like wild animals in the jungle. Though it is tempting to make a huge playground for them to play in all day (because what’s wrong with that??), progressive schools defy the old adage that learning is not supposed to be fun.

1. There’s no structure. Every school curriculum has structure. There are class schedules and routines,  scope and sequence charts and developmental checklists. Without these structures, we cannot reach our goals. Why doesn’t it look structured? Because the teachers make sure that the schedules, plans and activities are holistic. There are downtimes, creative times,  and play time… things needed in a child’s school day.

2. The students are too rowdy and noisyI’m all for obedience but Im also all for being opinionated and critical thinking. I like it when my students air out their opinions. My only rule is that they are respectful when they do so. And most of it is probably just the students having fun!

3. They won’t be ready for REAL LIFE if they go on that way. According to Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life but life itself.” The lives my students are leading now ARE their REAL LIVES. Lives that children should be living. They do experience pain, heartache and the burden of work.. and we teach them how to overcome these obstacles and challenges by developing their confidence and self-esteem. But most importantly, their present REAL LIVES should also be defined with a love of learning, enthusiasm in school and enjoyment in the process. The author Haruki Murakami said that “Unfortunately, the most important things in life are not learned in school.” Progressive schools aim to change that.

4. Grades aren’t important to them. Grades are important. But you know what is more important? The love of learning. And you know what’s more important than that? A teachable heart. You don’t believe me? Okay. Here’s a study that proves it (and no, it wasn’t written in the olden days…).

5. They don’t learn anything. They just play all day. Our students learn a lot of things and they enjoy the process in which they learn them. They even review for exams using board games. Why? Why not?! Studies show that experiences make children remember information better. And what’s wrong with play? I’ve listed down life lessons children learn in the playground here.

While writing this post, I spoke to a mom who taught in a very traditional school for many years and the main difference she felt when she observed in a progressive classroom is the high energy level of the children to learn the concepts and the creative ways the teachers plan their lessons. So to answer the question ” Are students in progressive schools having too much fun?”, my answer is YES! Learning is supposed to be fun.

Hello to another journey in 2015!

The journey that was 2014 was long, hard and fruitful for me as a teacher. It opened up a lot of opportunities to be the teacher I always aspired to be. I am thankful enough to sit and list them down to give thanks and appreciation that by the grace of God, I was able to do all these in His name:

1. I think the most mileage I got to spread progressive education and family tips is when I co-anchored “Kapamilya Konek” in DZMM Teleradyo first with friend Maricel Laxa Pangilinan then with broadcaster Jing Castaneda. Now that I’ve decided to move on from the program, I can say that the experience awakened a part of me I never thought was inside me..being a broadcaster! Whoduthunk?! Although my husband always says it was perfect because I usually talked too much (haha), never did I think I would sit behind a booth and speak to thousands of people via radio and TV to talk about family issues!

The Kapamilya Konek team made a heart-warming farewell AVP that summed up my stay in the show :)

2. I had my almost TED-talk experience by speaking for HomegrownPH’s Women series. It’s hard to talk when you’re given only 12 minutes to talk about a topic I want to talk about the whole day, How to Educate GIRLS!

3. Our school, Nest, has grown into the progressive school I dreamed of having. Now on its 13th year, I believe our staff of teachers this year is the best we’ve ever had in terms of heart and talent! And this clearly shows in the students and families that they have taught during the year.

4. I, together with some Nest teachers, have been invited my several institutions to train them about progressive education and some have asked for us to help them out in their curriculum development. I’ve always said that I wanted to keep Nest as small as possible to maintain it being progressive and the this opportunity of sharing our knowledge to others was a surprise blessing and opportunity for us to spread the advocacy to other schools instead. Shoot us an email at teachertinazamora (at) gmail (dot) com, if you want us to visit your school or institution.

5. Another collaboration I did with fellow Family Life and Child Development Specialists is a site called Ask Teacher — a child development classroom for PARENTS who want to ask teachers help on their parenting concerns. You should drop by and see!

6. I added “columnist” to my list of descriptions by contributing to the magazine, Celebrity Mom. I write about current parenting and school issues. Faced with word counts and deadlines, my writing entered a whole new level! I think I should set the same minimums for this blog!

Celebrity Mom

7. This website! I have been in and out of this blog for years and yet a lot of visitors have passed and asked a lot of questions about progressive education.. enough to for me to revive it! Thanks for passing by and hope you learn a lot from it!

What’s in store for 2015 for me as a teacher? Hopefully a lot more opportunities like the ones on this list. I have a few projects on the line to become more involved with more schools, more teachers, more parents and of course, more students!