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.

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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!

Traditional vs Progressive Schools: Q and A

When I check my blog statistics, a fair share of parents (specially moms) visit the site because they are either curious on what progressive schools are compared to traditional schools or if the school they’re considering meet the standards of what a progressive school is. I’m glad that the parents are making extra time to really understand what progressive schools are to help them decide on what school to choose for their children.

I first saw our school’s name in the forum of Mom Exchange, a Filipino website specifically designed to help Moms with various topics on motherhood. One particular post which mentioned our school’s name is a post entitled “Traditional vs. Progressive Schools”, which outlined a chart presented by Teacher Didi Manahan of Explorations School in Mandaluyong, Philippines. The post doesn’t actually pit the two types of schools but rather show the moms the difference between the two, Why? Well, because Traditional Schools in Manila is the norm while Progressive Schools are the new kids on the block. It is easier to understand something new if it is compared against something you’ve known for a long time. The post itself has gained around 600 comments since it was posted last year.

The questions of the mommies are very interesting and shows that there is still a need to spread the word about progressive education.

Do you have questions about progressive education? Do you want to know specific differences between Traditional and Progressive Schools? Do you want recommendations on schools in your area? This is our very first Q and A post. You are welcome to post your questions about progressive education in the comment section. As a token of our appreciation, every poster will get an e-book I wrote entitled “I Love to Read! — A Progressive Approach in Encouraging your Child to Read”. So hurry and ask that question!