Program Associate Laura Snider shares her experiences with teaching
February 24, 2015
One of the things that drew me toward working with Expo was the recognition that students learn in many different ways. I come from a family of teachers*, so discussions around the family dinner table on all sides of the family often ranged from the politics of school district policies to behavior interventions for disruptive students to best practices for literacy. I always knew I was an auditory learner; I am drawn to sound and processes verbally. What I did not know was how seamlessly my teachers were weaving many ways of learning around me so that the material was accessible to all students. Recognizing that many school systems cater to visual and auditory learners, I have become very interested in experiential learning, which is the learning that occurs from having the students do something and then reflect on it.
I discovered Implementation Science, specifically with regard to teacher training and retention of information vs. utilization of the skill. Below is a chart taken from Joyce and Showers (2002) that clearly shows that for a new skill to be put into practice (not just understanding it intellectually) you need to:
Discuss the theory or the “why” behind the skill
Demonstrate the new skill
Allow teachers to practice the new skill and get feedback on their performance
Coach the teachers on the new skill in the real-world classroom, meaning follow up exposure with individualized feedback in the moment
The final component is what actually increases utilization from 5% to 95%. The same is true for students: it is not enough to discuss, see a demonstration and practice it once or twice; it needs to be something that is followed up on in real time.
This is where Expo can supplement and shine because not only are we pairing our SHS tutors with five to six JHS students, allowing increased individual attention, but we are also using experiential learning. As I have built the term curriculum, we are focusing on catering to visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners as well as on problem solving and reflection. Each class starts with 20-30 minutes of active games that either reviews the previous week’s lessons, challenge the students to interact and think differently or get out energy so they can focus better. They get a small snack and sachet of water to make sure their basic needs are met and they can focus for an hour on extra math and English. When the tutors arrive, they take attendance, welcome each student, and then spend ten minutes teaching (or often re-teaching) a concept like multiplication or subject-verb agreement. After the brief lesson, the tutors use games and activities that get the students moving, trying things out or using the information, which makes the JHS students show that they understand the material and can put it to use, as opposed to just being able to memorize and repeat. Then there is a practice section where the tutor circulates through their group giving real-time feedback to the students, correcting their mistakes and helping them understand in the moment where they went wrong. At the end of every lesson, there is an exit slip, or 3-5 question quiz that is a check your understanding for each student that not only lets the student know that they have captured the concept, but also allows the tutor to assess how well each member of their group has integrated the material. After the tutoring session, the tutors debrief with me to reflect on how they can improve and what they did well. This reflection time not only helps the tutors share best practices and learn from each other, it also informs the types of reflective questions they pose to their students in the future. In short, using experiential learning with both the students and tutors creates a mutually reinforcing system in which both students and tutors develop confidence and leadership capacity through practice, feedback and reflection—something my entire family of teachers would be proud of.
*Both my grandmothers were teachers, my mom used to be a teacher, both of her brothers were teachers (now one of them is an elementary school principal), their wives are a teacher and a school librarian, my dad’s sister is a teacher, my stepmom was a speech and language pathologist in schools, my step-grandmother was a school secretary, my dad’s brother’s wife is a nurse at a university, and now I work in schools.