I just returned from a classroom impromptu visit. Some Vantage instructors in the English department are delving into ideas to change up their teaching methods and improve student learning. I observed a practice session of the Socratic Seminar, one of the first ways this dedicated group of instructors is seeking to accomplish their task. The underlying concept: students must improve their "how to learn" before they can actually learn the critical thinking skills necesssary for success in our world.
What an enjoyable experience the Socratic Seminar was! I looked at the clock when the students started, 10:10, and became so engrossed in what they were doing that when I next thought to check the time, it was 10:31 a.m.! While 21 minutes may not seem like much, it can be an eternity to any student of any age when they are in a boring class. Teacher Sonya Yenser-Hammon facilitated the group, encouraging, reinforcing, complimenting, and steering the students' participation. The effect was a serene learning experience, in a supportive environment, where even the most timid student would not have left the room dreading to come to class the next day. Making this even more fantastic for me, was that I had observed this teacher almost 10 years ago, for a High Schools That Work technical assistant visit, (before coming to Vantage as superintendent). The classroom I saw then, and the classroom today were worlds apart.
Of course, I loved the lesson itself--art-based, with students focused on interpreting a Magritte painting, not knowing the title, and vocalizing their observations, responding to others' feedback, and offering names for the painting. Each student had been given a one-page summary of Magritte's life the day before, and focused on an image of the painting projected on the screen during class.
I hope to see more of this student-centered instruction in all of our classrooms. The old roles of "sit and get" or teacher as "the sage on the stage" are not methods which engage students today. Congratulations and good work, English department! You tried something new, and I like it. Hopefully our students will, also!