Recently I've begun some rather interesting changes in the content of my lessons. These changes have been motivated by the results of a survey I conducted among my students. A couple of months ago, my second and third graders each made a list of topics they'd like to discuss in class and things they'd like to do in the NELP program. A week ago, I assigned my first graders an essay on the same topic. I asked my first graders to tell me what they'd like to do in the class, things they'd like to see more of, and things they'd like to see less of. The results of these surveys has already begun to shape the classes. The curriculum will not change significantly. What will change is the way in which the curriculum is implemented.
The most significant change will be that students will have more choices: more choices in terms of activities and more choices in terms of work. For example, starting next week, one of our reading classes each week will be transformed from a teacher-centered approach to a more learning-centered approach, meaning that instead of the teacher guiding the students through a variety of reading exercises, students will now have a choice to either (a) read books on their own, (b) discuss their reading with other students, or (c) do individual and group activities based on reading, including reading exercises, reading test skills development, or games which require reading. Each week, students will also present new vocabulary to the class. Students have been assigned a weekly quota of new words to bring. All new words must meet two criteria: the words must be new, but they must also be useful: meaning that the words should be words that students expect to use with some degree of frequency.
Likewise, from next week, students in the grammar classes will sometimes be given options in how they approach the material. For example, students who already have a strong familiarity with the material may choose to essays based around the grammar structures we're studying. Students will less familiarity with the material may choose to do drill worksheets or even teacher-guided instruction that allows the teacher to introduce and do controlled practice with students using grammatical elements with which they are less familiar. In this way, students will be allowed a measure of control in determining how much structure and teacher involvement they need in their personal learning process. However, as a teacher, my job will be to assist students in making decisions that will benefit them the most, which means that sometimes my recommendations will supersede the student's.
Now, why did I do this? Why am giving students control over some aspects of the learning process? The answer is simple. By involving students directly in the learning process, by allowing students to make decisions about their education, I'm placing a measure of responsibility back on the student. I'm emphasizing that education is not something that I'm simply giving to them: it's something they have to take for themselves. Studies have indicated that this can be a powerful factor in developing student motivation and increasing student satisfaction with their education. When students become part of the educational process, the educational process, under the guidance of the teacher, gains in potential for effectiveness.
At the same time, because I will be making an effort to present grammar and classroom content within the range of topics in which students have expressed interest, students will be more likely develop their interest in the class. In other words, by presenting class content within the context of topics with which the students are familiar and in which the students are interested, I will increase the effectiveness of the content.
There will of course be other changes, again motivated by activities and choices in which students have expressed interest, and I'll document those changes as the year develops.