SEDL Home Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
  What’s Going on in My Child’s School? A Parent’s Guide to Good Schools
Previous Page Next Page

Teachers Take on a New Role in the Classroom

The days of teachers who lecture for the entire period and expect students to recite facts and figures are numbered, according to experts. Studies show that children learn more when they actively participate in learning than when they are taught by the more passive “sit and get” approach.

“I think now I provide more freedom for the students to discover. That’s important. That’s what they love. They have fantastic ideas. They like to learn things.” — Teacher Terry Ortiz

Good teachers ask questions that help kids think independently and build their own understanding. Their students can explain what they learned and, more important, how they learned it and why the lesson was important. This contrasts sharply with reciting memorized answers that require little thinking or comprehension.

“It’s a little like learning how to change a flat tire,” says Vicki Dimock, a program manager at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) in Austin, Texas. “If you just tell me how to do it, I may not learn on my own. A better way of teaching me is to be there with me while I try on my own and coach me through it.”

This doesn’t mean that the teacher is out of the picture completely—far from it. The teacher determines what each student knows at the beginning of the school year and then builds on that knowledge by encouraging the student to use logic, problem solving and reasoning. All the while, the teacher is assessing whether the student is making progress. If not, the teacher must try another way of reaching the student.

For all students—regardless of the level at which they are achieving—using materials, studying subjects and creating projects that are relevant is key to learning. Elementary school teacher Joyce Tate makes science apply to her students’ everyday lives by asking them about their
parents’ jobs. If a student’s father works in a restaurant, the class learns about boiling points, heat intensity and accurate measurement. Tate introduces new subjects to students first by building on what students are familiar and comfortable with.

“The children get really excited,” Tate says. “A lot of students feel as if they aren’t prepared to do the kind of math and science we do. But when they find out we’re using materials that are easily available to them—right out of their kitchens—they don’t seem to be intimidated.”

“When that one child says: ‘Hey, I have got something that I didn’t have‚’ and the light bulb goes off and it all clicks and it’s like, ‘this is easy‚’ after we have been struggling. That’s what you’re here for—to see children finally realize: ‘I can do this. I worked hard. I had someone who believed in me and I was able to learn.’ — Teacher Vicki Brown

One School’s Experience

Carencro Middle School, located in a semi-rural, working class area near Lafayette, Louisiana, is changing the way teachers teach and students learn. While teachers still cover the basics concepts in math, reading, science and writing, they are placing more emphasis on projects that require students to work in teams.

Carencro staff say students are more enthusiastic about classes and their work, and teachers collaborate more. Students use the computers to run spreadsheets, write presentations and research projects on the Internet – among other activities.
Teachers say students retain more knowledge by working together. “The activities help them understand the background material. They aren’t just reading something, they have to work their way around a concept,” says science teacher Janet Castille.

Castille and other teachers stress that such activities require teaching the basics before students begin more complicated projects that require critical thinking rather than only memorization.

Math teacher Tori Guzzetta believes that children actually work harder to learn material when they have to explain it to classmates and their teacher.

“Learning is a team sport. It gives more kids an opportunity to shine. Some kids are good with paper and pencil tests, but this way of teaching gives everyone a chance to do a variety of things to show what they have learned,” says Guzzetta.

  What’s Going on in My Child’s School? A Parent’s Guide to Good Schools
Previous Page Next Page
Copyright 2000 Southwest Educational Development Laboratory   Web Accessibility Symbol