Saturday, March 19, 2016

Teaching Actively

One of the books in the “New CETL Books Available” section of our library is Mel Silberman’s Teaching Actively: Eight Steps and 32 Strategies.  Since I am always a sucker for things that promise I only have to do a specific number of things to be successful, I opened that one quickly. 

Silberman’s eight steps are logical, basically the things any good teacher tries to do: 
  1. Engage your students from the start 
  2. Be a brain-friendly teacher 
  3. Encourage lively and focused discussions 
  4. Urge students to ask questions 
  5. Let your students learn from each other 
  6. Enhance learning with experiencing and doing 
  7. Blend in technology wisely
  8. Make the end unforgettable
It was interesting, though, to consider the specific strategies described for each step and consider some new options.  For example, one of the strategies for “making the end unforgettable” --in other words, for helping students to extend their learning beyond the course itself-- was asking students to create an action plan saying how/when/where they plan to use their new skills and knowledge in the future.  Students submit these plans to the teacher, who in turn returns them to the students via email a month or so later, at which point students can revisit the plan, check which actions they have taken, and hopefully reinforce some of the course content. 

Have you ever tried something like that to reach beyond the end of the semester?  Did it work?  If you've had a chance to look at the other 31 strategies, are there any that stand out as particularly useful to you?


  1. I have used variations of the meta-learning technique to foster reflection and learning transfer. One example of a reflective assignment that I used as a final essay in an ENG 098 class asked the students to write a letter to future students indicating how those students could be successful in the course. My intention was to have the future students read those essays; however, I never had the chance. Also, the reflection looked backward but did not point the students toward future applications.
    For the first half of this semester in ENG 099, we have been reading the text The Effective Reader/Writer. This text outlined various reading and writing techniques. We actively applied those techniques as they were introduced. For example, Module 2 is titled “Developing a Reading/Writing Strategy,” and the students had an assignment to develop and practice a reading/writing strategy based on a heuristic from the text. We often referred to the reading/writing strategy as we learned other concepts in the text (e.g. finding the main idea in an essay.)
    Since midterm, we have reading Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying. This unit allows students to apply the concepts from the textbook. The portfolio assignments associated with this unit include making a reading/writing plan, listing main characters and their role in the narrative, summarizing the plot and conflicts, analyzing conflicts, identifying themes, and, finally, drafting and revising an essay. The portfolio assignments require students to put into practice many of the concepts from the text, such as making an action plan for reading/writing.
    A final portfolio in the course will require students to revise some of the writing they have done this semester. It will also ask students to look back at what they learned (i.e. through examine how they stuck to their plan or needed to modify it) AND look forward to theorize how this learning may be useful in future reading/writing situations. Hopefully, this will “make the end unforgettable.”

  2. Bill, what a great sequence of assignments! Have you considered following a core of the students through their future years at Lincoln, assessing their grades (and their engagement) and comparing it to a similar group of students who didn't take Eng 099 and thus didn't have this chance to articulate their reading/writing strategies? My hypothesis is they would compare favorably, demonstrating the value both of the ENG 099 curriculum and of helping students to think "meta." (There--you have your next article for College English planned. No need to thank me...)