What is «change»?
by Elaine Gallagher For the past 4 years in UNOi we’ve been talking about «change»: change in the students, resulting from changes in the teachers, […]
For the past 4 years in UNOi we’ve been talking about «change»: change in the students, resulting from changes in the teachers, the school administrators, and in the entire school structure. We give talks to parents about «change», explaining our expectations so that the parents will welcome and understand the changes occurring in our schools. We make clear that texts, iPads, and videos are simply tools, and that an excellent teacher needs to go beyond the book to implement change and to challenge students.
Yet, change is slow…..too slow for my taste. Some of the changes we support in UNO are so simple to implement, they cost no money, but they are not happening.
Last week I gave talks/classes/ideas in Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Veracruz, and Tabasco. Perhaps a total of over 1,000 people participated during the week: parents, administrators, Spanish and English teachers. The response seemed to be positive…teachers lined up with their USB’s to get copies of my presentation, parents writing e-mails, asking for copies of the talk, which I answered, completing work at 4:30 in the morning.
You would think, «Super! Terrific! Change will happen soon.»
But how soon is soon? Certainly not the next day, although, I ask myself, why not?
During the same week, one school owner, committed to change, invited me and the UNO Coach to tour her school. I saw little children in Kinder during physical activities to help form neuronal movement, stimulating the formation of synapsis.
We saw a middle school science class, with students working, collaborating on iPads, conducting a virtual experiment in groups of 2 or 3 students. The teacher was circulating around the classroom, monitoring and supporting the students as they worked. We took photos from the hallway window, so as not to disturb the class. It should be noted that teachers were not advised I’d be touring the school, so it appears that this class usually works in this format. It was an excellent example of collaborative learning.
Subsequently, we passed the hall window of another middle school class, with 35 studnets placed in 5 rows of 7 students each. I said to the owner, «Ooops… 19th century organization».
We stood for a while, watching. The students’ backs were toward us, not knowing we were there. One boy, in the last seat of a row, was playing with a white stuffed toy animal, and had his head on the desk, with the toy moving over his head. The teacher continued, oblivious to what the kids were doing.
Students were not moving nor participating. The «justification» was that it was not an academic class. The teacher was telling students about the sports teams they’d be assigned to later that day. The assistant to a special needs student, sitting against the wall, in front of one of the rows, wasn’t moving, or paying attention to the teacher. I felt sorry for the teacher (who could see us watching her through the hall window), but even sorrier for the students who were being subjected to an emotionless monologue.
I thought, «should I? Or should I not?» Since one of my mottos is «When in doubt, act!», I asked the school owner if I could enter the class. She responded, «Yes.» I advised her, the coach, and the academic director to remain outside in the hallway, so as not to make a «show.»
So, I walked into the room, asked the teacher for permission to talk with her class for about 10 minutes, to which, of course, she responded positively. I told the kids (in Spanish, as it was a Spanish class) that the room looked 19th century. «Let’s put the desks in a big circle», I suggested, without blocking the exit, for security reasons. It took less than a minute, and immediately, you could feel the larger space, the atmosphere changed when students could see each other, and I could walk around making eye contact with the students, as we discussed topics about school, learning, languages, with many students actively participating.
Even the teacher and the assistant for the boy with special needs were smiling and noting the difference. The students had come alive! . It took 10 minutes for a change to occur. ! The director took photos of the transformed classroom, photos of kids smiling and answering, and asking questions. As I left the class, I said to the teacher, «See how big your room looks now? The arrangement of desks makes a huge difference.» She smiled in agreement. This was a mini-change, but a change nonetheless. Our UNO directors need to support and to push change or it will not happen. Period.
Even the SEP, supposedly rigid and inflexible, is changing, for the better, moving, slowly but surely, away from lock-step education, instructing teachers to base lessons based on students’ competencies, using critical thinking, and to base grades NOT only on tests and quizzes, but to use projects, cooperative learning, and differentiation among students with various learning and emotional needs.
For at least ten years the SEP has been urging schools NOT to teach fine motor skills activities (such as writing with a pencil) to children until they are in first grade of primary, in order to fully develop children’s gross motor skills first. The SEP also has been promoting the idea of no student failures, NOT to give away grades, but to have teachers support students’ corrections of their own work, thus learning through one’s errors.
The SEP has even dropped giving the Enlace exams, supposedly a profile of a school’s level of academic competency. Why? Because it was based on multiple choice exams and memorization, not truly a measure of what students know. As I am fond of saying: «A multiple choice exam is easy to score, but it only serves kids who are lucky in Las Vegas. It doesn’t prove that they really learned anything. »
Some SEP teachers (even Spanish teachers, not only English teachers) are beginning to place students’ desks in circles or semi circles, not in rows, because they are recognizing three impacts: (1) the room looks bigger, with more space; (2) the teacher can move around the room more easily, making eye-to-eye contact with students, resulting in better discipline and more student involvement; (3) psychologically, the room has a more positive atmosphere. Students are able to see each other, not the backs of the heads of the other students who are in front of them.
The SEP now has a CENNI exam for 6th graders in English. It was given throughout Mexico last November, to measure where kids are in English. CENNI stands for «CErtificación Nacional de Nivel de Idioma». It was developed in 2010, reflecting levels of the CEFR.
On the CENNI exams, the answers to be chosen DO involve the necessity to think, NOT what you have memorized. There is NO grammar in the exam. It’s based on content read, pictures understood, listening activities to respond to, and vocabulary level, tested by identification of pictures with written words, not memorized dictionary definitions.
So…what is CHANGE?
It’s the acquisition over time and practice of new attitudes and habits.
Are you part of change, a change agent, or are you still in the camp of the resisters?
Your actions speak, not your words.
(NOTE: One of my jobs, for almost 15 years, is «English Consultant» for the Secretaria de Educación Pública in Mexico. If you want to know more about the CENNI exam, write and I’ll send you a presentation I share with SEP English teachers when I teach them how to have the best student success with the CENNI exam. My email: firstname.lastname@example.org)