When Uno Speaks Part II
By Elaine Gallagher As I wrote in the last issue of UNONEWS, UNO speaks of «critical thinking», «cooperative learning», «confident students», and «oral fluency in […]
By Elaine Gallagher
As I wrote in the last issue of UNONEWS, UNO speaks of «critical thinking», «cooperative learning», «confident students», and «oral fluency in two languages». UNO provides staff development, on-line support, and model classes. Now, into our fourth year of implementation, am I seeing transformation? What’s REALLY happening out there that is good and positive?
First, readers should know that my job with UNO/Santillana/ Sistemas de Enseñanza is as an outside consultant, a «provider of services». I’m not on regular payroll, (nómina). So what I say, what I do, and what I write are my ideas, based on observations, research, and 50 years of experience. No one monitors me. I have no boss, and no one tells me what to do, what to say, or what to write. This forum in UNONEWS is to provide reading material, teaching ideas, and subjects to contemplate…in English.
I work wherever UNO is, mainly in Mexico, the entire country, but also in Ecuador, Guatemala, Colombia, etc. My observations are based on more than 500 schools that I’ve visited. In the past month, I’ve been in Mexico, throughout Sonora and Sinaloa, visiting about 50 schools. Tomorrow, I fly home to Saltillo for 3 days for my husband’s birthday, then I’m off again to Chihuahua, Veracruz, and Querétaro……and so on, during the entire school year, visiting every state of Mexico.
The positive changes are becoming evident. The pockets of transformation are obvious in many places. We are not talking only about HOW teachers are reaching students’ minds, or how students are responding in the classroom. Equally important is the atmosphere, the ambiente, of the entire school.
Schools that used to have small, individual student desks in rows, with the teacher in front, blah, blah, blah, students writing copious notes, like a scene from a 19th century movie, are beginning to become extinct, like the dinosaur or the dodo bird. Tables are replacing individual desks, facilitating students working cooperatively. The teacher is circulating among the students, maintaining a sense of purpose. Even in schools that can’t afford to replace individual desks with tables, 21st century-style now finds the desks placed in a large U, or a semicircle, or two U’s, or two semi-circles in classes with many students. Teachers are able to walk around, maintaining the important power of eye-contact with the students, promoting positive self-discipline and student involvement in the class.
In case you haven’t sat in one for 20 years, those individual desks are uncomfortably-difficult to enter, especially for large students. I’ve seen 5th graders who are much taller and heavier than I. Entering one of those one-piece desks takes some maneuvering, and is embarrassing for our larger students.
As mundane and perhaps as silly as it sounds, the bathrooms give a clue to the regard and respect schools have for their students. How many times have YOU, the reader, gone to visit friends, and when you need to use the bathroom, you have to go to the kitchen to obtain an allotment of toilet paper? In transformed schools, the toilet paper is inside the stall where each toilet is located. Students have learned not to waste it, not to stuff toilets with it, or not throw a ball of wet paper to the ceiling, where it sticks. Students’ dignity is intact, as is their respect for their school. This is the real teaching of «values».
Change means that teachers are challenging students with critical thinking questions that go BEYOND the book. Transformed teachers recognize that the book is simply a tool, a support, a guide. They know that looking for topics in Internet, to obtain fresh, interesting, supplemental data for their class, keeps their classes interesting and challenging.
I see teachers showing photos of Greece to support a Greek mythology story in a 6th grade UNO classroom. The teacher asks, «Why do you think the houses on this island are all painted white?» Many students don’t know…..It’s not in the book.
But, invariably, there’s a student who answers: «They’re white because white reflects the sun’s rays, keeping the homes cooler in a warm climate. If they were black, the houses would absorb heat».
WOW! The teacher gets excited, congratulates the student «for using your brain»….and asks, «Where did you learn that?» Student replies, «I saw it on TV, on National Geographic». The teacher tells the class, «Great! TV and Internet have many ways to learn new things. Keep your brain alive with brain food! Your brain doesn’t eat tacos. Your brain needs to be fed with new information and ideas so you won’t be bored.»
Students in transformed schools are full of questions! They participate orally. When a teacher was discussing a 9th grade, English, UNO novel, Parvana’s Journey, fictionabout a 13 year-old girl in Afghanistan, a student asked:
» You said, teacher, that the United Nations is helping Afghanistan. How? With food? with soldiers? with weapons?»
The teacher told the girl, «That’s a good question! It shows you’re thinking. The UN helps in all three ways……» and went on to elaborate.
In a Spanish class last week, I saw 5 girls, working as a team, give an oral presentation for about 30 minutes in front of their Mexican history class, regarding holidays, and events. They spoke without notes, from their research, and knowledge in their brains, not in a «memorized» fashion. Conversationally, each girl explained her part of the total report. It was well-done, clear, fluent, each girl speaking with confidence, exhibiting the obvious: this was not a «show» because I was in the classroom. It was clear they had had previous experiences in giving oral presentations. The teacher did her job well!
Equally impressive were the other students in the class, paying attention, taking notes, and when the talk was completed, they questioned the speakers about details, such as, «How did that custom begin?» (referring to Day of the Dead). The speakers were able to answer the questions fielded to them after their presentation, exhibiting confidence, knowledge, and adequate preparation of their material. These are the kinds of things we want to see in an UNO-transformed school.
School coordinators and administrators also play a strong, positive role when I see transformed classrooms. They support, encourage, and listen to their staff. They are not checking teachers’ plans with a lupa (magnifying glass). Instead, they enter the classrooms for 10-15 minutes, every 10-15 days, to observe, not to evaluate. They share with the teacher what they saw.
What are they looking for? What should they be looking for?
The seating arrangement….the use of technology….the day’s date on the board, with a brief outline of the day’s topics, a trivia question on the board, the teachers’ questioning techniques, the students’ responses…students’ interactions with each other and with the teacher, active, positive participation……
I’m seeing these changes in our schools with positive transformation. Invariably, sustained change occurs only in schools with a positive atmosphere, and high respect for students and for teachers by the administration. Parents’ roles are to support the school, not to criticize it. When there are positive, supportive, communicative administrators, the teachers, the students, and the parents are all part of the positive change.
What do parents really want? They want to see their children arrive home from school, willing to answer then inevitable question: «What did you do in school today?» Parents don’t want to hear, «Nothing».
They want to hear things like, «We used the i-pads…..We did an experiment…We learned about Galileo…..We did a hard math problem, and I was able to solve it……We organized teams for this month, and I’ll be the SPEAKER on my team»…..etc etc etc. .
Students are wonderful (most of the time) in transformed schools! How can we think that teenagers hate school, or are problems? Just in this past month I have seen so many heart-warming things Permit me to share some.
- I was invited by one school to meet with some student representatives of primary grades. I had been at that school on various previous occasions, as it’s an UNO Founder school. Many teachers and students already knew me. As I walk into a large room, surprise!!!! 50 students stand up applauding me, waving colorful paper flags, as if I’m a visiting dignitary from a foreign country. I’m amazed, and walk around the large group, shaking hands and thanking every student. They, then, in excellent, smooth, fluent English, one-by-one, share in the giving of a Power Point presentation about the history of their school, and its growth over many years. It was excellent!
- In this same school, spontaneously, one boy handed me a piece of paper and asked it I could autograph it, which I did, personalizing it with his name. In 10 seconds, there were 50 kids in line with the flags they had waved upon my arrival, asking for autographs! I wrote each child’s name and signed mine, with a heart, and the child’s initial inside the heart. I felt like a rock-star on tour! But more importantly, I ask you readers, how often is it that kids want an autograph of an old teacher? It shows me that they value what we are doing. It shows they are happy in their school.
- I’ve been giving many model classes to real kids in their classrooms using UNO material, appropriate for their grade level. When I finished an 8th grade class in one school, having taught it in Spanish (Historia Universal, primer bimestre), the students applauded, and insisted on taking pictures with me. So the teacher and the school director (who had been observing) guided the 37 students outside. We stood in front of a large tree and took a group photo. Then the kids with their i-phones, wanted individual photos with me.
- Again, I ask you…..what teenager wants a picture with an old history teacher? The answer is: kids who are transforming. Kids who are valuing good teaching.
- In a primary class, in another state, I completed a 6th grade Greek mythology class in English…. great kids, who responded well to my critical -thinking questions, showing me that the teacher had been using high level thinking with her students. As the Coach and I walked towards her car, to drive to the next school, a small group of 6th grade girls ran up to us (It was recess time.). One girl, in great English, excitedly said, «Oh..teacher, I’m so full of energy! My brain is exploding with ideas! I can’t stop thinking about all I need to read and learn about. My brain is waking up!» The Coach and I were pleased, but a bit surprised, because in my model class, this particular girl was quiet, barely responding. Yet, now we had evidence that she was responding in her way.
- Another class I had taught in Spanish……middle school….one girl said, «This class was AWESOME…..Really, really awesome…I learned so much…stuff I never paid attention to before…» Here we have another student on the verge of transforming.
- My classes are nothing special. I have no secret formula. ANY teacher can teach in a way to inspire students. I didn’t even study to be a teacher. I took a teaching job right after college in 1964 to save some money for law school…but remained in teaching. I learned the techniques I use from copying other teachers who were older, and smarter than I. The books I use supply me with the tools to transmit knowledge and life’s zest to my students. UNO provides me with the «meat», the base of what students need to know, the content. Anyone with such good tools as UNO provides can become a «transformed» teacher.
- You just need to have one ingredient: passion for what you do!
- One more heart-warming example from 3 weeks ago: In a small city, practically in the middle of nowhere……a founder UNO school has transformed.
- I did two model classes with middle school students. Why middle school? Because i want to see the evidence of students who have been using UNO during grades 4, 5, and 6. The classes went excellently, in both languages, critical thinking exhibited, confident, fluent students. The English level of the students at this particular school was so close to native speakers that I had to ask the teacher if there were kids from the USA in the class. She said «No».
- Why such great English? The teacher of the class I had taught, who is also the school’s Academic Coordinator, is supporting UNO’s CLIL philosophy 100%.
- Our UNO English books say «CLIL» on the cover or on the front page. It was the reason Pablo Doberti hired me in 2010, because I knew about CLIL, a philosophy Pablo wanted to promote with UNO. CLIL stands for «Content and Language Integrated Learning». It’s not a method or a program. It’s a philosophy of how we learn a language.
- CLIL philosophy = Not one word of Spanish in the English classes. No one fails. Learning a language is a skill that comes to EVERYONE, given time and consistency. The teaching of English is focused on topics, NOT grammar-based. Grammar is taught in context, not as a separate subject. No tedious, time-wasting homework. The only homework given are things that enter the students’ brains, such as reading, studying, researching, nothing mom can do for her child.
- This UNO school I’m referring to, in the middle of nowhere, scores very high in standardized exams because the students have oral, written, and mental fluency. They do not tediously «practice» for exams.. The teachers prepare students for English exams by excellent, CLIL-based teaching, and for Spanish exams, by the use of critical thinking, strong vocabulary development, and oral fluency.
- In this school, when my class was done, a 9th grade English class, where we previewed a novel they’ll be reading later this year, one girl sitting in the front semi-circle of desks (it was a large class about 42 students, in 2 semi-circles) asked me, «Teacher, can I hug you?» I said, «Of course», and I bent down to hug her.
- Before i knew it, all the kids, forty-two 14 -15 years olds, were asking for hugs. I looked at the teacher……She smiled, and told all the kids to line up if they wanted a hug. I then proceeded to hug 42 teen-agers, most were taller than I. Every student wanted a hug, the big, strong, foot-ball players and the short, timid ones. I almost wanted to cry.
- How can we say that kids hate school? How can we say that teenagers are a huge problem? How can we say that kids don’t care about school or adults or learning? In this small town, there’s a transformed school, where teenagers want to hug a teacher, a plain, ordinary teacher, simply because the students appreciate good teaching. They love their regular English teacher, and told her, too!
- This one of the many schools where the hard-working Coaches of UNO are guiding, and leading administrators, teachers, students, and parents, to the transformation we dream about.
- Is your school on the road to transformation? Or are you still resisting the inevitable change, the evolution, in education?
- When was the last time in your school or on «you-tube» you saw 42 teenagers wanting to stand in line to hug a teacher?
- When was the last time in your school that kids told you the history class was «awesome».
We in UNO are change-agents. Congratulations to the many schools who are embracing the challenge. As Pablo Doberti, the International Director of UNO, said 4 years ago when we began with UNO: «We cannot talk about reforms in education if there are no changes in the classroom.»
Congratulations to all of you on the road to world-class excellence with UNO. Transformation is beginning to be seen and felt!
CONTINUE BEING AN AGENT OF CHANGE!