I am planning on applying for the Truman Scholarship, and turned in my first draft of my application exactly a week ago (see this post for the debrief on this experience). The application has 15 sections, plus a policy proposal. I have had several ideas for the policy proposal in the past, but keep on convincing myself that I could do better. Here is a draft of one of the policies I would like to pitch to someone in power:
Provide access to literature for all students, regardless of learning style. Good teachers know that students learn a concept best when they see it, say it, read it, write it, hear it, do it. This is not because Jonnie Lu needs to do all 6 things to understand what a poem is, but because he might need to see it, read it, and think it, while Marie O’Neal needs to hear it, say it, think it. Some people learn better by watching, some by listening or speaking or reading or doing.
When I teach Karate, I have to keep in mind that not everyone can visualize how her body should look in a stance from my verbal description, but might be able to mimic my movements. When I teach a class, I always describe a move, demonstrate it, watch the students do it, and physically correct them.
Likewise, one time I was in an English class, editing a paper for a football player. I spent an hour writing all over his first draft, and when I handed it over to him, he scanned it and did not even seem to process the hand-written notes I had covered the thing in. Instead of getting upset because he was blowing me off, I decided to try a different approach to editing his paper. When I handed him the next draft, I had color coded the entire thing with 4 colors–yellow for citation errors, pink for grammar errors, green for comprehension errors, and blue for good prose. When I gave him the newest version, he got really interested, looked through every comment, asked me questions–and when it came time to turn in the paper, he asked me to review his final draft.
English teachers don’t need to lengthen their students’ stances, or make student punch their hands to teach verify technique, but they do engage in differentiated teaching. The trouble is, with so much to get through for each class, many teachers cannot read their assignments aloud, so those students who learn through listening are left at a disadvantage. I propose we broaden and modify a solution already used by blind students: literature read-aloud.
There are three obstacles to this proposal:
1) cost. Costs for audio-books, even from Readers for the Blind (who do not seem to have a web-presence) can add up over years of school. The broader solution must be low or no-cost.
2) technology barriers. Not all students have iPods, cassette-decks, CD-players, or access to the internet. The solution must be easily transferable across formats, and accessible in multiple media.
3) convenience for teacher. Those resources which are easy to use are used. Readers for the Blind can take months, and not all requests are filled. Preferably, a good solution should surmount the above obstacles, and also be easy for either the students to access on their own, or for the teacher to distribute legally.
Thankfully, the technology and the resources exist to overcome these obstacles: YouTube and podcasting. Whether large projects like LibriVox or smaller efforts like my own Poetry and Prose Performances Project, volunteer recordings of literature which are distributed both through iTunes, their own websites, and YouTube allow students access to literature read aloud. By piggybacking these free recordings on well-developed commercial technology, all students need is access to either a browser, iTunes, or an adult who can download the audio-file and burn it to a CD. Because a teacher can simply provide her students with a URL to download the file from, this solution does not ask educators to learn a new technology, or spend time reading each piece to their students.
The issue boils down to nothing less than working to give every child the same chance at an education, regardless of learning styles.
I hope you enjoyed my wonkishness.
Also, I am 20 and 1/2 today!!!
Henry Ward Beecher – “Every charitable act is a stepping stone toward heaven.”