Saturday, February 4, 2017

A SOLE View

I have always believed that children are capable of learning without adult intervention. We see this everyday in so many ways. For years, as a teacher, I felt caught between what I believe and what the system demanded. I was teaching but not really feeling fulfilled because I could only do so much to reach my weakest students. One day a friend of mine suggested I watch a video about Sugata Mitra's Ted Talk. From that day forward everything changed. I immediately saw what he was saying and upon reading his toolkit realized how easy it would be to adapt this type of learning to my classroom. So I did. They very next day I tried it out. It was amazing. There was such a great commitment to working together to solve the Big Question they proposed. This was serious. They were so focussed and committed to finding the answers and presenting their information. I tried it in many different forms the first half year of SOLE. I asked big curriculum questions and allowed them to form their own questions. All were extremely successful. I knew the challenge was going to come from other educators about its value. So I tested the students reading levels. All students showed improvement. The weaker students showed greater improvement. Colleagues the next year said that students were struggling. I explained that when we teach students the regular curriculum they are bored and will not perform. Give them interesting topics and they bloom. My test scores every year bore this out. Even my shyest students would stand up and present their information with their group. Success was all around except that I was not following directives to teach students in an approved way. After retiring, when I see the students, they still ask me about SOLE, stating how it finally made them feel like they belonged in school.
One of the things I noticed right away when my students were working on a SOLE is that not only were they all reading the material they found on the internet but they were discussing it passionately. Therein lies the underlying achievement, all students, including the weak readers, were reading and discussing the topic. Articles are written at a Grade 4 level and above. Some of these students were tested reading at a Grade 1 or 2 level. Still they participated as equals, making strong connections with the topic. They were discussing topics they knew little about but were making strong opinions and insights based on the material they were discovering. The challenge of the harder texts did not phase them. To further check this idea I found that in some SOLE’s groups of weaker students that were formed had the same results.
During my second year of teaching, before we had computers, I had 45 students in my class. I decided that my brighter students needed independent projects because so many of the others needed my help that I couldn’t get around to them. They ran with their independent projects much the same way as a SOLE runs today, only using textbooks to do this. They discussed their projects with each other and gathered new information from the discussions. They learned from each other by discussing their projects and receiving feedback.
One of the major problems I faced was the idea that teachers had to teach a certain way because that was how it was done. You follow the curriculum and bore the daylights out of the students. What I found was that when students were motivated by their own thoughts and learning they were picking up clues how to do things themselves. If they are reading passages that are in paragraphs that motivate them they will want paragraphs so they look like they know what they are talking about. The same with spelling. It is all right there on the page if they pay attention to it. And on a computer they will pay attention because they don’t like the red lines in their work. My weaker students challenged themselves to improve. They asked more questions, enriched their vocabulary and generally saw themselves as being successful, in some cases for the first times in their lives.
The use of SOLE in traditional classrooms is all that is happening at the moment. Those who are in the power to make changes are going in a totally different direction, the forcing of children to become adept at what they deem is necessary to have a good education, learning the basics of reading and writing. While there is some moderate success in this method it does not invest in the child ownership of their reading. It does not encourage them to develop their skills and maintain those skills. It wants the child to fit in better to a teacher directed program so they can all be taught the same material. This neither meets the children’s needs nor invests in developing the skills they need to have a successful life. In short it meets the government criteria of doing a good job.

To conclude I believe that SOLE is the best thing that could happen to education. Teachers in every country are employing to help their students become better people. SOLE works.