Who owns the learning?

I talk a lot about relinquishing control to learners, but do I always practice what I preach?

I’m a second language teacher. I think I have to explain more than I do. In the context of second language, I tend to like to make sure my students ‘get it’ before letting them do something with it!

When we talked about ways in which teachers keep control of learning, one of the kids said ‘Teachers over explain. They don’t let us get on with figuring it out for ourselves’

I’ve been trying to let go more and more, even in second language learning. We’ve been working on a text in Hebrew which the kids are finding interesting and stimulating. Time to let go further… I asked them to sit and groups and read ahead, to figure out the meaning themselves. I didn’t even give the usual vocab list to support their understanding. They created a headline for each section to show they had understood the gist.

And they managed just fine. They worked collaboratively to look up words, decipher meaning from the context and apply the knowledge they already have of how the language works. I was blown away.

As always, I asked for their comments on the process. ..

  • I found it challenging because we tried to understand it ourselves without the teacher (Jay)
  • We got through a lot and it was fun (Emma)
  • I think we got to read and learn more on our own (Matthew)
  • I think it was easy and good because the whole group cooperated (Jasmine)
  • We were in control of our learning and in a small group you get to say what you think  more than when it’s the whole class(Gemma)
  • I liked how everyone brought a different perspective (Dean)
  • We went off topic but we stayed focused most of the time (Aimmee)
  • I enjoyed the way we controlled the learning even though I struggled a bit. (Jassy)
  • We own our learning and today we had a chance to really be in control. It gave us a chance to practice all our skills (Tahnee)

Next stage: Express your understanding through any medium you choose.

(See previous post … I’m working on it!)


What’s in a word?

As a PYP school, our approach to learning is through inquiry.  It’s often challenging to make second-language learning inquiry based, and we teachers are always experimenting with different options. (We’re inquirers too!)

Today’s task was simple.  Instead of giving a new Hebrew vocabulary list, with English translations, I gave the words in Hebrew only. Each group received different words and they swapped with another group when they had figured out the meanings.  I didn’t give any directions, just handed out dictionaries and asked them to work collaboratively to find out the meanings of as many words as possible.

How did they work out the meanings of the words?

  • Someone in the group knew the meaning already and shared.
  • They took turns to look words up in the dictionary.
  • They changed the tense or form of some words in order to find them in the dictionary.
  • They worked out the meanings by recognising the root letters.
  • They made connections to other familiar words.
  • They traded with another group!

The task was nothing special and I’m sure it was obvious to most.  But, as always, the most interesting aspect was the students’ reflections. (They are Year 5 students)

  • It helps us learn how to use a dictionary effectively.
  • It was more challenging than just copying down the words.
  • I felt like I achieved something.
  • It was an efficient use of time (a student’s words, honestly!)
  • It was a fun way to learn words, so we’ll be more likely to remember them.
  • We found other words in the dictionary too, so we learned even more words.
  • This is a great way to learn new words as it is challenging to find the right meaning.