A well-tailored style of teaching

Profiles: Howard schools are trying a teaching model based on learning how each child learns best.

October 14, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Teachers in Howard County are trying something in addition to book work, vocabulary drills and phonics practice to help children who struggle with reading: They're concentrating on the teacher-child connection, through a tool known as student learner profiles.

"To increase literacy achievement, we have to go beyond just teaching methods," said Ann Mintz, Howard's elementary language arts coordinator. "How are teachers connecting to their kids? How are teachers finding out how these children need to be recognized?"

The student learner profiles - which are being introduced in at least eight Howard schools this month - will give teachers a better idea of how pupils learn best; want to be motivated, rewarded or evaluated; and would like their classroom environments set up.

"Kids have got to feel that there's a connection," Mintz said.

Each three-part profile focuses on children who are performing below grade level in reading or math. The first section requires teachers to answer questions about a pupil's preferences in five areas, including motivation, testing and instruction. In the second part, the teacher interviews the pupil to learn the child's opinion about those same five preferences.

The third part - based on those same areas - is filled out by the child's parents.

"What we're trying to do is look at the student holistically," said Jennifer West, the school system's psychologist for achievement equity. West's department, the Office of Academic Support, worked with the Office of Elementary Support to develop the profiles.

"We're trying to bring in the parent part, too, because they know that child better than anybody," West said.

It's an approach that some might dismiss as too focused on what the child wants instead of on academics. But teachers such as Sharon Davis at Laurel Woods Elementary said it can make the difference between teaching children and losing them. "No one's lost. Everyone's actively engaged," Davis said.

Davis has been using profiles for three years and will assist the school system in helping other teachers learn to use them.

Last week, a crew from The Video Journal of Education taped a reading lesson in which Davis demonstrated various teaching tools. The video will be shown to teachers across the country.

Davis prodded pupils to elaborate on answers to questions they read from a screen, and encouraged them to use hypothetical questions and transitions.

Although the lesson was full of new vocabulary and Maryland School Performance Assessment Program clue words, she also made sure it was peppered with visuals for those who needed it.

"Oh, I forgot to show you what `hypothetical' looks like?" she told the class, tilting her head, resting an index finger on her temple and saying, "Hmmm."

To explain "transitions," Davis used a colorful example: "There needs to be a smooth flow with this, not like a train that has just jumped off the track."

On a typical day in Davis' class, tunes play softly - classical, jazz, even pond sounds - for the children who work best with music. Pupils are seated where they can work best: Those who need room to stretch sit on the ends of rows; those who sometimes need to stand up, or put one knee on a chair to concentrate sit on the back row. Children prone to talking to themselves have seats in slightly more remote spots.

It's easy, Davis said, to keep the various learning styles in mind, while instructing a group. "I can just look up and see where ... I need to switch gears," she said. "Do I need to change to a dance or a chant? Do I need to let them get up and move their bodies?"

West said the school district hopes using profiles will help teachers change the way they view struggling pupils. Generally, teachers use a teaching model that is very "medical," she said.

When kids aren't doing well in a subject, teachers tend to think, "I see a symptom. Something must be wrong. Let me fix it," West said.

West said the profiles help teachers say instead, "This student is coming to us with resources in terms of how they learn how to learn. What is it that we need to know that ... would give us some natural bridges or some hooks to help us help these children?"

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