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Friday, October 21, 2011

A whole new student

Dr Barry Oreck was busy teaching a crash course to teachers on leadership and special needs education at Bayan Bilingual School in Hawally when I met him last Friday. A traveling teacher-educator, Barry is an adjunct professor of international graduate programs for educators at Buffalo State University, New York.

On his classroom desk in Bayan, there was a copy of Daniel Pink's bestseller 'A Whole New Mind', a book that says right brainers will rule the world. Barry, together with his student-teachers had a compromise on Pink's premise: No, we don't want the right brainers; we are looking for the holistic person, one who teaches with both sides of the brain.

Barry agrees that a student-oriented education is a challenge anywhere, whether in the US or in the Middle East. Teachers tend to hesitate to make changes that may be disruptive. To make students independent, autonomous learners, a project-based, research-inclusive and unrestrictive curriculum is what we may need, says Barry. Teachers are facilitators who need to balance what to let the students learn and how to make the lesson dynamic, all the while maintaining control and drawing the line between exerting authority and permitting freedom.

Barry's tips:
Surprise your students: Set the students' tables in a different way. When the students come to class, ask them to find something that is hidden. The treasure could be a painting, a map, a protractor or even a hamster! On another day, turn off the lights in the classroom!

Bring passion into your teaching: If the teachers are passionate about a topic, it spreads to the students. If the teacher is covering a subject simply for the sake of doing so, the students will quickly sense so. As is the teacher, so are the students.

History is boring? Hold a debate: Many teachers complain that their students do not like writing. Ask them to describe their last visit to their favorite mall. You could trigger a good lesson on descriptive writing. If the lesson on elections goes over students' heads, convene a mock parliament. And you, the teacher, you be the Speaker!

Act out your lesson: Teachers do not have to be theater personalities, nor musicians, nor dancers; the students are all of these! The teacher is the director amid sparkling talent. Role playing is exciting both for participants as well as spectators.

Channel kids' interests to support learning: Most kids like football. Let them research biographies of footballers. Give them writing assignments on cars, cooking or cabiri. (But not cocaine, caress or cabala. You should respect the culture of the place where you are teaching.)

Barry also says that many of the strategies that teachers apply to a special needs class are also applicable to other classes. Making a lesson active and visual is always appreciated. Today's education field is vibrant, he agrees, with learners having a wide range of scope and scale, with education moving from a teacher-centered, test-oriented style to learner-centered, value-oriented process, where both sides of the brain are alive and active. Here, the teacher's job is to help prepare tomorrow's people for tomorrow's jobs. Daniel Pink would agree there.

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