These chapters are around the same length as the last five – quite short and focused on recommended activities. I’m a little surprised he didn’t group them together into a unit or somesuch to differentiate them from chapters more focused on theory or general practice, but I can hardly complain about organization.
Inspiring Participation – Renner highlights two activities: Speedy Memo and Spend-a-Penny. Both activities give everyone a venue to communicate, and both are extremely low-prep. I’ll summarize basically:
- Ask a question, particularly to get anonymous but quick feedback or opinions
- Request very short responses – one or two words
- Learners write their response on a small piece of paper and pass it to the front
- Answers are mixed up and read out loud
- Each learner gets three coins (or tokens, or whatevers) to “spend”
- “Spending” is answering questions or commenting in class.
- When a learner spends a coin, they put it in front of them.
- When all three are in front of them, their turns for the session are over.
- The goal is for all learners to spend their coins during the activity/class session.
Studying Cases – Renner encourages teachers to write case studies for students to work with. These stories can help learners focus on lower-level content such as “what happened?” and higher-level problem solving. He advises that you write like it’s a story, using real names and at least some dialogue. He also advises against flashbacks – just tell the story chronologically.
Inviting Experts – Renner points out that this can benefit classes and presenters with limited experience. He gets into the nitty-gritty of finding and booking the expert. It’s obvious, but prepare the students for the speaker. He also proposes student debates in lieu of an outside expert.
Learning Outside the Classroom – Yes, fieldtrips are good. A really great point is that adults don’t need chaperones – you can send them out into the world to do, for example, four hours of “work” in a related field. Such a thing wouldn’t be possible with a whole classroom’s worth of students all at once. They still need support, including clear instructions, an explanitory letter, and some suggested contacts, and class time should be taken to let learners share experiences.
Individualizing Assignments – This follows logically from the last chapter’s discussion of individual field trips. It talks about setting up independent projects, the purpose being to develop self-education skills. He says: define topics, provide guidance, set completion date and consequences for lateness, figure out what the end product will be and how to collect it, and make sure they learned accurate information on their own.
Renner ties this to Lewin’s experiential learning model, which is:
- have an experience
- note the results
- build a general theory around this – “if I do this, this will happen.”
I’m confused as to why this was at the end of this chapter instead of the previous one.
My Overall Impressions
Though I enjoy the short and meaty chapters, I felt that a two-pager on how to run a competent independent project was kind of sloppy. These could go horribly awry – I need more guidance. I have a lot of “how” questions, I think tied to the question “in what context?” In a classroom of even 15 students, I need some more details on how exactly to manage 15 disparate projects effectively. Some common pitfalls to avoid would have been nice too.
I definitely appreciated the activities that give all students room to participate. One of my students is specifically in my class to improve his conversation, and he rarely speaks. I asked him about this after class one day, and he said he doesn’t speak up because he’s giving the other students a chance to speak – he doesn’t want to be rude. Well, I found I couldn’t argue with that. These activities foster communication differently than “shout-it-out” answer time and than the ever-tiresome round-robin.
I also love that Renner encourages teachers to write case studies. Published readers are handy, but often pretty sterile reading. Why use something canned and not quite right if you can do it better yourself? His tips for writing quality pieces were well-taken. I would add that we should all read and take to heart The Elements of Style.