Didactic teaching will always be a tool when teaching students whose primary language is not English. Should it take up most of the class time? No. It is useful when introducing/reviewing terms that are unfamiliar to students. I’ve taught English to international students and I’ve taught business courses to international students.
When teaching English to low level fluency students, yes at some point they can and should research vocabulary on their own using translators, but before they can do that they have to learn to understand the words you are using when you are asking them to look up a word on their own. Writing directions in their own language on the board is not enough. They need to understand also what you are saying.
When it came to business classes, the students were more fluent. I would first test their knowledge of the day’s topic(s) by asking them to talk about their experience in the subject. What would happen next depended on the topic and density of the textbook material and what I knew was on the quizzes, midterm and final exam. These assessments were mandatory and standardized across all sections and campuses. In courses where the vocabulary and number of concepts for the course was numerous and explained densely in the book, I would lecture more. One of the strategies I would use for lecturing is the 10-2.
The video below by Let's Teach talks describes the strategy and its benefits.
The lecture would often be followed by discussion, small group work then individual work; and even with the individual work time students were allowed to ask their fellow classmates for help as long as the final product was their own. Having students help each other during individual class time in an English language class happened less often because it’s important that at least some of the work that students produce is 100% specific to them so the instructor can more easily identify what that student needs to improve their fluency and incorporate that in future lessons.
Let's Teach. (2016, January 24). Instructional strategies: The ten plus two teaching method. [Video] Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2udPWz_3vg
Elaine Callahan (2008) reviewed the role of GED counselors in student retention at Henrico County Public Schools Adult Education. Counselors for their program was the first point of contact for students. Part of the duties of the counselors was assessment & class placement, student motivation, retention and success. The counselors were also the ones who conducted the school orientation sessions after class placement, and contacted students around attendance issues – calling, sending motivational notes.
At more than one organization the above responsibilities are performed by different people; teachers are the ones who contact students around attendance issues and try to motivate them first. Then others who have administrative functions may do follow-up calls. Callahan (2008) writes that teachers can perform these functions around attendance “although perhaps not at the same intensity or with the same duration as a person whose position is devoted only to counseling students on an individual basis.” She references the fact that her teachers work part-time which limits their availability and that “the instructional priorities of the classroom are significant, and the instructor’s focus is different from that of the counselor.”
For Dainel Fusch (2010), there should be a pre-assessment conversation with prospective adult students that provide a benchmark as to “where a returning adult is, so that the adult learner and the advisor are informed and can work together to develop strategies for the student's success.”
Callahan (2008) further states that their “data indicates that our student retention has improved each year. We have gone from 225 students separating before completion in 2005/06 to 111 students separating before completion in 2006/07. Th is is a 49.3 percent increase in student retention.”
The idea that the counselor should be involved in so much including contacting students around attendance is intriguing. At one of the jobs that I referred to above there were two types of counselors. One who focused on social and emotional issues. The other served as an education and career counselor. The second one assisted with enrollment, did orientation specific to her position, met with students one-on-one, but did not contact students around attendance. She also worked part-time due to budgetary concerns; and that is the crux of the issue for many educational institutions: How to implement best practices that would have a positive impact on students and key metrics with a small budget? It would take planning that would need a review of spending priorities and possibly new funding initiatives.
Callahan, E. (2008). Role of GED counselors in student retention. https://nelrc.org/persist/pdfs/Role%20of%20GED%20Counselors%20in%20Student%20Retention.pdf
Fusch, D. (2010, May 13). Academic advising for adult learners. [Website blog post].
Project-based learning can be approached in more than one way. Activities can be designed around inquiry based learning; as a problem-solving project or it can combine the two. Anne Gilleran in the video, How to Design Project-Based Learning, defines inquiry-based learning as a search for “truth, information or knowledge.” The process starts with a question, followed by investigation and exploration, which ends with a “solution drawing a reasonable conclusion, making substantive decision, or applying new knowledge or skills” (EUN Academy, 2014). The difference between this and what happens in a traditional classroom, is that students often co-create the question, and are expected to debate and challenge assumptions that emerge during the research. The presenter in the video also states that the question should avoid a quick look-up in Google. Questions should be challenging to answer. An example of a question posed by a student in an inquiry-based learning activity in a financial literacy class for adults might be “What should my investment portfolio look like if I want to retire in 15 years?”
The following video by John Spencer pulls from Harry Potter to illustrate the difference between IBL and a
In the video, you see a stark contrast between the traditional and IBL classroom. In Harry Potter’s IBL classroom, the students are experimenting, and actively learning through trial and error unlike the traditional classroom.
Problem-solving learning activities often result in product creation. The problems the product solves should be authentic (real-world). Similar to IBL, “the main principle of [problem-based learning] is based on maximizing learning with investigation, explanation, and resolution by starting from real and meaningful problems. (OğuzÜnver and Arabacioğlu, 2011). The focus is more on solving a problem than learning something new. It shifts from informative focus (IBL) to practical (PBL). There are elements of both in each; the focus is different. The question posed in the IBL model example above would change to something more like, “With an increasing number of people having to work during their retirement, create a marketing campaign that would result in 20% more Americans actively investing for their retirement starting in their twenties."
This second video by John Spencer provides multiple examples of problem-based learning.
In comparing the two project descriptions for the IBL and PBL tasks, "What should my investment portfolio look like if I want to retire in 15 years?" and “With an increasing number of people having to work during their retirement, create a marketing campaign that would result in 20% more Americans actively investing for their retirement starting in their twenties", one can see that the problem-solving learning activity would involve more research. Because it’s focus is on a social problem and has an interdisciplinary aspect to it there is more opportunity for collaboration in this example. However, IBL activities can be designed so that they are more collaborative. So, in the case of the IBL question about investment portfolio, the class could be divided into small groups with specific research tasks – different strategies, using a broker vs -DIY, group presentations on findings, and a peer review component as students construct their recommendations.
Both IBL and PBL can be done collaboratively, but depending on the question guiding the IBL, more thought may have to be but it to make it a collaborative effort. Certain problems in Problem-based learning, lend themselves more easily to collaboration.
EUN Academy. (2014, November 26). How to design project-based learning activities. [Video]. Youtube.
Oğuz-Ünver, A. & Arabacioğlu, S. (2011). Overview on inquiry based and problem based learning. Paper presented at WCNTSE method. In Western Anatolia Journal of Educational Science, 303-310. http://webb.deu.edu.tr/baed/giris/baed/ozel_sayi/303-310.pdf
Spender, J. (2017, November 12). What is problem-based learning? [Video]. Youtube.
Spencer, J. (2017, December 5). What is Inquiry-Based Learning? [Video]. Youtube.
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