Sunday, February 27, 2011


I just finished a 3-part PD series that was offered (actually, required) by the powers that be.  The topic was "Learners' Lives as Curriculum" (LLC) and it's based on a book by Dr. Gail Weinstein.  This approach focuses on using the writing of learners as the base upon which lessons may be developed.  One output of each lesson is more learner writing which can then be used for future lesson development.

This approach can be considered a variation on the concept of "Teaching Unplugged".  That is, it does not depend on a textbook.  In LLC, the teacher writes the textbook one lesson at a time, using student-provided material.

Some of the teachers who took the class with me were skeptical of this approach.  A major concern was something along the lines of "Hey, I have enough work to do without writing the textbook too.", "I use the textbook as a way of getting expert advice on how to teach a topic.  I'm no expert and I think my lessons will not be of good quality." and "Must my learners be guinea pigs?"

Since I'd already been exploring the unplugged approach, I could see some benefits.  In addition to the obvious benefits (can't be more relevant or student-centered!), our non-profit organization can save a lot if we aren't so dependent on textbooks.  No one teacher has to write a whole textbook; we can share our work.  We can also build on each lesson every time it's used.  (Add and refine activities, rework with different texts, etc.)  I can see each of these as more of a resource-trove than a lesson.

The instructor for the last two parts of the training was great, but the training itself (which she didn't develop) wasn't the best. Bureaucracy, I think.  One suggestion for improvement: we should write a lesson plan as well.  We should note what level the lesson is tailored to, ideas for expanding upward and downward, ideas for additional activities, materials and realia, correlations to competencies and notes on the language focus (the target language as well as caveats, etc.)

This approach isn't as unplugged as others.  It still has the teacher walking into a classroom with handouts and an agenda.  It's emergent in a limited way: an attentive teacher can take later classes in the direction indicated by the students in their writing.

When I tried this approach in the classroom, I used a nice text from one of my stronger students.   One problem with this sample was that it was a piece of fiction.  When I wrote the lesson, it was difficult to think of a way to connect it to the lives of other students.  I tried to think of what this story represented (albeit indirectly) with regard to this learner's life.  I thought: her love of creativity.  Based on this idea, I tried to make a "creative" writing assignment for the final activity.  I provided four photos of animals in unusual situations and planned to elicit ideas about what the animals might be doing, feeling, etc. and then to ask students to choose one and write.

I gave the lesson to two classes.  During the first class, I discovered that some students became quite animated (no pun intended!) when remembering stories about their pets.  In the second class, I widened the scope of the writing assignment.  Since the focus was using the simple past to tell a story (the topic wasn't important), I invited students to tell ANY story about an animal, true or otherwise.  I got several stories about pets.  These writings were of much higher quality than the fantasies.  They came from the HEART.  I could  rework the lesson using one of these texts.

However, I once tried to give a lesson about pets and not ONE student in the classroom had ever had a pet.  That lesson was a dud!  I should make sure the assignment accomodates students who don't have a pet story.  I could continue to offer the option of writing fiction.  Another "learner's life" aspect from the original story was this learner's pleasure at writing something for her grandchildren.  I could use that approach.  Another idea would be to ask students to share a favorite fable.