· will help teachers to understand the aims of the project and to find their way around the website;
· enable them to benefit from tips and suggestions on how and when to use the units contained in the website;
· will give teachers some insight into the importance of the internet for this project.
The core of the website consists of the 12 units that will be completed by the summer of 2001.
A note of encouragement
Most teachers are aware that they can make a major difference in the lives of their students, particularly when they are willing to take them seriously and listen to what they have to say about themselves and the world in which they live The units in this website can help in this process. Teachers who are devoted to their students will find that the use of these units can lead to increased motivation.
A note of caution
In general, the topics touched upon in the units may be viewed as controversial. As such, they can arouse strong feelings and lead to discussions that are emotionally charged. Before starting with Teaching to Make a Difference teachers should have some degree of confidence in dealing with the various ideas and emotions that may be generated by the use of these units. Some teachers will also be aware that they cannot always solve all the problems that students pose. There are some issues that are in the realm of other professions and require different skills to those that teachers possess. After all, teachers are not therapists.
The Teaching Aims of the Project
The main teaching aims of the project are to:
· integrate methods and content is such a way that issues of tolerance and intolerance are dealt with in a manner that provides insights into these issues, and also in ways that develop understanding and promote cooperation;
· help students to make connections between the past and the present;
· focus on issues that affect young people in and outside of the classroom, today;
· generate reflection and discussion about the rights and responsibilities that young people have in their school and classroom, specifically and in general, in their world, today;
· provide teachers with concrete tools that can help them turn their classrooms into a "learning laboratory", in which all students feel safe to express their views and feelings;
· put at teachers' disposal classroom exercises that can help them deal with controversial issues;
· offer teachers appropriate tasks to enable their students to use the internet in a thoughtful and effective way.
Accordingly, almost all of the units are designed for direct use in the classroom. All of them have been tested (in Italy and Portugal) to make sure that they are concrete enough to use in classroom situations.
Teaching to Make a Difference is especially designed for teachers of pupils in the age group 12-15, but older and slightly younger pupils will also benefit from many exercises suggested in the units.
Though the units contained in this website are meant primarily for European teachers, they may also be useful for teachers from other nations. For instance, many of the (magyarul language) websites listed in the units and in the resource section are from the United States.
The units will especially be useful to teachers of the upper grades of primary or elementary schools (depending on the country) but also for civics (or citizenship) teachers in secondary schools Some of the units have been specifically developed for history and language teachers.
The units, the teachers' and the students' sections
The 12 units form the backbone of this website. They focus on a variety of issues that deal with tolerance and intolerance in past and present day societies. Topics such as bullying, racism, multi-lingualism and nationalism are issues that affect young people throughout Europe. The various units each address one or more of these issues.
Another important component is the teacher's section. This allows teachers to communicate with each other, exchange ideas about the units or other topics of interest to them and to disseminate good practice. For instance, teachers might want to suggest tips or modifications for using a unit in a class of older students, or they might know of some other, newer, websites that can be used as a resource. In general, the resource section will be updated regularly with newspaper clippings, postcards, articles, etc, that can be used for classroom discussion. The various research links will also help teachers look into other internet resources for their classrooms.
In addition to the teachers' section, there is also a students' section that also allows students to contact each other, a perfect place for students to plan and execute joint projects.
(Parts of this text were written in cooperation with Pieter Batelaan)
Learning in schools is aimed at:
· The development of skills (motor skills, using instruments such as computers and activities such as reading, writing, communicating, collaborating, reflecting, etc.)
· Acquiring information (factual knowledge, knowledge of procedures and strategies, etc.)
· The acquisition of understanding (we can speak of understanding when students are able to comprehend and apply new knowledge to new situations and connect such knowledge to previously gained knowledge).
· The development of attitudes (we speak of an attitude when one's view of an object or situation predisposes that person to view it or act in a certain way, for instance leading a person to take the initiative and accept responsibility).
Many activities can lead to learning. Some activities, however, are more effective than others, when one is attempting to reach a certain goal. For instance, a person will learn certain skills more quickly if he or she "learns through doing", rather than through listening to a lecture or through reading. Intellectual skills associated with cooperation, communication and learning are most effectively gained by "doing" and by reflecting on the action taken (also by discussing one's experiences with others). Examples of learning activities that lead to understanding are: listening, reading, observing, discussing, experimenting (alone or together), preparing and executing a presentation (alone or together). Research shows that activities such as "discussing things with each other", working together to solve problems, experimenting together and reflecting on this process, and jointly preparing, executing and evaluating a presentation are more effective learning tools (leading to more understanding) than listening, reading and observing. In other words: interaction facilitates learning.
The units in Teaching to Make a Difference are constructed in such a way that they build upon the experiences that students bring with them into the classroom. The cultural and individual experiences of students are viewed as something that can:
· give students the confidence to participate in learning activities;
· help students to better understand each other;
· help them to gain insight into other perspectives, cultures and traditions;
· provide a classroom climate where the student's needs and ideas are respected and can be used as stepping stones towards learning;
· help to motivate students who otherwise tend to be marginalized.
The main theoretical ideas that have inspired "Teaching to Make a Difference" are related to intercultural education, cooperative learning and multiple intelligences (or multiple ability learning).
Intercultural education, as a method of learning, relies heavily on "learning to learn" and "learning to do", and it is highly student-focused. This approach implies that students are taught to become responsible for their own learning so that they can embark on a process of life-long learning. It is the processes that take place between individuals and groups that is a central issue: How do students relate? How do they negotiate? How do they make decisions? How do they resolve conflicts? etc. Making these processes more democratic and effective is as important as the final grade a student achieves at the end of the year.
In cooperative learning the students work together on solving problems and completing assignments. Instead of encountering a lecture situation in which the teacher generates all of the knowledge and the students try to absorb as much information as possible, the students work in small groups and share each other's insights and knowledge. Though lectures can be useful from time to time to provide informational input, the units in Teaching to Make a Difference have all been designed with cooperative learning in mind.
The most important arguments that have been used to implement cooperative learning methods are:
· By implementing cooperative learning methods one stimulates social skills such as participating, collaborating, communicating and taking responsibility.
· Cooperative learning is an effective way of reaching cognitive goals.
Cooperative learning implies more than simply placing students in small groups and asking them to complete an assignment. If group work is limited to this, the process can be counter-productive. This is especially the case for low achieving students, since the higher achievers will tend to dominate the various aspects of the group process (talking, taking the initiative, leading, deciding, intervening, interrupting, etc.). Obviously, if interaction leads to learning then one needs to interact, and especially to interact in a meaningful way. Group work cannot be considered cooperative learning, unless it is organized in such a way that students participate in the interaction. This also holds true for many of the activities in Teaching to make a Difference.
Participation in an interaction is influenced by:
1. Organisational aspects
2. The content
3. The participants
4 The level of challenge
refers to how the groups are composed, how the classroom or furniture
is arranged, and how the tasks and responsibilities are assigned. With
respect to group composition we suggest that teachers adhere to the following
1. The teacher assigns the children to groups. This avoids the immediate isolation of the less popular children, who tend not to be chosen as groupmates by their peers. Students tend to dislike this at first because they prefer to be seated with friends. It is fairly easy, however, to explain that all students have something to contribute to the learning process and that they therefore need to learn to work with everybody in the classroom, in order for each student to derive the maximum benefit.
2. Group composition is changed from time to time to avoid the development of fixed role expectations.
3. Group composition should be as heterogeneous as possible, so that the students can profit most from the diversity of talents present in the group.
4. Tasks and responsibilities need to be clear. The teacher assigns these to or negotiates them with the students.
5. Tasks and responsibilities need to rotate from time to time. 6. They need to be challenging to all students.
Content refers to the subject matter (This should be experienced as interesting and useful) and the assignments (open-ended questions, assignments that require individual participation and collaboration). The assignments also need to be "rich": they need to stimulate the child's learning capacities. We are also dealing, here, with teacher expectation as well as the expectations that students have of each other.
Using cooperative learning in the classroom has consequences for the teacher's role. When the learning activity involves listening, reading and observing, the teacher is primarily involved in explaining, telling, clarifying, presenting texts to read, giving assignments, showing videos and (sometimes) organizing excursions. When learning activities involve discussion, group investigation and experimentation, and presentations the teacher needs to utilise different skills: organising, stimulating discussion (for instance by asking students questions that lead to better understanding), observing, monitoring, evaluating and giving feedback. These are also skills that a teacher needs when using information technology (IT) in the classroom. We return to this a little later in the text.
The American psychologist Howard Gardner has developed a very useful theory on what he calls "multiple intelligences" (Gardner, 1993)(www.scholasticnetwork.com/library/teacen/mi.htm). In this theory he discusses the many types of intelligence that people have. Assignments can be considered to be most educational if several of these intelligences are activated. The different intelligences that Gardner distinguishes are:
1. Linguistic (the capacity to use language effectively, either orally or in written form).
2. Logical-mathematical (e.g. the capacity to use numbers effectively and reason well).
3. Spatial (e.g. the ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to work with shapes and designs).
4. Bodily-Kinesthetic (e.g. the ability to use one's body to express situations, events, ideas and feelings and the facility to use one's hands to produce or transform things).
5. Musical (e.g. the ability to perceive, repeat, express, and transform musical forms).
6. Interpersonal (e.g. the ability to recognize the moods, intentions, and feelings of other people, to interact with them in a meaningful and constructive way, or the ability to empathize with others).
7. Intrapersonal (e.g. self-knowledge and the ability to reflect on one's actions and to make necessary changes and adaptations).
8. Naturalist (e.g. the ability to recognize patterns and objects in nature).
Using these intelligences as a starting point provides us with a good indication of how successful we are in helping students to build a full range of knowledge and skills. The essence of these intelligences can easily be explained to children as young as 6 years old.
Some educators (such as Cohen & Lotan, 1997) would rather speak of multiple abilities and multiple ability learning, instead of multiple intelligences. Too often we think of intelligence as something static and difficult to change (like an IQ). Using the term ability emphasizes that we are talking about mental insights and processes, and behaviors that can be learned.
During the design of the units in Teaching to Make a Difference, care was taken to focus on as many intelligences as possible so as to activate multiple abilities among the students.
to Make a Difference, the Web and Cooperative Learning
When one thinks about interaction in educational settings where computers and the internet are in use, one tends to assume that the interaction taking place is between the computer and the person working at the computer. An assignment appears on the screen. Subsequently, the person watching the screen responds to the question and discovers from the screen whether his or her reply was correct or incorrect.
Some recent research suggests that we might be isolating young people by simply sticking them in front of a computer. A recent article on the web carried the headline "Too much time online makes more people go offline in real life". It is now becoming clear that social skills can suffer if computers and the internet are not placed within an educational environment that stimulates social interaction.
Interaction with the computer refers to much more than the relationship computer-individual, in Teaching to Make a Difference. On the whole, assignments can only be satisfactorily completed if students work together, and the presentation of results occurs in front of the class (or they are communicated to students at other schools, in principle, anywhere in the world). The computer provides various "inputs" for a learning process, and offers the opportunity to present results via the internet. But the most effective learning process takes place when students are engaged in discussion with one an other, when they are solving problems and when they are preparing a presentation. Turning the computer into a group tool has several consequences for the classroom.
Many activities in Teaching to make a Difference have been designed for lessons in which students can work in groups of 3-5 persons, with a computer at their disposal. The assignments are best completed through the cooperation of these group members with each other.
In addition to a computer with internet access, there also need to be sufficient other materials in the classroom (such as crayons, paper, sheets, simple musical instruments, glue, scissors, cardboard, costumes), and the students should also ideally have access to a library or a media centre. Each unit lists the materials needed for completing the main exercises contained in the unit. A printer will allow the students to print out various types of information. While some students are working with the computer, others can be studying the print-outs, commenting on them and evaluating both the results and the processes.
Traditionally it is the teacher that transfers knowledge. He/she is the most important source of information. In many of the activities suggested in Teaching to Make a Difference all the information the students will need can be found on the website and the internet. This gives the teacher much more time to observe the learning processes that are taking place among the students, to monitor and to assess what is being accomplished by groups and individuals. Within the framework of Teaching to make a Difference we suggest that the teacher assume the following roles:
1. Organiser and manager. The teacher is responsible for creating the composition of the groups and the distribution of tasks. Subsequently, the teacher delegates responsibility to the groups. In other words, the teacher makes sure that everybody sticks to his/her role. The computer is often the "prize possession" in the classroom. Even though the facilitator in the group is the primary person responsible for how the computer is used, the teacher should watch closely to ensure that it is used properly and that access to it is fair.
2. Catalyst. Of course, the teacher is responsible for helping groups that get stuck or fail to function properly. When difficult questions arise, the teacher does not provide ready-made answers, but instead asks questions that get the group back on track. The general idea is to stimulate the problem-solving skills of the students, not solve all their problems.
3. Observer (watching what the groups are doing right). It is important in the Teaching to Make a Difference units that the teacher responds to what groups and individuals do well. This means closely observing what is taking place in each group.
4. Monitor (assessing student participation and progress)
5. Evaluator (assessing levels of performance, appropriateness of content, efficacy of methods and processes, encouraging student self-evaluation, giving feedback)
The teacher responds to the behaviour of the students, based on what is observed. This can occur during the group work, but also during the presentation. The feedback is concrete and based on a description and evaluation of what has been observed.
Assigning roles to students
In most of the modules an important aspect of the group work to be conducted relies upon the assignment of roles to the students while conducting their work. These roles stimulate the development of different abilities and and also give each student a responsibility. Some of the main roles that are discussed in the various units are:
A. Facilitator: makes sure that everyone understands the instructions. Makes sure that all group members participate, calls the teacher if no one in the group knows the answer, makes sure that all members of the group get the help they need;
B. Reporter: organizes the group presentation for the class, discusses with the group what will be reported and how (the reporter does not need to report, but to organize the reporting);
C. Materials Manager/Web Communicator: responsible for collecting whatever materials are necessary to complete the activity. Is responsible for all internet work, and email communication and research.
D. Messenger: Responsible for getting help and input from other sub-groups, but especially from allied teams in other school(s) through the chatroom, at designated times.
E. Harmonizer: Makes sure the communication lines are open and that the atmosphere in the group is good. Makes sure there are no insults or put downs. It will help to post such rules on the wall so that all the students can see them.
References used for the teacher's manual
Cohen, R., & Lotan, R. (Eds) (1997) Working for Equity in Heterogeneous Classrooms: Sociological Theory in Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gardner, H. (1993) Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books.