I discovered SPELTAC at the same time as I was doing some in house PD on visual learning. Somehow a series of articles, one of which: Teaching students to think, making thinking visible, R.Ritchhart/D.Perkins, Educational Leadership, 2008, and a workshop inspired me to create a learning wall. Nothing new, nothing experimental but a great tool for a support teacher facing the challenges of team-teaching and students who struggle with the pace of mainstream classes. One of the first SPELTAC blogs I came across supported an idea from my PD day: Visualizing Learning. The article and PD sessions made me look at the classroom walls at RAS and question whether what I saw was influencing or stimulating our students.
In a SPELTAC blog by Ethel Wolfe: “The importance of background information”, she points out how effective it can be to provide students with background information on the literature being covered in class by visualizing it. My grade 10 language arts class, where I co-teach as an EAL support teacher, was clearly showing signs of students who were missing the point and not reading between the lines and getting the authors insights or deeper meanings from the story. The first unit and summative assessment clearly displayed what the class weaknesses were, not just for the EAL students. The real question for this classes was how to get them more involved in their learning, get them to share responsibility in it.
And so a set of articles and circumstances led me to suggest to my colleagues, I support two grade 10 English classes that work parallel but have a different teacher. Both teachers welcomed the idea of creating a space in the classroom which would become a “learning wall”, a display that is continuously growing and changing related to the unit being studied. Once I had the idea I slowly started working out details and discussing it with my co-teachers and even some other staff (planning time does not always mean official meetings, a chat, an e-mail can work too). Then I asked myself: “What should be on the wall?”, “How can I make sure students are regularly contributing to it?”, “How can it help student learner skills?”. Again many of the answers were given to me once I started discussing the idea with teachers and students.
Our next unit is Tragedy and covers a range of texts including Oedipus Rex, Othello and some shorter stories. Starting with the Greeks, I explained the idea of a learning wall to the class and asked students to write a TRAGEDY title. Curiously, in one class a student immediately looked up the word “tragedy” in Greek and thus made a contribution before anything else was stuck on the wall. After a week students have included questions, thoughts, words to start the wall. This week I have suggested they come up with images of Thebes, Greek gods, Freud and other background related themes. All these simple little things create a way to involve grade 10’s more in their literature studies. The students were told the wall is a mere extension of their notes, but the collaborative approach as a class seems to make it more fun and interesting. Classes are now starting and ending with engaging discussions that come from the wall.
It is early days yet to see whether or not the learning wall will be a success. Nevertheless, I feel it already provided the students with an opportunity to contribute to their learning, be active and force them to think about things they are reading and asked to write essays about. From my perspective as a co-teacher it simply opened up a world of opportunities to develop team teaching and simply make units more meaningful to students. Although I am not present in every class, when I am, about 5 minutes are spent discussing questions and things on the wall, a great warm up activity which sets the pace for the class.