Innovative teaching styles create new opportunities for learning inside, outside of classroom

Julie Burchett monitors the student discussion in Real World Problem Solving, a class dedicated to the understanding of poverty and how it affects people across the globe. Photo by Emily Stisser

As teachers place more emphasis on how students learn, educators are evolving their class style to reflect different needs.

The Chelsea Center for Experiential Learning has offered assistance on internships, service learning, travel and employment since 2011, but traditional teachers have recently added phrases like “discussion-based” and “democratic” to describe their own classrooms.

Chelsea Center coordinator Julie Burchett said, “There are some people who have learned to do school, and they can come and they can sit in class, and they can take their notes, and they can get an A, but they may not really be learning.”

Burchett added a new class this year, Real World Problem Solving. The class combines experiential learning and social studies, along with studying global poverty. Students will take a four-day trip to the Heifer Ranch Global Village in Arkansas to undergo a poverty simulation accompanied by Webster University students.

“They don’t like to tell us a lot about it until we get down there,” Burchett said. Her questions about the trip included how much food they will have, or how far they will have to walk for water.

Following the field trip, students will reflect on ways they can make an impact.

Burchett said, “They can make a change in the world and they are going to find some way to do that.”

Real World Problem Solving has no tests and is a discussion-based class involving peer presentation.

Senior Molly Nash said, “Our class is set up that way… allowing us to express our views and ideas. I really like it, and I know my classmates do as well, especially with such a complex topic as poverty. It helps to make it easier to understand.”

Experiential learning classes are only one example of the different ways of teaching.

Often, classes that do not have strict parameters on content allow students to explore different approaches to relay information more freely. Not having to “teach to a test” opens up more time for discussion.

Social studies teacher James Lemay said, “My whole goal is getting students to think for themselves.”

Lemay teaches The African American Experience course, which is partially dedicated to the “further understanding of a culture that is integral to America as a whole” according to its course description. The class is an elective social studies course that allows Lemay to dig deeper into the interests of students.

“We get caught up talking about something that’s interesting to the kids… and I’m okay with it,” Lemay said.

Other teachers are more direct with their intentions. English teacher Katie Guymon has used Socratic seminars to purposely create peer discussion and analysis of topics.

“They want to talk about these things. They want to have someone guide them through the intricacies of all these tough things that are happening in the world,” Guymon said.

Socratic seminars are becoming more common. Teachers will take a full class period to pose open-ended questions to students to discuss amongst themselves. Students listen closely to others and have the opportunity to formulate their own opinions as well as respond to their peers.

Junior William Harned said, “I learn much better in classes that aren’t lecture format. Creating connections in my mind through activities and discussions help me retain more information.”

However, using different styles of teaching is difficult for some classes. An Advanced Placement (AP) class has information required to cover by teachers to prepare students for the AP exam on that subject.

AP World History teacher Betty Roberts said, “I’ve done a lot of project-based stuff in the past, but I’ve got an immense amount of content to cover in a very short amount of time, and the most effective way to do that, in my opinion, is lecture.”

In Robert’s opinion, the only way to do projects and analysis in her classes is to have an existing baseline of knowledge, which students receive from reading their textbooks and listening to her lectures.

Although the parameters of AP and Honors classes are fast-paced and cover a lot of information, teachers still find different ways to give content within the lecture format.

Burchett, who also teaches AP U.S. History, uses drawing to assist students with retaining information. She will cover a topic, then ask students to draw what they remembered and share the drawings with their peers. The other students will try to guess what the drawing means and share their own creations. She calls this technique “Etch-a-Note.”

“They get a chance to stop and have a break and talk a little bit about the content that we just covered,” Burchett said.

Social Studies teachers Betty Roberts lectures in the traditional style. Photo by Maeve Taylor

In addition to “Etch-a-Note,” Burchett tries to include some experiential learning in her other classes. With AP. U.S. History, she plans on doing some community polling, as well as a visit to the Bellefontaine cemetery for research.

However, the students who are used to traditional teaching can sometimes feel like more innovative activities are not for them.

Sophomore Grace Lock said, “The technique [Etch-a-Note] doesn’t help me because I am not a visual learner, but I think it is very helpful for people who are. I appreciate that Ms. Burchett teaches to all learners.”

From simulations to discussions, the expansion of different teaching and learning styles is becoming more of a focus in school.

Lemay reiterated what other teachers had said, “I want [students] to think for themselves, not repeat anyone else’s stuff, even mine. I want them to have their own.”

Lindsey Bennett – Feature Editor 

This is feature editor Lindsey Bennett’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year. She has attended JournalismSTL’s Spring Conference and MIPA’s J-Day.

Maeve Taylor – Podcast Editor 

This is Maeve Taylor’s first year on the Echo. She found her niche in audio while taking journalism her freshman year.

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