Strategies That Work! OC Chapter Spring Workshop
Shifts Focus to Learning

Mar 19th, 2016 | By | Category: Chapters, Orange County
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Femia Scarfone

Femia Scarfone


—The Orange County Chapter of CATESOL hosted a fabulous fun-filled Spring Workshop on Saturday, February 13, with the help of Biola University’s Department of Applied Linguistics and TESOL. A variety of exhibitors, excellent poster presenters, and lots of prizes rounded out the day!

image of Rob Jenkins with his saxophone

OC workshop presenter Rob Jenkins welcomes attendees with a saxophone serenade, a first for the chapter.

As participants were arriving, presenter Rob Jenkins of Santa Ana College School of Continuing Education serenaded the crowd with classic tunes on his saxophone—an OC Chapter first. In his workshop, “Effective Strategies With a Purpose,” Jenkins urged participants to shift their perspective from a teaching focus to a learning focus and provided a list of 100 strategies for doing so. “Why do we do the activities we do in the classroom and are they the most effective?” he asked.

Jenkins started by asking members of the audience to create their personal mission statements and answer the question, “What is important to you in the language classroom?” He mentioned that when we talk about the purpose of activities, they need to reflect the teacher’s own philosophy. Jenkins’s mission is to give students challenging opportunities to be successful in their language-learning experience so they can develop confidence and become independent, lifelong learners. Jenkins wanted the audience to learn techniques for building a classroom community, so he modeled several activities in which the audience participated. In one activity, called Backward Questions, groups of three or four people perform a “round robin,” in which one person starts by giving an answer to a question, and another person must guess the question. In this activity, participants are encouraged to share answers about their personal lives. For example, person A will say, “a teacher,” and person B will guess, “What is your profession?” This was a very entertaining activity, in which participants had the opportunity to learn interesting details about one another.

Next, Jenkins asked pairs to discuss two or three reasons that lesson planning is important, both for the teacher and the student. The instructor should focus on activities that have an objective. The goal is to have seamless progression from one activity to the next within a lesson. Finally, the instructor must evaluate student performance and connect the preceding or subsequent lessons, which requires careful planning. We should have lesson plans as instructors so we keep in mind the goals and objectives of a lesson, but we should also have them for students so that they can have confidence and assurance that activities have a meaningful purpose, and so they are able to evaluate their own learning. It is the job of the instructor to help students to know they are progressing. It is when we have good lesson plans with measurable objectives that we can show students that they are learning and applying the material.

The second part of the workshop focused on learner-centered instruction. Jenkins shared a quote from Richard Dufour to spur discussion:

Eventually, after years as a principal, I realized that even through my efforts had been well intentioned—and even though I had devoted countless hours each school year to those efforts—I had been focusing on the wrong questions. I had focused on the questions, ‘What are the teachers teaching?’ and ‘How can I help them to teach it more effectively?’ Instead, my efforts should have been driven by the questions, ‘To what extent are the students learning the intended outcomes of each course?’ and ‘What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?’ This shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning is more than semantics. When learning becomes the preoccupation of the school, when all the school’s educators examine the efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school begin to change in substantive ways.” (Richard Dufour, 2004)

Instructors need to assess if students are following and understanding and then instructors need to shift what they are doing to make sure students are “getting it” or not. The outcomes of schools improve when we focus on learning instead of teaching. It is the responsibility of the instructor to think about how the students are learning. To practice this idea, groups of participants worked on an activity whereby they separated statements into two categories: the Teaching Approach and the Learning Approach. For example, a statement related to methodology under the Teaching Approach read, “Start with the objective: what do we want students to know?” A statement under the same category for the Learning Approach read, “Start with the objective: what do we want students to be able to do?” Jenkins reminded the audience that in learner-centered instruction, we should apply all instruction to the lives of our students and teach using multimodalities. Further, he stresses the importance of using student names in the classroom every day and to engage in cooperative learning, which cultivates building trust through sharing.

image of speaker Rob Jenkins for OC chapter workshop surrounded by board

Rob Jenkins (seated, center) and the Orange County Chapter board

After the catered lunch break, poster sessions, and opportunity drawing, Jenkins began the final part of his presentation, which focused on the importance of critical thinking. First, the audience was asked to define critical thinking in one sentence. Later, Jenkins shared his definition: “Tasks that require learners to think deeper than the superficial vocabulary meaning.” Jenkins said that critical thinking should be done at every level because it will engage students, and they will enjoy what they are learning. To help the audience understand the importance of critical thinking, the participants took part in an activity in which they focused on how their students were learning information, what they were learning, and if they were actively thinking. The groups had to create standards for each skill area that reflect critical thinking. For example, under Reading, a standard was given: “Read for detail,” and under Writing: “Write arguments with supporting information.” Later, Jenkins shared an abbreviated list of College and Career Readiness standards that instructors should keep in mind in order to teach critical thinking at the forefront. Then the participants studied various attributes of a critical thinker and classified these attributes into categories such as: Asking Questions, Making Judgments, Identifying Assumptions, Analyzing While Suspending Judgment. In the end, Rob Jenkins urged everyone keep the following in mind when it comes to our teaching—lesson planning and community, learner-centered instruction, teaching versus learning, and critical thinking to engage learners. Jenkins concluded, “We are all different. Our students are all different. Each class we teach is different. If we are truly conscious of our students’ needs, our classes for the same course taught from semester to semester must change because our students’ needs change as well. This means that our delivery may change, we may emphasize different aspects of the content and we may approach instruction in a variety of ways.”

Every fall and spring, CATESOL Orange County hosts well-known faculty in our field to bring dynamic workshops and opportunities for professional development to the Orange County area. Be on the lookout for the Fall 2016 Workshop!

Femia Scarfone is a member of the faculty in the American Language Program at California State University, Fullerton, and a past coordinator of the CATESOL Orange County Chapter.


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