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Resources for English Teachers

Whole Student Theory

Why Should I Spend Class Time on Non-Lecture Exercises?

There are real benefits for the students when you thoughtfully plan and carry out some non-lecture “whole student” exercises during class time.  However, never do it just for the sake of variety.  Always have a teaching purpose in mind. 

What will the student gain from this exercise? How does the exercise fit the particular reading and writing goal toward which we are currently working?

The theoretical writing in this area is inadequate. Most of the studies are focused on students with learning disabilities, arguing that non-lecture exercises help these students to learn in non-traditional formats.   I would argue that non-lecture formats have a much wider range of benefits than has previously been recognized.

  1. Non-lecture exercises are generally non-hierarchical, without an “authority” in front of the classroom passing out the “truth.”  Paolo Freire’s work would therefore support this type of in-class work, as would most feminist theory. This non-hierarchical structure complements the major hurdle in college writing:  getting students to see themselves as authorities and to think critically about every single piece of writing and every text which they encounter.
  2. Non-lecture exercises almost always entail working with other students rather than performing for the teacher.  This means that they are part of the development of a supportive community within the class – and that feeling of support, of being part of a cohesive group is sometimes missing in college classes.  Furthermore, if students support each other, they will try harder to understand each other’s ideas and experiences – and thus be more effective at reacting to the students’ ideas expressed orally and in writing.  See all the theoretical work on collaborative learning.
  3. Non-lecture exercises in which students move their bodies out of the traditional rows facing the teacher support memory since memory is, for many students, associated with smell, touch, sound, and even taste, as well as sight.  It is even connected to the “gestalt” of the body – where I am located when I learn something.  Thus any sort of physical displacement from the “normal” position of sitting in a chair facing forward reinforces memory of whatever “lesson” is being taught.
  4. Finally, every “normal” student is somewhere on the spectrum between:

NON-TRADITIONAL LEARNER----------------------VISUAL LEARNER

ASLEEP--------------------------------------------------------------------AWAKE

BORED--------------------------------------------------------------FASCINATED

SHY---------------------------------------WANTING TO DOMINATE CLASS

INSECURE ABOUT WRITING & IDEAS-------------------------SECURE

LINGUISTICALLY WEAK-------------LINGUISTICALLY COMPETENT

HAVING ADD----------------------------------------------------------FOCUSED

“Regular” class discussion benefits only those on the right, while other exercises bring out the strengths of all those on the left.

 


English Department
Co-Chairpersons 
E-mail:Becky Roberts
Phone: 408.864.5764

E-mail: Lydia Hearn
Phone: 408.864.5785

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Last Updated: 11/12/09