I asked one of my ASL classes to take 3 minutes the other day and write whatever came to mind about how they would like to learn ASL– what kinds of classroom exercises, texts (books, videos), homework, tests, whatever. I did this because it seemed like some things weren’t working for some of the students in the class, and I wondered if they had any better ideas about how to learn. I think it was interesting for them to write, and I certainly got some ideas from them I will put into action; in fact, I already made some changes this morning. In addition to making changes in the course, I feel it improved the trust we have in each other, since they know that I want to listen, and I know that they want to learn– maybe just in different ways.
Afterword: The exercise I assigned the students was in line with my training in education and my educational philosophy. I am using Signing Naturally Units 1-6, and I have no intention of tossing it out. I also use the Teacher’s Curriculum Guide and the included materials, such as slideshows. I think the workbook and DVD are great, but I want to get my students’ perspective on their course materials. I know I am the ultimate decision maker when it comes to what I want to teach, but they are the ultimate decision makers when it comes to what they want to learn. Ultimately, no teacher can force a student to read a book or watch a DVD. The students are the ones who must choose to use the tools they have or augment their learning with other resources. My thought is that, in the process of imagining their dream class, the students are forced to imagine the kinds of “work” they would do if they had the freedom to choose. I asked them, “tell me how you would learn ASL if it were up to you– and not just magically, but by working at it. If you don’t like what you’re reading, watching, or doing, what else would you propose?” I stressed realism while at the same time inviting imagination.
To give you an example of a change suggested in the free-writes, three (out of 9) students suggested putting off Unit 6 to the end of the semester rather than threading it through the other units as the Signing Naturally Semester Syllabus suggests. I decided to try their suggestion, this semester at least. It’s a relatively minor change, they appreciate me for it, and I feel like no less of a leader for doing it.