Student-Centered Activities


EDU134 - Teaching ESL to Adults: A course leading to Colorado’s ABEA Certification
Red Rocks Community College, Spring 2016 (Leecy Wise, Instructor)

Prompt: Create and post an activity to help an instructor find out how students learn best and how they can apply those abilities in learning new skills. Briefly describe the activity and the student population you are addressing. If you use a handout, post that as well for others to share.


Sheryl Michael 

I believe that students learn best when learning is active or mentally involved. For some, this means engaging in hands-on activities. For others, it means engaging in discourse - asking questions, reflecting on ideas. And for others, it means actively listening to others to formulate ideas and expressing these idea through writing or quick verbal summaries.
To learn how my students learn best, I usually assign task-based lessons within the first two weeks and let my students decide whether they would like to work independently or in groups. I answer clarification questions and help guide students who drift off-tasks, but mostly I observe my students' choices - which students choose to work alone? Which ones choose to work with a partner or two other students? Which students look to research or texts first? Which students focus on the big picture vs. details?But this may not be the best way to determine how students learn best.

I am meeting with some former students this week and am planning on asking them the ways in which they demonstrate how they learn best? I'd also like their thoughts on the best ways for teachers to learn how students learn best.
I will share my students' perspectives later this week.

Posted Later

I have enjoyed this past week and connecting with former students. I met with three groups of students, some of whom I see regularly, some of whom I see occasionally, and some of whom I email once every 3 months or so. When I contacted my students, I explained to them that I was taking a class that would lead to my ABEA, and that I had been asked to share an activity that helps instructors learn how students learn best.

My first meeting this week was with five students I taught in 2012. This is a special group. While these students represent different cultural backgrounds, they get together regularly and often include me.

In response to my question, Yesenia, a former student from Mexico who is a natural at backwards design, suggested an activity similar to what Maria posted. Ask the students how they learn best and then include students in matching student responses with whatever behavioral, cognitive, or learning style model the instructor chooses. Most students from this group agreed.

However, I met with two other students yesterday. I am still reflecting on the response of my student, Helena.

Helena, a thirty-something woman from the Netherlands, thought Yesenia's idea was good but suggested the importance of getting to know students as learners - not just how they learn best. When asked the difference, Helena stated that learning how students learn best means gathering data - What do students like to do? How do they interact with others when working on a project - do they think then speak or speak to organize and reflect? . . . . 

However, Helena explained that getting to know students as learners means getting to know their stories. She explained how her dad had been born of Japanese descent in what was formerly the West Indies but what was now Indonesia. She explained that her dad was a child when the Japanese invaded and that he and his family spent four years in a Japanese concentration camp. Helena's dad's mom died from disease, and he and his dad endured much cruelty from the guards, lived with chronic hunger, and experienced constant fear.

After the war, Helena's dad and his parents were repatriated to the Netherlands, and her dad enrolled in a government school. Helena's dad was far behind his peers in reading, writing, and math and was placed in a classroom with children much younger than him. Helena stated that the school focused on what her dad could not do and placed no value on his emotional and intellectual intelligence gained from living in a concentration camp. 

Helena explained that observing her dad "learn" or asking him how he learned best would not have helped neither him nor his teacher unlock his learning potential because he felt alienated and could not relate to the children he was learning with nor the content behind the reading, writing, and math.

Despite the fact that Helena's dad understood the value of an education, his personal history made it difficult for him to fit into a system that did not take into account his emotional maturity or the fact that his schooling had been interrupted. Without these considerations, Helena stated that knowing whether her dad was a visual, kinesthetic, or auditory learner would be futile. The education system alienated Helena's dad, not because it was not interested in identifying how he learned best, but because it did not consider the traumatic experiences he had with adults (guards) that had not previously been a part of his community, the pains of always being hungry and malnourished, and the tragedies of life during war.

It is well known that a student's prior experiences has a significant impact on his/her learning. However, I had not thought to include a student''s emotional intelligence into planning lessons that would unlock their learning potential. Before listening to Helena, I had used emotional experiences as a rationale for a student not performing as I had expected or hoped. I had not recognized these experiences as having a significant impact on how students learn.

My takeaway from listening to Helena was to change my focus from identifying how students learn best to getting to know them as learners. In speaking with Helena about how to create a classroom that fosters learning for all, she suggested to think beyond isolated activities. Creating environments that build student trust, are emotionally safe, and focus on each student's readiness to learn rater than deficits were very important elements to Helena.

Something my executive director has emphasized is creating a continuum of learning with many entry points. Applying this concept to a classroom may help to create the kind of environment that Helena is describing. Rather than placing students in classrooms based on a set of standards of what students should be doing by age 10, focus should be placed on the emotional and intellectual intelligences of students and scaffolds provided as appropriate for not just academic but psychological needs.

I do not have an answer as to how to create a system that recognizes a student's emotional intelligence. However, encouraging teachers to be empathetic, patient, and not focused on a timeline of learning concepts may be a start.

When translating these ideas to the classroom, Helena suggested asking students to tell their personal stories may be a good start. She suggested starting small such as "Describe your childhood home" or "What has been the most fearful moment of your life." She also stated that teachers could observe how students prepare and share their stories to identify how they learn best. Do students submit a paper? Do they engage in storytelling? Do they work with others or alone?

After listening to Helena, I have a new appreciation for how I approach planning instruction for my students.

Mary-Lynn Goberis 

Introducing learning preferences to adult ESL students may be as simple as asking a question. There is no scientific proof of the results of this “test”, but it may be fun even to video tape the individual answering. The teacher asks one student at a time, “What did you eat for breakfast?” Note that student’s eye movement. If the eyes go upward to remember, this is a visual memory since the person is looking for a picture of what was eaten. If the eyes move to either side, this is an indicator of an auditory memory of what sounds were heard at breakfast. If the eyes look downward, this indicates a kinesthetic person who is searching for what actions s/he performed at breakfast. And if the eyes look straight ahead, perhaps this shows a well-rounded learner. Try it and then compare it to a scientific test.

Since I have no proof of the eye movement test, I also thought about those adults who do not have any English reading capabilities. From a Learning Style Inventory adapted from, Learning to Study Through Critical Thinking, J.A. Beatrice, I illustrated the answers in a Power Point slide show. I envision that a class as a whole would follow the slide show, add up the A, B, & C answers, and then told ways to study for each category. There are 14 questions. Letter A responses are visual, letter B are auditory, and letter C are kinesthetic. The teacher script is written in each screen’s note area.

This particular Learning Style Inventory is short is why I picked it. It leads to VAK model. It could be a reading assignment for more proficient English reading students. I believe the answers may vary from time to time, but the results would give the teacher an idea of how students prefer to learn, and then have written strategies on ways to study.

David Henderson 

From what I’ve read (references noted at the end) and from my limited experience participating in and conducting team building exercises, I would try the following activity to attempt to discover how adult students learn best in a fundamental mathematics class. 

At the first class meeting we’ll do an icebreaker activity.  I’ll ask students spend 5 minutes introducing themselves to one another.  Then I’ll ask them to partner up and ask them to relate to their partner a life experience that taught them something.  It will be the responsibility of each student to introduce the partner to the class and describe the partner’s learning experience.  The objective is to begin to establish a sense of community within the class and to give me hints about the potential learning strategies to apply in this class.

After this activity I will introduce myself and how I feel I learn best.  Because this is a math class with students of varying skill levels, I’ll acknowledge possible anxiety about performance in the class and let them know my job is to help them.
I will then conduct a demonstration I believe justifies the impact of math on my students’ daily lives and I will begin each class with a demonstration of this kind.  Examples include: easy tricks for mastering mental arithmetic; short videos on math concepts demonstrated in nature, art, and design; interesting biographical vignettes related to important mathematical discoveries.

Early in the class, maybe during the second meeting, I’ll explore the topic of goals with the class. I’ll ask students to identify goals that successfully learning the math skills in this class may help them achieve. We will work together to identify a set of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) that each student can apply to this class.
My own SMART goals for each class period will be to connect the day’s learning objective to what the students have learned previously, to visually illustrate the concept I’m trying to teach, to mix up activities used to get the topic across, and to summarize what we learned at the end of each lesson.

1. How to Teach Adults, Dan Spalding, Shareware Electronic Access: ISBN 978-0-9887204-1-1 
2. University of Tennessee, Equipped for the Future—the National standards-based educational improvement initiative for adult basic education and English language learning. (
3. Student Persistence in the Adult ESOL Classroom, Melinda Roberts, 2006 copyright Pearson Education, Inc.

Maria Soto

This week, I conducted an activity with my higher level adult ESL students, which I recommend to other teachers:
Supplies needed:  A white board and dry erasable markers (various colors optional)
Note:  There were 8 students present in class.  

1. I wrote on the board the list below of learning preferences/styles taken from the following website:
Visual, physical, aural, verbal, logical, social and solitary
Then, I wrote on the board the following question: How do I learn best? 

2. Then, I asked the students to come up to the board and write their answers to the question. Some students wrote more than one answer.  I was surprised to read the various activities the students wrote down.  For example singing, playing an instrument, socializing, watching movies in their native language with English subtitles, drawing and coloring, spending time with my children, etc. 

3. The students then matched the different activities with each learning style.  For example, a visual learner, likes pictures, images, movies, drawings, colors, etc.

4.  Then the students worked in small groups and talked about how they can use their learning preferences to learn new things. I asked the students to give their group members some ideas and suggestions and I asked the students to write their classmates' ideas in their notebooks and try them out in their daily lives.

It was a fun and interactive activity and the students had some good laughs as they shared their learning preferences with each other.

Sarah Folzenlogen 

At our workforce center, students have the opportunity to take a class called "Learning Styles" where they spend time discovering their learning preferences. Through my intake process into the GED program--both informal interviewing and a questionnaire--I also try to gather information about their learning preferences by having them complete statements, such as:

Another class that students take as part of our training program is called the "I Am" Collage. They receive a poster board and have access to art supplies (markers, glue, scissors, etc), as well as magazine for pictures. The goal of the activity is to for students to create a visual representation of "who they are".... as individuals, parents, employees, etc.  Often participants will include photos of their families, their favorite quotes, words of inspiration, or pictures that represent their career goals. The collage is then turned into a presentation, through which they get to practice their public speaking skills.

I was brainstorming how I could use this concept, but make it a bit more specific to my classroom, by turning it into a "Who Am I as a Learner?" collage. I think you could observe a lot about students in how they approach and complete this task. For example, do they use a lot of words, or do they prefer using pictures/symbols? Do they present the information in an organized diagram/list, or is it more free form? Do they talk out their ideas with others as they complete the assignment, or do they work more independently? Do they sit at their desk while they are working, or are they moving around? Do they include information about their favorite subjects and areas of strength?

The collages could then be posted around the room and serve as visual reminders of the unique and diverse learners that make up the class.


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