How would you design a classroom to help a student from another country feel comfortable and support their learning? Children from Mrs. Erdelyi’s Lower School language arts class recently explored this question as part of a Project Based Learning lesson that began with a simple reading exercise.
Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.
“My class has been reading a book called, Dear Whiskers,” Mrs. Erdelyi explained. “One of the characters in the book is a little girl from Saudi Arabia, who does not speak or write English very well. This led to great discussions about what it would be like to come into a classroom where not only did you not know anyone, but you could not understand anyone and they could not understand you.”
This exploratory path sparked another discussion: What is an immigrant? How do they come to our country? Why do they come to our country? Where are they coming from? Intrigued, the children decided to dig deeper.
After reading a couple of fictional books written about the topic – My Name is Yoon and The Name Jar – they envisioned a real-life scenario of a child coming to Lawrence School from a different country with no understanding of our language. What kind of classroom would they like to create to make the new student feel welcome and help them learn?
The students then broke into small groups to come up with a list of items they wanted to include that ranged from practical (clocks, alphabet strips, number lines and even a snack table) to – not surprisingly, if you know Lawrence students – creative and thoughtful.
For instance, each group clearly labeled objects in the room to help the non-native speaker begin to recognize words. There was also discussion about how the desks should be arranged so the new student wouldn’t feel isolated when they sat down. It was important to the children that the student feel like a part of the group so they would be comfortable asking questions.
Nearly every group included a technology station for the new student to use. This area included Smartboards, computers and an iPad. One group even added a few objects for the student to touch and hold as they learned about a subject.
The final stage was to actually bring all these ideas to life by constructing a model of their classrooms from scratch, using shoe boxes, cardboard, yarn, markers and more. The children were so engrossed in this phase that there were audible groans at the end of the period each day.
“The goal of Project Based Learning is to help students develop flexible knowledge, effective problem solving skills, self-directed learning, effective collaboration and intrinsic motivation,” said Lawrence Literacy Coach Amy Erich. “Specifically for students with learning differences, this style is beneficial because they must use all modalities in the process of researching and solving a problem. This multi-sensory aspect makes the project engaging and fun because students have a meaningful way to apply their skills immediately.”
In addition to watching all the creative concepts come to life, we were so proud to see the effective team building, long-term project planning and goal setting displayed by our students!