Teachers Become Students to Learn What Sticks

WAYNE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Teachers spent Monday in the cafeteria at Wayne High School. They weren't in front of the classroom, for a change. Instead, they were seated in small groups -- as students.

John Strebe, a teacher himself, gives workshops like Monday's at Wayne all across the country. The goal -- to help teachers improve their lessons and get kids more involved in what they're learning.

With nationwide discussions about improving test scores and raising standards in education, Strebe aims to make learning more interactive. He split the Wayne teachers into small teams and made the day about working together to compete for points.

"What I'm trying to let teachers do is experience a classroom where the classroom has been structured into learning teams, not in rows like we often see kids," Strebe said.

Strece said too often teachers seat kids in alphabetical order in the classroom. As an eighth-grader, he said, that meant he sat in the back row of his algebra classroom and felt detached from what he was supposed to be learning.

"Suppose the teacher had put an equation on the overhead, and I had a partner. And after a period of time, I could lean over and say, 'Did you get this? Oh, you didn't. Show me how you did that,' " Strebe said of the team-based methods he teaches.

Stephanie Smith, a high school English teacher, said the techniques are useful in the classroom.

"If you don't keep [the students] engaged, then they disconnect and you've lost them," Smith said.

Smith said Strebe's team-building methods allow teachers to reach out to kids who are otherwise "unreachable."

"They're disconnected before they come into the classroom because maybe they have a lot of things going on outside of school," Smith said. "They like to have ownership, they like to be able to choose and have some say-so in what they learn."

Strebe said in the 26 years he's been doing these workshops and using the methods in his own teaching, he has heard positive feedback from kids and teachers, who say the experience extends beyond the classroom.

"When you go out to work for a company, you're going to have to work with other people and you're going to have to share with them your ideas," Strebe said. "They're going to criticize them, critique them, they're going to praise them, they're going to add to them."

As a bonus, Strebe said, students do better on standardized tests because they get more out of what they are learning and their relationships with their classmates.

"If you can get kids to care about one another, it's going to affect learning in a positive way, but I have an idea it's going to affect their lives in a positive way, too," he said.

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