From: Annie McDevitt
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Date: 12 Dec 1996
This quarter in Psychology 101, I learned to completely rethink the ideas I've grown up with about what learning should look like. I've come to see that traditional teaching methods in which the teacher is often seen as the unquestionable authority, are not the most effective. Through our reading, our experiences at Barrios Unidos, and simply through the format of our class, I've learned that a collaborative, informal learning environment may be more conducive to encouraging creative and self-motivated students.
First, this class has made me look at the teacher-student relationship in a new light. In traditional classrooms, most of the questions are asked by the teacher who is usually looking for one "right" answer. The curriculum of this type of classroom is not molded by the students interests or learning styles. What is important for the students to learn is often decided by someone far removed from them. Consequently, the subject matter is often culturally insensitive and simply irrelevant to many students. As well, the traditional classroom does not embrace the diversity of its students. It insists, instead, that they fit into the ideal of what a student should be- a European American, fluent english-speaker from a middle class background. Children's differences are not valued or seen as opportunities for learning.
Second, my experiences at Barrios Unidos were very rich. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of what working in a bilingual classroom might be like. I was glad for the chance to use what little spanish I have, and even more glad to see how I was able to communicate with kids who barely knew any english. As well, it was a good reality check for me to see that I am a long way from being a fluent spanish speaker. But, my value and motivation for learning spanish was greatly increased. I also began to learn other methods to circumvent language diffences such as the use of body language, demonstration and simply asking help from bilingual students. It was great how we were all students at Barrios Unidos. Lastly, it was interesting to see how computers could possibly work as a bridge between people of different languages. If both people understand what's happenning on the computer screen, it becomes less important that they don't understand one another completely.
Third, I gained a considerable amount of computer knowledge this quarter. Previously, I was what one might call practically computer illiterate. I never thought I would be able to or want to use the internet. But I've really enjoyed using it for discussion and research. It's really convenient having so much information at your fingertips. As well, I had the chance to learn to install computer games at Barrios Unidos. It's a pretty simple task, but I would have never realized that if I hadn't taken this class. All in all, my confidence in my computer abilities has increased ten-fold this quarter.
Lastly, I have learned a lot through our readings and through our class Web discussions. Particularly interesting to me in the readings was Vygotsky's idea of the zone of proximal development. He described how children's potential abilities have often been discounted. Placement tests in traditional schools don't take into account what children are capable of achieving when quided by others. But, perhaps what I've enjoyed most about the class is interacting with my classmates on the Web. I've enjoyed being able to explore topics of interest to me, such as race and bilingual education. Hearing everyone's experiences and knowledge on these and other subjects has been an invaluable part of this class!!