Education – Self-Directed on All Learning Levels
I have done intensive education action research in working with students over many years as a private/public secondary school teacher and college professor, developing innovative educational strategies across the curriculum for mainstream classes, as well as for special education and special needs students. I plan to extend these efforts as an independent educator through this website, in collaboration with my colleague and friend, Professor Roxanne J. Leach, distinguished English as a Second Language, literature, composition, and developmental reading and writing instructor. Roxanne and I hope to generate widespread interest in our innovative approaches to teaching, tutoring, and providing personalized academic support, which place primary focus on forming one-on-one, caring relationships with our students. We respect the individual student’s freedom to choose what, how, and when he or she decides to learn. We believe that all human beings are born innately curious about the world, and that connecting with this instinctive desire to know and understand is the key to success in all educational endeavors. An effective teacher does not so much impart or instill knowledge and insight; instead, he or she facilitates its natural, self-generated acquisition.
We look forward to sharing our expertise with learners of all ages, from students who are currently enrolled in elementary and secondary schools, to those who are taking college, university, graduate school, or adult education classes.
We are also eager to work with students in the rapidly expanding homeschool and self-directed learning communities.
We invite and encourage like-minded educators to join with us, teachers who are dedicated to providing innovative, creative educational opportunities for student-centered, self-directed inquiry on all levels of the lifetime learning process.
My specific areas of education expertise include teaching developmental reading and writing, composition, academic research papers, and creative writing, along with enhancing students’ literacy, reading comprehension, critical thinking, and study skills. I teach poetry and literature, literary analysis and interpretation, as well as modern history, social science, and international relations; I also assist students with Praxis, SAT, and ACT test preparation. I also have extensive experience in working successfully with special needs students, including students challenged by ADD, ADHD, autism, and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Roxanne specializes in teaching developmental integrative writing, speaking, and literacy skills to beginner, intermediate, and advanced English language learners. Roxanne also teaches literature, reading comprehension, composition, and academic research papers, as well as critical thinking and study skills.
Both Roxanne and I have extensive experience as teachers and mentors for the MLA and/or APA academic research paper writing process.
Beginning from 1976, I supervised a weekly student literary journal at Fairfield Country Day School in Connecticut that featured students’ original fiction and creative nonfiction writing, continuing with similar writing projects in regional high schools throughout the ensuing decade. I created an innovative reading program in the early 1990s in inner-city Bridgeport, CT for ninth graders who had pretested at the first grade reading level; after introducing them to high interest content, and guiding them as they took turns reading aloud every day in class, I found that within just a single school year, these students were reading at an average of three to four (and often even more) grade levels higher. This teaching strategy involved plenty of decoding practice, with friendly support from the teacher in a class setting that was entirely student centered; it proved highly effective in enhancing students’ reading skills, as well as improving their self-confidence. Although a few students appeared reluctant to read aloud at first, everyone soon joined in and became enthusiastically involved, for all students thrive when they are given the opportunity to participate actively in their own learning process. The high interest, personally relevant content of the readings naturally led to lively group discussions, significantly improving critical thinking and public speaking skills as well.
I have developed innovative strategies for teaching writing over the years that have proven highly effective, such as encouraging students to select their own essay topics and then share their writing with peers by reading aloud in class. Students produce their best writing when they focus on issues that they feel a keen personal interest in exploring, and when they know they are writing for their peers, not just for a teacher. I carefully edit all my students’ written work, asking them to make appropriate corrections and then resubmit final drafts, which they save in their writing portfolios. I make corrections for grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors only, without grading for content. Each student is encouraged to express his or her opinions freely, without worrying about whether the teacher might disagree. This process of first draft / final draft guided practice enables students to master the technical aspects of writing. Freedom to choose individual topics instills an enduring love for writing as a natural form of self-expression; it also develops a sense of personal voice and unique writing style.
From 1994-96, I worked with inner-city students in Hartford, CT who had been expelled from mainstream classes due to street gang affiliations, utilizing similar student-centered strategies while helping them prepare for their GED degree. Providing free breakfast and lunch for these youngsters (with the help of contributions from local bakeries and donations from caring citizens) greatly enhanced their concentration and study abilities. The key to success in all of these situations is treating students with respect, since we all possess equal dignity and deserve equal respect as human beings.
These same student-centered strategies proved highly effective while teaching freshman writing courses at Lehigh University, where I earned my Ph.D. in English in 2014. I am posting several items about that experience under “In the Media” about the teaching approach that came to be known as the “Fam Jam”; Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and philosophy at MIT, who I have been privileged to know as both mentor and friend for more than twenty years, came to Lehigh in 2013 just to observe this Fam Jam pedagogy in progress.
Currently, I am teaching a homeschool writing and literature class in Norwich, CT; we have been studying and discussing a wide variety of classic literary works, ranging from Romantic poetry, novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, and Kurt Vonnegut, to the plays of William Shakespeare. We are now collaboratively engaged in a close reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, along with evaluating the film versions, as well. Class members vary in age from twelve through seventeen. We have set up an online writing forum where students post their weekly essays on a wide variety of self-selected topics, including creative writing, while sharing their various ideas, insights, comments, and suggestions. Students also send me their weekly essays as Word attachments, which I print, edit, and return so that they can make corrections and revisions. Then they resubmit their work as final drafts. Our weekly group discussions feature lively peer interactions — replete with spontaneous, often irrepressible enthusiasm.
The key to successful teaching is enabling students to become actively involved in their own individual as well as the group’s collaborative learning process.
As an instructor, I keep my comments, presentations, and “lectures” carefully limited, incorporating what I have to say into the natural flow of collective conversation. As brain research shows, when students just sit back passively listening, their attention spans steadily decline. An effective teacher also makes sure that every student receives ample opportunities to share, and feels adequately supported in expressing his or her insights and opinions. I never “call on” or require a response from a student, although I solicit ideas and encourage participation whenever a student seems shy, hesitant, or uncertain. It is crucial for a teacher to demonstrate convincingly that everyone’s contribution has value for the collaborative conversation. Facilitating successful discussions depends on a set of carefully developed, acquired skills, gleaned from day-to-day experience, along with steady, insightful observation of group dynamics. In teaching we are engaging the entire person – physically, emotionally, intellectually, as well as spiritually — so we need to rely on thoughtful intuition just as much as on analytical paradigms; too often schools rely on what self-styled educational companies promote as pre-packaged, “one-size-fits-all” teaching programs, instead of focusing on what works best in the moment for each individual student.
In my present work as an individual tutor, I have one sixth grade student whose progress has been quite remarkable; he has developed over the past year to where he is now reading college level history texts, such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Bruce Catton’s Stillness at Appomattox, Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, William Fowler’s Empires at War, along with Cornelius Ryan’s epic works on the Normandy invasion and the final battle for Berlin. This precocious young man has also read several histories of World War I, along with All Quiet on the Western Front, Farewell to Arms, as well as For Whom the Bell Tolls; he is currently examining scholarly studies of Hurricane Katrina. I meet and engage with students at their preferred level of inquiry and interest, and develop their reading, writing, critical thinking, and public speaking skills from there. In this sixth grade student’s case, clearly, the sky has proven the limit in satisfying his intellectual curiosity, and assisting him in realizing his full potential for academic progress and personal growth. A pre-packaged learning program could never begin to help him accomplish all this.
Up until December 2014, I taught courses as an adjunct professor in the English Department at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, CT. I’ve posted on our website both mine and Roxanne’s biographical profiles and professional backgrounds, along with testimonials from students and parents. We look forward to hearing from you, and joining together with you in collaborative conversation about how we can best meet the educational needs of students at all levels in our collective lifelong learning process.
Vincent Walsh, Ph.D.