Fulbright to Czech Republic

The visit to the Czech Republic is significant for several reasons, with the following being the most important: The culture/society one grows up in, has a very large impact on learning. Being raised under the philosophy of ” American ingenuity”, I took it for granted that learners are automatically autonomous. This experience definitely changed my mind! I also learned other ideas, especially about my own version of Active Processing.

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During Spring 2016, I was a Fulbright Specialist to Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. This experience lasted for two weeks and was followed with a virtual ½ day research conference in 2017. While I was there to formally discuss Constructivism, students seem to focus on Active Processing. Both the two-week experience and the virtual conference motivated me to start focusing on the phrase, “Active Processing”. The following paragraphs discuss the two-week experience.

Culture as a Driver of Learning

While I came to Charles University understanding that a person’s culture influenced their learning, I did not fully understand the total extent of this parameter until my first presentation. I had planned to ask open-ended questions and roam throughout the lecture hall with a microphone to elicit responses. I knew I was “in trouble” when, right before I started, my counterpart from the Czech Republic said, “They will not respond to this approach”. He was totally correct! Many participants, students and professors alike, actually put their hands in front of their faces and said, “Don’t ask me”. Another example came from a student who was originally from the former Soviet Union, and had immigrated to Prague. She made the following comment; “ I like Constructivism, but you tricked me. You asked me questions which have no answer”.  I was stunned, but explanations from my Czech counterpart and from the Czech representative from their education agency indicated that their system of education was based on the Soviet “top-down” approach. The “professor” was supposed to have all the answers and tell the audience how to think. This was ingrained in their students, and now that I look back at this experience, I did see that Czech students viewed their professors as the ultimate authority.

So, what does this mean for the educator wishing to implement Active Processing? First and foremost, with America becoming more diverse, it is imperative that we become more aware and attuned to the student’s culture in terms of learning. If the concept of an autonomous learner creating a subjective version of knowledge is new to a person, our Active Processing Approach may not be initially successful. A related principle to be implemented is that our approach may have to be one of scaffolding students to become autonomous learners. While this may seem very obvious, it is a principle which may become more important in a more diverse society.

Praise for Active Processing/Constructivism and Readiness to Be an Autonomous Learner

While there were some hurdles, there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for Active Processing/Constructivism. It was very interesting to note that this enthusiasm came from undergraduates, graduates, and faculty of different ages. The following chart contains student comments from the two-week experience, with a personal note stating what Constructivist/Active Processing component it aligns with. I have re-typed the comments to account for legibleness, and have modified some comments to make them easier to understand; however, I have tried to make the comments to “be true” to the words of the participant as much as possible. A very important aspect of these comments is their direct reference to Active Processing activities and their reference to Czech students not being ready to be autonomous learners (shy).

Student/Participant Comment Active Processing/Constructivism component
Opinions of others help me to see another point of view. Thank you for the lesson! Different perspective.
I would like to use some of the strategies that we put down: Writing down definitions, explaining to others, re-word; At our school we have already heard something about Constructivism, but for me your lessons were much more authentic- especially because they were really Constructivist. Active Processing in general.
I like the project teaching and the idea of connecting to real life problems. In Czech classes, language teaching we do most work with grammar etc., and something we maybe forgot is the real function of language-the communication of real-life problems. Authentic problems
I am not really thinking differently, more like more broadly. I didn’t account for the teacher’s reflection of his own work as a part of the assessment process. Now I feel I am seeing the whole situation more completely. This way of working really rocks! The wide -range of possibilities for Active Processing.
I would like to use the re-word strategy Active Processing strategy
I would like my students not to be afraid to say what they think. The theme that students may not be ready to be autonomous learners.
Also, problem could be, that some students are so shy…I love your teaching style!! The theme that students may not be ready to be autonomous learners.
I am going to think about strategies to engage shy children. The theme that students may not be ready to be autonomous learners.
All principles surprised me. I want to use “Turn the kaleidoscope” “Turn the Kaleidoscope” is a term I have used to represent many of the Active Processing activities.
“Turn the kaleidoscope”-it’s really good. “Turn the Kaleidoscope” is a term I have used to represent many of the Active Processing activities.

A very important example of positive feedback came from a graduate student who wrote me an email; I have copied it, verbatim, below:

Dear Dr. Pelech,

I am student of the Faculty of Education UK in Prague (specialization in Czech and Russian languages). I would like to thank You for your lectures and seminars that I could visit during Your stay with us.

I still do not teach in school because I was overwhelmed by studying at two universities, but for several year I was a devoted children who need help with Czech and also teach Czech for foreigners. With the constructive elements of thinking and communicating information we learn from our teachers actually the entire study period. Your words and demonstrations me even more convinced that working with students in this way is truly effective. I’m trying to motivate my students through their own knowledge and discovery, and after a few years I can see success. I am very glad that there are people like You and some of our teachers, which you can see that their work is their hobby, and that fills them. Your visit gave me strength and energy I thank you for it 🙂

I have not learned anything new, but I got more motivation and ideas. I think showing students journey is more important to show them a target.

(Sorry for my English-I have not spoken English for about five years, but I hope you will understand me.)

There are several points I want to make regarding this email. First is the phrase “we learn from our teachers actually the entire study period”. I did not have time to ask this student about it, but  I interpreted it to mean that Active Processing has the potential to keep students engaged. A second interesting comment is “ I think showing students journey is more important to show them a target.” Could it be that this student views the process of learning as the focus of the educator? By its very nature, Active Processing is a sustained process.

It is quite interesting that the student indicated that nothing new was learned but more motivation and ideas were gained. I interpreted this to mean that while the participant understood the  principles of Constructivism and Active Processing, it is specific strategies that must be learned and implemented— in other words, it is important to go from understanding to application. This is where Active Processing comes into play for Professional Development.

Concluding Remarks

This Fulbright Specialist experience brought to the surface two important points:

  1. An effective method of Professional Development would be NOT to use the term “Constructivism”, but to use the term “Active Processing”.
  1. Do not assume that students are ready to be autonomous learners. Be prepared to “scaffold” this concept.