Secret Sauce of Speed School: Instructional Methods

October 26, 2021

Most observers attribute the Speed School learners’ successful outcomes to a combination of the pedagogy used and the increased support by mothers due to the Self-Help Groups. Geneva Global, though, is convinced that it is less the methods used than the conditions created to use the methods consistently and well. In particular, there is nothing “secret” about the instructional methods, since these are well-known and widely promoted by most education systems. The truly “secret” ingredients of the Speed School sauce are (i) the instructional liberty that comes from using a condensed curriculum and (ii) the program’s holistic approach to training. Still, all four “ingredients” warrant mention. In this article, we will discuss Speed School’s instructional methods.

The Speed School program features six proven instructional methods. Activity-based learning—Speed School lessons feature “hands-on” and “heads-on” strategies for learners to engage with the content from the curriculum in meaningful, functional ways. As “hands-on” learning, pupils are manipulating and manufacturing materials to enhance their learning. Relying on a small set of classic classroom supplies—rulers, scissors, tape, glue, and paper—and many more no-cost resources—e.g., bottle caps, sticks, pebbles, clay, and recycled packing and other items—, pupils create their own learning materials, make models of local objects, play, experiment, and    more. As “heads-on” learning, pupils confront questions and issues that require that they be curious, analytical, and creative to turn information into knowledge and techniques into practical skills.  With both types of activity-based learning (ABL), Speed School pupils are relating the content from the curriculum to their lives, drawing from the local social, economic, cultural, and built and natural environmental settings. The aim is to surpass the bottom tier of the pyramid from Bloom’s taxonomy—Recall, or rote learning—to ascend to the levels of Understanding, Application, Analysis, Evaluation, and Creation.

The Speed School model divides Activity-based learning into three basic categories:

Conventional ABL methods include reading, dictation, lecture, and questions and answers.  What makes these active learning methods instead of classic teacher-driven instruction is when students are in the lead, reading to each other, asking each other questions, creating their own dictations for classmates, and so on.

Learner-centered ABL methods involve the use of audio-visual aids, mastery learning, thinking maps, role-playing, demonstration, drama, technology-aided learning, group discussion, presentation, and research.

Learning within the world ABL methods involve children in learning through games, music, projects, excursions into nature, the community, the local economy, and the family or classroom-based contact with experts from each of these domains, and more.

Learner-centered instruction—Speed School facilitators create a classroom context and tasks that situate students as active participants in their learning. In such classrooms, students answer and ask open-ended questions and learn by discovery, by doing, and by failing. They work in small groups, conducting both peer teaching and peer assessment.  They choose topics to study more deeply, selecting a variety of ways to research these topics, and sharing what they find out with their classmates and others using a variety of means. The role of the Speed School facilitator is to guide and support students in their learning, including introducing the essential competencies they need to master the curriculum and for lifelong learning.

Emphasis on reading—The Speed School facilitator uses all lessons for all subjects to help learners strengthen their reading, writing, and speaking skills, moving quickly from learning to read to reading to learn. The classroom is covered floor to ceiling with printed materials and students have a wide selection of age-appropriate books on many topics to read on their own and together.

Continuous formative assessment—Speed School facilitators are monitoring all pupils’ learning all the time using a variety of formal and informal methods. Favoring assessment for learning and assessment as learning, facilitators aim to confirm each individual pupil’s level of mastery. This combines checking each pupil’s work or answers individually with verifying the understanding of a representative sample of faster, middle, and slower learners. It also takes strong advantage of peer assessment, aiming to provide all pupils with many more opportunities to have their work checked and ensuring they cannot hide their confusion by not raising their hands to answer or “disappearing” in the blur of a choral response. With this information, facilitators pace their lessons to be able to provide individual and group feedback, validating correct responses and signaling where there are gaps. They also take the necessary time for remediation, whether with individual or groups of learners or with the whole class.

Integrated lesson planning and delivery—Speed School emphasizes pupils’ learning to apply what they learn both to make learning relevant, practical, and motivating and to strengthen the quality and retention of that learning. To do this, facilitators deliver the official curriculum in ways that imitate how pupils will use what they have learned in real life; that is, not as siloed information and techniques but as integrated knowledge and skills.  Content and skills from each curricular subject infiltrate those of all other subjects. So, a lesson on the domesticated animals in a community provide the content for lessons on Language—vocabulary, spelling, grammar, etc.—, Mathematics—counting, calculations, sets, shapes, etc.—, Science—biological characteristics, nutrition, environmental impacts, etc.—, Civics—functions, economics, laws—, and more.

Competency-based instruction—The delivery of lessons in Speed School classes aims deliberately and strategically to equip learners to use their academic lessons practically, both linking these to real-life applications from the local context and cultivating their personal skills.  Using the ABL methods, facilitators create learning tasks and challenges that place pupils in the position of solving “real-life” problems or challenges.  For example, they might have to design a chair and determine how much it will cost to build. They might plan a holiday meal, listing all the steps and costs. They might seek out the major mosquito breeding sites in a community and prepare a campaign to eliminate these. To do any of these and many other similar learning activities, they must summon not just the knowledge and academic skills they learn from the curriculum. They must determine how the knowledge and skills apply to the task and foster the many personal skills required to find and implement an effective solution. Just a few of these personal skills are creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, communication, curiosity, perseverance, discipline, and ambition. Many say these cannot be taught. Geneva Global believes they can. Regardless, these skills can, and must, be fostered, both creating opportunities and expectations that pupils use them and providing constructive feedback on how well they do this.