Saturday, December 14, 2013

Marva Collins and the teacher we all loved

“The best teacher is not the one who knows most but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and wonderful.”
H.L. Mencken

Marva Collins was an American Educator who in 1975 started the Westside Preparatory School in Garsfield Park, in an impoverished neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Before that she taught school for two years in Alabama and for fourteen years in Chicago

She is most famous for applying classical education successfully to impoverished children.

Marva Collins was a proponent of the classical educational movement. The definition of a classical education embraced the study of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art and languages. 

In the 20th and 21st century it is used to symbolize a broad based study of liberal arts and sciences. The original goal of the founders of this movement was to create a systematic memorable framework to teach all of human knowledge.

The Marva Collins Way!

Marva Collins was a great teacher because she did not teach human resource but she thought human beings.
To find out more about her story I decided to watch the 1981 biographical TV Movie on her life starring Cicely Tyson and Morgan Freeman titled, ‘The Marva Collins Story’.

The movie shows how Marva Collins started the Westside Prepartory School by funding it herself. She got her husband to help her build the school and in the movie is shown collecting books that other people have thrown away. The first students of her school were considered learning disabled. But she disagreed saying,

Many of the parents did not give up hope on their children. One parent in the movie even pays Marva Collins two hundred dollars before the year even starts to educate her child.

Classes at the school would normally start at 9 a.m with a lunch break by 12:30 a.m. Students were encouraged to be well groomed and to come to school clean. Marva did have her fair share of problems when there were no funds for the school and a four hundred dollar debt on her family. But she did not give up and kept the school open for thirty years till 2008.

Read Difficult Books

In the movie, Marva tells the students that they must read a difficult book twice every month and memorize a poem. She then tells the students how she they are going to do this,

‘You read big books like you eat an elephant one bite at a time.’

One Student from Westside

In the movie one student is always distracted in class. But he is really interested in flying airplanes. So this is how Marva encourages him. She told him that when you read and write, you will be able to get an education that will help the student to fly the airplane someday.

In another scene, Marva is seen giving this boy a book on airplanes in class. The boy picks up the book and is delighted that he now has a chance to read something he likes and is really interested in.

Things Marva said to her students in class

1.  She makes the students say this often, ‘Who is the best child in the world?’ Then all the students would answer together, ‘I am!’
2.  One student said he was bored in class. She then tells him, “I want you to read and write so you will never be bored again.”
3.  “You must learn so you can think for yourself.”
4.  Frustrated student tells her, “I hate you!”Marva replies, “That is too bad darling, because I love you.”
5.  “That is beautiful!”
6.  “Do not erase mistakes, proof read them, so you can remember and understand how it sounds.”

Style of Teaching

Marva used the Socratic method of teaching and modified it for use in the primary school. These were the steps

1.  Select Material – This will include abstract content to challenge students logic and will therefore have different meanings to different students. Main focus her is to teach children to reason.
2.  Read the Material – Then Marva would read the material in Class, because she knew if the material was unknown the students would not understand it. She would mainly read out new words and would list them down separately. She would then teach words to the student for pronunciation, use and spelling before the material is read again in class
3.  Pertinent Questioning – As the student reading progresses, the teacher will ask a set of questions to the students. The teacher normally starts with the heading and then asks questions regarding the material.
4.  Testing of reason – Based on the reading, students are thought to test their logic and reasoning abilities by writing letter to the characters or author or by writing a review about what they read. Here they are also thought how they can refer to material that they had learned before to support their opinions.

Power of  a Good Teacher

The power of a good teacher cannot be underestimated. One teacher that has had the biggest impact on my life was a teacher that taught me English in high school. 

She did not just teach me to learn the subject, but she inspired me to fall in love with it and to be lifelong learner of it. She inculcated in me a love for books for which I am indebted to her for life. We would meet up every Friday for the three years in high school, and every class with ma’am was a new experience with the subject.

Marva Collins too had such an effect on her students. Whenever class got over, students would not get up and just walk out of class, but collectively say, ‘Oh!’ She cared deeply for every student and interacted with him or her as unique individual beings. She did not give up on the students that did not do so well, but sat down with them and cleared their doubts so they could catch up with the other students in class.

Learn more @

Marva Collins Way Movie  on You Tube -

She truly believed every student was special, every student was unique and every student was meant for Greatness.

1 comment: