I observe students everyday as they learn and work. A pedagogical stance of mine is that learning is to be authentic if learning is to occur at all. Contrived instances or made up schemes seem not to have an impact as I predict they do. Fairy tale learning atmospheres are thought to increase student motivation and generate a drive for learning. This has not been the case.
Planning for learning is essential. Assuming a teacher uses backwards design and that he/she plans with someone else, though someone may prefer planning as an individual. When presented with something new a student has to learn, the teacher thinks of the best possible engaging learning experience possible. Now, sometimes it is down right boring and that is a fact of life, but I do not believe there is a teacher out there who does not want his/her students really be into learning. I brainstorm as many ideas as I can that would excite a student to learn. With best laid intentions and a computer to type with, I compose a lesson plan that is astounding in terms of its creativity and learning potential. The day comes and I deliver the instruction and you know what I quickly learn?
What I thought happened not
Here is a great example of what I thought was engaging was a complete flop. I wanted students to see a problem in the district where I live and problem was that the town could use a new source of revenue. Keep in mind this is my problem….the one I said is a problem. So, in PBL style, I create an exciting opening event. I made a Prezi, downloaded a snippit of the “Rocky” anthem and as students walk in I was playing it out and acting excited. By the way, eighth graders do not get excited, and they were not excited or even interested in the Prezi that was playing and anthem. I realized at that point, it flopped and my contrived instance of engagement went up in a puff of smoke. Ithought I developed an engaging opening sequence. I thought I would capture their attention. I thought and I thought and I thought. My thoughts and planning didn’t do anything.
When was the last time you learned something in a contrived atmosphere? For instance, buying groceries thinking you have the metal cart under budget but the display as clerk shows the real dollars and sense blowing the food budget? Or, when was the last time you painted a room only to find you were a gallon short and had to back to the store to get another gallon? These are real life learning experiences that happen in real time and space. Should learning be denigrated to contrived instances that have no meaning for students? Nope.
My new plan of action
As I quickly realize the degree to which students do not connect real life to content, I must change how I go about teaching and learning. In order for me to be an effective teacher I have to allow the feedback students are giving me to change how I go about my practice. There is no better giver of new teaching tact than a student(s) reaction to my teaching. If they aren’t into, I am going to have a very hard time getting them learn. So, my new plan of action is to get a feel for what students want to learn about by proposing some ideas to them allowing them to have choice and then embed the instruction in their content preference.
The look on the faces of the students today was amazing! Every student had a chance to join the wikispace I created for them. At first they didn’t get it. They couldn’t understand why a wiki was important to them and why they should care. As I showed my students the home page and the information there, I could visibly see them get excited. That felt really good to see feedback from kids about the learning space I created for them.
I found myself more settled today than the two previous days. I was more settled because I am working on nailing down those little skills that need to be taught before any meta-learning can take place. I tend to jump into the big stuff and forget the small stuff. So, I am resolving some inefficiencies as a teacher learning to slow down and take things step by step.
This idea of step by step brings me to a new idea and maybe one I should leave for a different post, but what the heck. All of the technology I have learned has become automatic. I don’t even think about how to do things, I just do them. I get a lot of work done this way but it is REALLY bad for my students. I tend to jump 5 steps ahead of what I want them to do because I am already 10 steps ahead in my thinking. Frustration sets in when a student hasn’t done the first 5 steps I was thinking about so I have to back track in what I think and say. This is something else I have to work on. I would rather have something to work on than nothing at all.
I need some way of keeping myself accountable for my teaching. A natural part of what I do is to go back and take a good long think about how well I did my job – helping kids learn. Most days I am happy and some days I am not. The good days are the days when I spend no time at all thinking about my teaching leading to a pitfall down the road. The pitfall is not about ego or arrogance but the pitfall is thinking I am doing fine when I very well may not be. This status quo kind of thinking is dangerous because I am not thinking critically about what I did to help kids learn. So, thinking I hit a home run day after day leads to disingenuous thinking, learning and teaching.
The flip side of this are the not so happy days when I know my teaching was atrocious. I think back to how I explained ideas, my tone of voice, and my interactions with kids. I cringe on these days as most of us may do. The only option is get back to it and improve the next day.
Today was fairly good. I had great discussions with my 8th graders as we contemplated where the Internet might be going in the future. Ideas ranged from the Internet going completely away to an Internet that was one large neural network. I could see the thoughts behind their eyes as they freely explored and shared their ideas with their peers. As ideas were shared the other students jumped in with amazing ideas. My 6th grade classes went well today too. They are beginning to see how the Internet can improve their lives and what changes may be coming in the future.
This blog will happen daily as a way for me to hold myself accountable by sharing my reflections on my own teaching. My hope is that if you read this you may find good ideas and ideas to stay away from.