12/4/2015 1 Comment
How would your perspective of your room change if you had to sit through your own lessons? Having that kind of insight into your classroom is hugely important, but when I found myself reading this reflection on the authors experience shadowing students for two days, I was a little surprised to not be surprised by his observations. They boiled down to a few main points: 1. Students sit way too long, 2. High Schools students are passively engaged in the process of education, and 3. Students are made to feel like a nuisance by the end of the day.
I've spent some time really trying to think about how a classroom can be transformed to work against these counterproductive elements of teaching. The first seems easy enough to resolve, but requires a major change in how we structure education, which actually makes the solution really complicated. If students are sitting too much, have them sit less. I thought about my own room. If students are required to be in my room for two hours at a time, how can I build in movement into my lessons. As a Social Science teacher, the truth is, those possibilities are limited. Taking stretching breaks doesn't seem like an effective solution, and let's be real, most students fight against getting out of their seat when you try and force them. I've tried implementing an atmosphere in my room where students can take mental breaks whenever they feel they need and mingle with other students. For the most part they've been able to exercise that privilege maturely, but they're effectively just sitting in another spot. I think a big part of the problem is that we have students in class for two hours at a time to begin with. Before I became a teacher, I managed a staff in an office. If we were in the office for too long, we'd change things up. We'd hold meetings at a coffee shop down the street. We'd take a walk around the building to get fresh air. Some preferred to work outside on benches on nicer days. Granted, these options are not available in all work environments, and there's something to be said for learning how to focus and tough it out, but I don't think that's representative of the best environment we can create for the purpose of learning.
We can also make changes to the way we structure our lessons in order to actively involve students in the learning process. Today, I had my students conducting independent research on a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) of their choosing. After compiling their research, they were tasked with putting together a presentation using Infogr.am. I chose this online application because of it's ability to allow users to communicate information in many ways. I also chose it knowing that it would require a learning curve to become proficient with it. It's less complicated than Prezi in my opinion, but I knew it would be something the students hadn't used before. It was painful for them. Several students asked if they could just use Prezi because they were comfortable with it. I heard comments like, "This program sucks!" and "Why do we have to use this?" I did everything I could to make it accessible. I made an online tutorial, walked them through all the functions as a class and helped students one on one. Still there was a noticeable tension in the room and frustration among the students. I had to remind myself that discovery learning was painful and hard, and that hearing that the students were confused was actually a good thing. If I gave them a task, and they were able to do it without having to work through a process of figuring it out, then they wouldn't be learning. They needed to be challenged and find strategies to succeed. In the end, some students clearly had an easier time figuring it out and completing the project than others. My grading will most certainly take into account the effort that I saw the students exercising in class and what I already know of their strengths and weaknesses.
Ultimately, I was not a necessary component to this project for the amount of time that I had with them. They certainly could have done most of the work without me. We spent about six total hours of in class time on this and I would guess I gave about a total of one and a half hours of direct instruction broken up into maybe fifteen minute chunks over the course of a week. The students worked while I cruised the room and answered questions. Yes, they were challenged. Yes, they were frustrated. Yes, they struggled. While I'll make some minor changes for next time, I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. In structuring my lesson like this, I was able to allow my students to take breaks as they needed and self manage. If I had the option of letting them work outside, or dare I say, go somewhere else to work on another class and work on my project another time, I would have allowed for any number of those kinds of choices. I'll post some examples of their work once it's been submitted.