Reflecting on the things that make us question what we do and how we do it.

“My reflections on the project and process of teaching arise from my pondering (and wondering about) my own classroom experiences, the choices I have made, and the conversations with those who shared and those who differed sharply with my views” (Greene, 2001, p. 82).

 

It’s after school on Thursday, the second to last Thursday of this semester. Greene’s quote, the first of many that I highlighted in her article, resonates with me because I continue to be affected by those conversations that feature people with whom I disagree and/or who’s views of teaching are so different from my own. While there are always points of intersection between us and boy, do I relish those peaceful moments in between the clashes, it is the points of divergence that lead to my loss of sleep and reflection on my own practice.

Case in point… I teach several of the same courses as a colleague. The colleague has surveyed other teachers in the district teaching the same course to see if they are covering as much content as they used to, as I used to, and they do. I do not.This leads to conversations about whether “we” are  teaching to the lowest or slowest students instead of maintaining the rigor (a favorite word of some of my colleagues) of the course. They wonder if the curriculum matters and aren’t we here to teach curriculum after all?

I can see their issues with me because at the end of the semester we have to give comp.exams (although our administration supports us in having students demonstrate their learning in different ways this ain’t happening in our dept because we teach the same course at the same time and it’s challenging/difficult/ uncomfortable for some teachers to think outside the box. Let’s face it…it takes lots of courage because failure is a definite possibility). So the comp exams should be the same, therefore we use the same exam but I omit all of the questions on the stuff I haven’t “covered” yet. I don’t like giving comp exams when student have already demonstrated mastery of the outcomes. My wish/dream is to have students share and reflect on their learning journey over the semester and for us to have a conversation about what their grade should be. (As I write this there’s a chorus of angels singing in my ear and a bright light in the distance:)

I don’t “cover” anymore or at least try not to (Science 10 provincials anyone?). I hope I am teaching my students to learn how to learn. The skills I hope they leave with is that of a life-long learner who realizes that it is safe to make mistakes, that I am not “Google Bacon” and that asking questions is the best way to learn. That learning is active, that it requires the participation of a comunity of learners, therefore showing up on time is a reasonable expectation for me and the other students to have of the members of their community. I am constantly assessing my students (formatively) to see what they understand and what they still need to work on. That informs my decision of where to go next. They inform what I do in terms of content delivery.

So why can I barrel through the content in summer school and not in the regular term? Well, at summer school there is no time for formative assessment. It’s deliver, test, deliver. High school kids have so much going on. They work, they are involved in sports and all kinds of extra-curricular activities. I can’t ignore that fact. I won’t just deliver content and have them do the practice at home because it won’t get done. I give time in class for kids to work on learning and to get help understanding concepts.

Relationships…developing relationships with these individuals, my students, leads to an entirely different path to learning for both of us. A reciprocal teaching and learning relationship develops between the students and me and I want more. I learn as much from my kids as they from me, I am certain of it.

For example, today in class we were learning about the composition of blood. This led to a question about the meaning of the word coagulation. I offered an explanation and a student offered a better one, which led to a video of snake venom coagulating blood (student suggestions) and a gross discussion about eating placentas and vampires and zombies and where the ideas for vampires and zombies come from. I feel re-energized after classes like this where many people contribute rather than sitting passively receiving information that is readily available from Google. These guys were engaged, creating and transforming the class as the talked.

I want my students to have similar experiences in my class to those I have at university where I have to think, where I get to listen and share with my peers, where I am exhausted yet can’t sleep because my brain is on fire, not because I am stressed but because I am excited and can’t wait to think some more.

I want my kids to think…not to regurgitate facts. I want my kids to connect ideas to bigger and different parts of their lives and to the world. It’s not about content coverage. It’s about learning.

 

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