Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 15: Communicating Philosophy

This is my 4th year teaching 8th grade, my 6th year teaching in my current district, my 8th year as a classroom teacher and my 10th year working in some capacity in education.

I'm not sure how to teach.  I'm not even sure what my style is...

In previous years, I would lecture and consistently utilize "I do, we do, you do" strategies.

Last year, I did much more project based activities, interspersed with lecture and group work.

This year, I have found that I'm giving the kids problems to work on, talking to the group very little and allowing them to work on their own or in small groups while I walk around and answer questions or guide them back on track.

I think there is value in all of these.  I know which one I prefer to use, but I'm not sure that it's the best for my students.

In reality, I'm sure the answer is "a balanced mixture of all three approaches is most beneficial."

I like lecturing, but I don't want to be a lecturer.  I love watching the kids solve problems at their own pace, but something deeply engrained in me makes me very uncomfortable with that.

I find myself constantly asking myself "is this actually teaching?"

So this is what I believe:

I feel that it is NOT the job of the teacher to simply share knowledge.

A teacher should be more than a textbook or a video.

"Christ! All he does is shows videos all day!" goes the conversation in the faculty room.  Then we return to our classes and talk at our students for 45 minutes straight.

But we hold equal contempt for teachers who hand out worksheets and then sit at their desks for the whole period.

I feel that it is my job as a teacher to collaborate on learning with my students, helping them to explore their interests and become better critical thinkers.

What I have been trying to do has been to minimize the amount of time I spend talking and maximize the amount of time they spend working.  Some of that work has been grinding through problems, but most has been abstract, critical and reflective.  I am having them do writing and thinking about their process.

This shift in what they are used to receiving from a math class has split my students into three camps, that I can tell.

1)  The first is those students who are used to lecturing from their teachers.  These kids feel that if I'm not in front of the class, telling them how to do a problem, that I'm not teaching.  They take the time that I give in class for them to work on practice problems as free time.  I don't blame them or think that they are lazy because of this.  I recognize that in the past, they have been conditioned to think that when the teacher stops talking, the class is over.  They feel that doing the problems is a task for homework and, when given time to work on something in class, frequently respond with "I'm going to do it tonight."

They have very little experience with efficient use of class time for independent or group work.   For the most part, my pre-algebra students fall into this category.

2)  Other students are used to grinding through worksheets and practice problems.  These kids have great ability to work independently and, given textbook or worksheet problems, will solve them efficiently and happily.  They are comfortable with assignments that read "do these 50 problems."  For the most part, they prefer the type of teaching style that is "I do, we do, you do."  They excel in situations where they are asked to recreate methods and strategies that have been shown to them.  They take comfort in formulas and prescribed plans of action.

For the most part, my geometry students fit into this category.

3) The third group is much smaller.  These are students who preferred either lecture or worksheets, but received the other.  This group wants to talk about the problems, discuss what they know and then practice independently.  From these students, I frequently hear "alright, I want to try it on my own."

Perhaps it is misguided of me, but I would like this third group to grow.  I know that my students are going to face such a variety of challenges in the coming years and, really, for the rest of their lives.  They will not always have situations that are ideal to their learning styles or preferences.  But that doesn't mean that they CAN'T learn that way.

We had a VERY long (both periods) discussion about the geometry quiz on Friday.  Their homework over the weekend was to write me a letter about the class, telling me what they've learned, what they like and what they don't.  The results were...interesting.

The students came in distressed that they had not aced the test on Friday.  Much of what we discussed is in the preceding paragraphs.  I tried to address their concerns and explain my view point and teaching style.

They expressed the sentiment that the world cares about grades, and so should they.

My counterpoint was that they should care about the learning, the knowledge and the skills.  My claim was that if they master those, the grades will happen on their own and they will have the ability to build upon them.

We had many disagreements about educational philosophy and I hope that they felt as though I heard them.  I tried very hard to express my sympathy for their points of view and to explain that my own.

I expect that we will have many such discussions over the course of the year.  I know that I am different from any teacher that they have had before and, most likely, ever will again.  I know that my teaching style doesn't work for everyone, so I'm trying to develop alternatives for those who need or want it.

Bree Murray introduced me to the format of the Recycle Assignment where students are able to correct their mistakes and talk about why they made their initial mistakes.  I gave this to the geometry students and expressed that, since I care about the learning and they care about the grades, I would give them the chance to earn better grades by demonstrating knowledge and reflection.  They seemed amenable to the process and I have faith in them.

There will be growing pains.
No, not these...

I just hope no one cuts my legs off to keep those pains at bay...

I'm so tired, but my skin looks amazing!!!
It was a long and exhausting day, but a good one.


  1. Justin
    I had the following conversation with a girl at my last school:
    S - Can we meet to discuss my grade?
    mrdardy - Can we talk about your understanding of the material? I think that will help.
    S - College don't know what I understand, they know what my grade is.

    Later when I met with her mom and relayed this conversation her mom said 'Good for her, she's right.'


  2. Justin, I'm having the same issue. I'm thisclose to just going back to full I do we do you do because it's been successful in the past, but I know it won't help me or my students grow. But its so tempting!

    And then you get comments like mr dardy's student's and then you just want to completely give up!!

    But we can do it! Hang in there bro!

    1. It is tempting. And it's easy.

      But, good god is it boring!! I would rather my students WANT to come to class and maybe learn a little less (although I know they will learn more) than continue the formulaic strategies that are so easily adopted by others.

      Where is the challenge or fun in that?


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