Monday, September 29, 2014

Day 24: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

I am conflicted.

I want to write a post about a student's responsibility for learning versus a teacher's responsibility for teaching.  I think about this frequently, mostly every time an administrator tells me that we need to be engaging our students.

I am 100% on board with this!

I think that what I do is engaging.  I try very hard to come up with lessons that will catch the attention of my students and I try to make my assignments relevant to the tasks at hand.  My students need practice working with our concepts, as do all students.

Rather than spending the 90 minutes of my class period grinding through practice problems, I try to incorporate activities that get kids up and moving, get them talking about math and thinking, get them working with their peers to answers important, relevant questions.

With two notable exceptions, I think I'm doing a fairly good job.  The first one I notice is during 1st period.  at 7:50 am, a large portion of my students are still asleep.  Many have just rolled out of bed and aren't awake either physically or mentally.  When I see them later in the day, they are up, alert and involved, but at 7:50, they simply are not with it.
"'s time for learning..."

A large portion of this group falls into the second category: assignments.  Many of my students will engage in discussions in class in a very productive way, offering answers and contributing very positively to the learning environment.

Until it comes time to actually write something down.

My school has a homework policy, that being that teachers will assign regular homework.  I have stopped grading homework regularly because, were I to do so, a large portion of students who understand the concepts and perform adequately on assessments, would fail my class.

In period 1 today, not a single student had done the assignment from the weekend.

Not a single one.

For the majority, this is due to lack of organization.  They don't bring materials to class or take materials home.  They are so good at compartmentalization, that when they leave my room, they often don't think about it at all until the enter again the next day.

This is something that I am used to and don't consider a phenomenon among my students alone.  I know that, unless there is a concerted communal effort to help kids get organized, such as a study skills class, or a consistent homework sheet, students are terrible at this.

I don't judge at all!  I am horrendous at organization.  I am awesome at following check lists.

Now I just to work on writing good check lists.

So this is my struggle:

At what point is the student responsible for their own learning?

I am trying very hard to make my classroom a learning environment.  I try to make it safe for students to experiment with academic methods and I don't force them to use whatever system works for me.  The classes where I was least engaged were the ones where the teachers required that we copy things verbatim, or used a VERY specific format. (I'm looking at you, high school physics class!)

I tell them frequently that I don't care HOW they solve a problem as long as the method is valid and they understand what they are doing well enough to explain it to someone else.

At what point can I be comfortable to say "I've done everything I can to help this student. It's now his/her turn to do the work."

A few years ago, an administrator (not mine) told me that we need to meet them halfway.  I partially agree with this.  The phrase I prefer is "meet them where they are."  In my experience with this specific subset of students, I have found that halfway is often not enough.

When someone has their back to you, you can't simply get closer. You have to tap them on the shoulder.

Ideally, we would never stop tapping.  We would keep tapping until they turned around.  Then we would encourage them to come with us, helping them run, or walk, or crawl, as far they needed us to help them.

In reality, we simply can't.  Class sizes are simply too large to provide the individual attention that many students need or want.

I want to be clear on two points.

First, the metaphor above doesn't require that they come with US, simply that they move forward.  If they don't know which direction in which to move, we can offer them choices.  Under no circumstances do I think that my road is the only one and students who choose a different path are wrong.  They are individuals with their own goals and desires.  I don't need them to move in my direction, simply to move.

Second, I am not talking about academic achievement, but rather academic willingness.  A student who is struggling, but working, I would start a war with Troy over!  My purpose here is talk about those students who refuse to pick up a pencil.  When I ask them to sit up, they stare blankly at me and put their heads down.  When I ask them to get started on an assignment, they ask for a pencil, then let it sit on their desk.

I want to help them, but I don't know how.

"Make the lessons and assignments more engaging."

No matter how delicious the food happens to be, the person who refuses to put it in his mouth will never know.

No matter how engaging I make my lessons, at some point, the student has to do the work.

I don't know where that point is.

In VERY general terms, I think the graph of responsibility looks something like this:

As the years progress, teachers should be handing it off to students so that, eventually, we can be comfortable saying "You are now adults and you have to make your own choices."

Isn't the whole purpose of education that we are trying to develop capable, independent citizens?

I am conflicted.

Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Tom Rademacher used a much better analogy than I did.

1 comment:

  1. I was trying so hard to push this point with my year 11 class today!
    Only 2 students in my class came to school on the last day of last term - despite us having a 90 minute lesson and being way way behind where we need to be with content. They don't show up, and then I can guarantee that when the next assessment rolls around they'll complain about not having any time in class to revise.
    They need to get out of the blame mindset.


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