Well, parent-teacher interviews are over and done with for this term, and I survived just fine. In all seriousness, it was really nice for me to go out there and not worry about ‘fighting’ or ‘winning’ when it came to challenging conversations with parents (which of course were by far the minority of interviews I had). See my previous post on the subject of ‘not winning’.
Now of course it’s the downhill progression to Christmas: the students get crazier, we get lazier (well, hopefully not too much), and our time gets crunched. This is a time of year that I think I really need to take extra pains to keep up whatever good stuff I’ve been doing in my class as well as possibly put in some more efforts to create or implement new and awesome things.
As a teacher, especially a relatively inexperienced and eager teacher who is still chomping at the bit to try out all sorts of cool strategies and techniques, it can be very disorienting to try and keep it all prioritized and straightened out. Sure, you want to implement a new self-evaluation or maybe that big video presentation project you’ve been salivating over, but can you afford the time or the logistics of it all? Too, is it practical or even advisable to do so? Does it actually benefit your students’ learning?
Something that was said to our staff at a PD day today really struck home for me. The presenter told us that teachers are not in the business of teaching. We are in the learning business. It`s a very subtle distinction (and I promise I`ll link it with the above statements – don`t look at me like that, I write good papers). If our goal is to help students learn, we can’t just throw something new at them because it’s ‘cool’, it has to be educationally purposeful and relevant.
Many times, due to the pressure of curriculum objectives and the latest gimmick in assessment, we get tied up in the `communication of knowledge’ to our students. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter to the vast majority of our students. In today’s world of the iPhone and omnipresent Internet service, anyone has access to any knowledge they want immediately. There’s very little practical need to carrying the sort of traditional ‘book learning’ around in your head anymore.
What is valuable, however, is the utilization of that knowledge. I’ve referenced before my belief that as teachers we need to start simply teaching our students ‘how to learn’ rather than a defined set of information. (As I look back on that last sentence I am struck with the irony of the word ‘simply’) In a world that is brought together to such a huge extent and in such broad terms, knowing isn’t, and can’t be, enough. A lot of what school systems are doing know in their professional growth strategies is working on ways to build communities of learning that foster the teaching of learning strategies and basic cognitive/performance skills applicable to a wide range of situations.
It’s something I find a bit uncomfortable, even as I struggle to embrace it. I love knowing: the acquisition and sharing of knowledge is something that fulfills a personal need for me. I’m actually trying to find a way to type this effectively right now because I’m so struck by this dichotomy in myself (yay self-actualization moment of the day!). I think, though, that it actually comes down to an effective repertoire of those self-sufficient, all-purpose learning strategies. I know that I acquire knowledge and skills best through inquiry and private self-teaching. There is very little that I need a guide to actually come right out and say ‘Do or find this’ in order for me to master it. I just need someone to occasionally prod me and say, ‘Okay, but what do you think of this?’ All of those critical thinking skills are something that I developed without ever having to think about it, and probably because some teacher or mentor figure carefully slipped in a few new techniques every few days in order for us to absorb ‘how to learn’.
In music this happens a lot more frequently. It’s very hard to communicate the ‘learning’ of music by simple rote instruction. A lot of things need to be experienced, felt, or practiced until you can apply them to a vast array of choices. Even theory works this way: Mozart didn’t think of his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in strict sonata form with I-V7-I tonic prolongations clearly defined; other people came up with that as a way of summarizing and categorizing something that they could understand but not easily explain. Music needs multipurpose tools all over the place. As a brass player, I can apply almost all of my breathing and body posture techniques to any wind instrument, while my lip techniques are modifiable for varying sizes of brass instrument quite easily. Earlier this semester, I taught myself clarinet in about 20 minutes, simply due to this problem-solving process.
I think that should be my goal for the rest of the semester. Try to get kids to form some sort of process that allows them to tackle a bunch of common problems in a way that lets them learn by doing and by thinking. My prime candidate right now is more structured small-group discovery learning activities. Good idea or no?
What do you guys think? What would you want to have a teacher like me throw at you partway through a semester? Are there things that would be great to try? Absolutely awful?