Thursday, August 21, 2014

Is reteaching just louder and slower?

Teaching for all? Teaching for any? Teaching for some?

This Map describes exactly how to get from one point to another.  Just travel down this road for this many miles, then travel that road for that many miles and finally the other road for the other amount of miles!  Only if teaching was as easy!  Only if all we had to do was mix in the right ingredients, still, add salt to taste, then wait while it reached 150 degrees!  

All students can learn...
Some students will learn...
Most students can learn...**
Back in the Day...
The biggest issue of the 70s was the impending ice age, the results of our conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels.  Now green house emissions from our conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels affects global warming. Interesting!

Now on facebook...
In recent history, a story circulated through teaching groups about a businessman who tried to impose his efficient methods and techniques upon the educational world.  He suggested we impose standards, streamline our methods and operations, begin an assembly line approach to education, adhere to zero tolerances and thereby guarantee outcomes!  This sounded great, till a veteran teacher replied with a simple query.  She asked what would happen with substandard raw material that was delivered to his business and of course he replied "We would reject it!"  Here is where we diverge. Students are not raw material.  They are not static of fixed.  Students are people, our clients, paying our salaries to acquire an education and we have a moral imperative if not a contractual obligation to teach EACH PERSON.  We don't return, reject, or turn away any student.  We are teachers!  Our roles are to teach, not reject, label as failures or limit their opportunities but to open avenues for grow, improve and stretch beyond expected limits.  In short, we take them all, grow them as farther than they think they can go, then send them on.  This is education.

Accurate Metaphors?
A current and recent metaphor tries to overlay a farming metaphor on the educational industry.  With the development of GMO seeds, virtually guaranteed to grow regardless of many conditions, there must be an application.  Droughts and pestilence are ENGINEERED out of the equation yet a farmer does not cause the growth!  A farmer is a passive, yet necessary agent for success but once his seed is in the ground, his interventions shift. He buys crop insurance (maybe), waits for rain, fertilizes, treats for weeds and hopes for the best.  Teachers engage daily with their "crop." Every plant brings it's own set of concerns and strengths.  The master teacher understands this variety and uses the students own assets and talents to actively foster growth and development.

Farmers, Businesses or Classrooms?
Here, it seems both these metaphors contain interesting features but still fall short in describing a true learning environment!  Teaching is not farming, nor is it a business! Teaching is taking another person from one level to another, either through force and coercion against their will or with cooperation and enthusiasm in the quest for knowledge.  To describe a master teacher will take more than a simple parable or story.  There is so much in a teacher's daily planning; determining what to teach students, planning lessons, gathering materials, presenting the lesson, assessing for understanding, collaborating about the results, re-teaching if necessary while providing engagement for those already comprehending and maintaining records throughout the entire process.  We address only three below!

What to teach?
How does a teacher determine what to teach? Does she start at page one in the text book or does she look at her students?  Does she ascertain their current knowledge or just begin and try to keep the bored ones in line? Does she assess and determine a benchmark looking for learning gaps, or plow through the worksheets racing to the test? The master considers the students and curriculum together.

Presenting the lessons!
Lesson delivery contains a few components necessary for maximum student engagement and retention. Teacher passion fosters a connection student, building relevance and developing the material.  Without understanding the audience, teacher delivery is dry or canned at best, attention wanes and behavior issues arise, because the student "can't sit still."  Masters connect, assess, deliver, then re-assess.  Relevance stems from the relationship a teacher develops with the audience causing the activity to attract and engage each in the topic.  A back to school quote: Children who are loved at home, come to school to learn.  Those who are not, come to school to be loved! Teachers take each to their next level, loving the unloved and growing the rest!

After the lesson!
Does a tree falling in the woods make a sound?  If a teacher teaches but nobody learns, did he really teach?  If all the students in the class fail, has the teacher really taught?  What if most fail? What if none fail? Where is that line?  How many is the right amount to fail?  Can they all pass?  I used to ask my students these question to help students know the responsibility for their learning rested with each of us.   They thought it was just the student's responsibility.  In fact it is everyone's, but the teacher is the point person, the catalyst, the educational lubricant.  If one student gets it, but others do not, do we look to point blame, or focus energy on helping those that have not mastered it yet reach their next level?  Could maybe one who has mastered it help explain it to the class under the observing eye of the teacher? A master teacher that never struggled with learning prevents their ease of understanding from distracting a young pupil working to grasp basic comprehension.  Maybe the teacher should just say it louder and slower?  :)

This year, as we all go to another level, what will we keep?  What will we tune?  What will we strive to make better for our students?  Are we changing everything or just a few?

** I heard at one school the wrong response automatically put teachers on a PIP!

Is reteaching just going slower and louder?


Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Vacation of a Life Time...

Convergence and a Vanishing Point!

Mt Princeton in the center, the tracks fading into a vanishing point, virga not hitting the surface and the road parallel all represent educational struggles, choices and dilemmas!  What is in store for this school year? 
A principal called the teacher to the office.  The dialogue went like this: 
Principal: Are you sure that Little Johnny was in class yesterday?  
Teacher: Yes, Why?
Principal: He did not go to any other classes all day long skipping every one but coming to yours!
Teacher: I am honored, flattered and saddened, all at the same time!
Does this really happen?  Are our classrooms safer, more secure, nicer, and better than any other place in our student's lives?  SOMETIMES!

Parallel Tracks
The road here travels right along side the rail road tracks.  They are parallel for this short distance, traveling north out of Salida Colorado towards Buena Vista.  The left and right track of the railroad are parallel the entire time! We look down the track here and we see things that begin as separate begin to converge on a common spot.  This example of a vanishing point demonstrates relevance in content.  The tracks look like they come together but the highway on the left seems to join in as well.  In the classroom, let's consider success the vanishing point and the multiple methods of reaching that place can come from various paths.  We could force students.  We could bribe them.  We could beg.  We could even scare or threaten them into submission.  Or we could connect with them, build a relationship and they would play along besause they wanted to!  Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation!  Think Daniel Pink and Drive! What is the best way to get somebody to do something?  Teachers seem to know it is more than just saying so!
Another Choice 
Although not apparent or obvious, our students have choice.  They do not have to come to school.  The law mandates students attend till they are 16, 17 or 18, depending on the state, but, they still have a choice.  They could skip!  They could avoid us.  They could cut classes.  Of course, this would leave to other consequences along the truancy path and educational neglect but they still have a choice.  Is our quest to kindle desire, passion and curiosity in their minds so they would rather be in our class and no place else, or are we just trying to get them in class?  Often times, it seems their baggage is not classroom appropriate!  Who is supposed to teach them manners, how to behave or what not to do?!  Too late!?!  We are.   (see story above)
Define VIRGA
Not the medicinal term but the term for rain that never reaches the ground!  Is this what happens when we teach?  Our lessons never really connect?  Our activities, methods or delivery is so dry the moisture of learning or seed of understanding is never wet by the message?  Is it too dry to learn?  Does our distance from our students prevent us from reaching our mark?  How far away are we from our students?  Connect, get to know, reach into their lives and see how hard they work, regardless of their age! What do we have to loose?
Mount Princeton
In the Chaffee County Colorado range of The Collegiate Peaks, there are mountains named after colleges. Many peaks are over 14,000 feet above sea level. Mount Princeton is one of those.  Denver is only 5,200 feet above sea level yet St Louis is only 700 feet above sea level.  To take a risk, travel to the top of this mountain and explore the territory is not unlike learning!  Risk is involved!  The potential for failure is close at hand but resuming and continuing are also expected. Struggle is mandatory when reaching for an extreme.  If it was easy, the reward would not be worthwhile.  Learning, repetition, reaching new heights, pushing limits and trying something beyond our expectations are components of climbing a mountain and learning new content.  How do we encourage, support and foster out student's quest for learning?