Thursday, February 12, 2015

Giving them what they need

Teachers are trained to create units, to set learning outcomes, and to follow the objectives of a curriculum. There is a perceived and sometimes mandated rush to cover topics. What I am finding is that sometimes though, I’m sacrificing depth for breadth and when I do, no one is benefitting, specifically not the students.

This is something I fret about, but it was confirmed recently when a student wrote on an evaluation that, “sometimes the teacher cuts a discussion short just to get to the next topic.”

Students write all sorts of comments on evaluations. Some I take to heart and some I take with a grain of salt. But this, along with my own professional inventory, I really took to heart.

For example, right now my students are working on their speeches for the school’s annual speech contest. I wanted to cut this unit very short. My excuse was that speech writing was covered in 9th grade and will be covered again in 11th and 12th grades.  I wanted them to write their speeches, get comments from me, practice, and deliver.

However, they wanted more. They requested guided brainstorming and time to revise. Some asked to conference with me. They used and desired time for peer feedback and practice. Some students were ahead of others and hoped to spend their time on practicing vs. revising.

So, I listened and gave them the time.

The first question I asked at the beginning of my English classes today was what do you need so that you can successfully deliver a speech during the next class?

They were a bit surprised by the question. It's not a typical question asked by a teacher to a student. We usually tell t hem what they "need." However, it didn't take long for them to communicate their exact needs. 

Was every student on task all of the time? No, they never are, but are you ever on task for 80 minutes?  But I did my best to monitor their progress and ask questions to get them back on track. 

So as I find myself stressing out over the fact that my lesson plans from last year show that we were already reading Macbeth and that this year we are “behind,” I will remind myself that there really is no such thing as behind. I am not teaching for the state. There is no 10th Grade English test that my students have to pass.   I have some autonomy in determining the pace. For this, I feel very fortunate and so are my students.


Postscript: Their speeches were great and much improved from the first to the second drafts. It was time well spent.

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