Teacher Reflection:Strategies, Environment, and Homework

I have been reading three different books simultaneously.  Maybe it’s my attempt to relive my college experience for a few weeks.  In fact, I am now even writing about what I am reading.  I should be headed out to a tavern tonight for .25 cent tappers or playing Super Mario Brothers to pass the late night hours after my brain has been worked way too much.  It’s funny how it goes, however, now I would rather sleep.  Anyway…

The books I have been reading include two by Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind and Drive.  The third book is by Alfie Kohn, The Homework Myth.  These books have gotten me to think about my own teaching strategies.  A Whole New Mind is a well written argument stating that ‘right brainers’ have a real opportunity in the near future to make a major difference in our world.  Simply put, the abundance of new inventions and gadgets by the ‘left brainers’ will need creative design and marketing to sell.  Hmmm….interesting and thought provoking.  Drive is a book about motivation.  An interesting view about what truly motivates us, internally.  The Homework Myth explores the concept that homework is destroying the desire to learn within our students.

A few days ago I posted a blog about creating a culture of learning.  The post argued educators, the experts, need to help the students, or customers, get what they are looking for resulting in the best possible opportunity for success.  I have been thinking about my own teaching strategies, the physical setup of my classroom, and the necessity (or not) of giving homework.

My teaching strategies are mostly traditional.  I talk, students listen, then I give assignment.  Students complete assignment based on my talk, hand it in, and I grade it.  I am exaggerating just a little.  As long as I have been teaching I have talked.  I have always encouraged a dialog with the class…class discussion.  Lately, I have been moving away from being ‘the head’ of my classroom.  Yes, I am still responsible for the outcome of student learning in my classroom, I have been liberated in the respect that I have given up some of the control.  Right now, in fact, my advanced classes are working in collaborative groups to create 45 minute presentations on poetry.  Students are required to make a presentation plan, create an assessment of any kind, and use any one of a hundred different web 2.o tools to aid their presentations.

The conversation and energetic activity in my classroom has been truly remarkable to watch.  I am still a little foggy on how to assess the ‘work time’.  From what I have observed, however, I do believe all students have been productive in their collaboration.  When I see a student or two sitting and watching, I encourage the leaders of the groups to delegate some of the responsibility.  When students do ask questions they often ask questions like, ‘Can we do this or can we do that?’  When I sense my answer may put a limitation or boundary on their experience my mantra always is ‘You are limited by your own creativity. ‘  It has been working. The point of sharing this is to illustrate Pink’s claim that the ‘right brain’ learners are beginning to rise.  I see it in my classroom.  Each group wants to creatively make their presentation better and more memorable than the next.

The physical set up of my classroom is memorable if you are in school museum.  I have tables, not desks.  I do have a smart board.  My chalkboard is rarely used.  That’s all good stuff, I think.  However, all the tables face me and are in perfect rows and the chairs are all in order.  When the bell rings to start class all the students take their seats.  When the bell rings to end class all the students stand up, push in their chairs and move out into the rapid river of moving teenagers to get to their next class.  How can I make my classroom environment somewhere students are excited to come to work?  The physical set up of my classroom needs to be more inviting, more creative, and more customer centered.  The way it is now works for me, very well; I am extremely comfortable in my roomit’s their room really, isn’t it?  I need to let go of the past.

In the past, as recently as three years ago, educators were buzzing about rigor and relevance.  To many, rigor meant challenging work in class and stacking up homework outside of class.  What is the motivation to give homework?  Is it to be sure that the class is tough enough?  In other words, is homework given to provide some sort of perception that the class is challenging?  Maybe homework is necessary because teachers can’t get all of the information presented before giving work time to complete an assignment.  As I watch my own children bring home work to do from school and reading Kohn’s book, it really makes me wonder, ‘What are we (educators) getting out of homework?”  Even better, what are children getting out of homework?  I saw it posted from a memeber of my PLN on twitter recently that most adults don’t go to work for eight hours then come home and do more of the same work without compensation.  Why are we making our students do this?

It’s interesting how, as an educator, my role continues to evolve as I learn.  I will continue to search for answers.  I will continue to learn.  If there is one thing I have taken with me from college it’s that learning is awesome.  I will continue to read, listen, and observe in hopes that I can make a difference in my classroom with students who will be entering a world much different than I did some 14 years ago.


About jpsteltz

Proud husband and father of four; Literacy Specialist; Reading Teacher; Literacy Coach; HS ELA Teacher; Published Author
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7 Responses to Teacher Reflection:Strategies, Environment, and Homework

  1. crudbasher says:

    Great post! I arrived in the same place you are in. I have been teaching college for over 12 years and became comfortable in the classroom. In the last 2 years though I realized my students have changed and I needed to change with them. I am adding your blog to my blogroll. Thanks for the great insights!


  2. Therese says:

    Wonderful post and I think that pre service teachers, new teachers as well as veteran staff all benifit from conversations about environment, homework and best practice. Continually putting open ended questions infront of folks helps with the self reflection and increases motivation to try new things while adjusting the old. Comfortable is not always effective and effective is not always comfortable.. Change is hard but collaborative conversations on topics such as these help.


  3. Janet Avery says:

    There are many “ahas” in this post – I had the same ones a few years back when I was still in the classroom – and I continue to have them as an administrator. I love the poetry project you are having students do – it is amazing what students will do on their own with just “facilitation” from us. Assessing the group dynamics is always difficult. Possible idea – pose a question to the “onlooker” of the group with which he/she has to grapple.

    Very interesting outlook on the physical space of the room. I wonder what a class would look like if we did let the students decide the furniture placement. I know there are many teachers who are not yet ready to give up that little piece of control! 🙂

    Thanks for the great post.

    Twitter name – averyteach


  4. kate botsford says:

    Wonderful post, as always. Something that pre service educators have been taught is to engage the students on multiple levels. The teacher talks:students listen method of teaching, although effective in information sharing, resonates with general student comprehension. By allowing the students to dialogue, discuss and work together, innovative avenues of thought may be opened, which leads students to analyze and critically think about a particular subject, etc.

    Your poetry presentation sounds fascinating. Are you allowing the students to present beyond a powerpoint/SMART board presentation? Perhaps letting them use other technologies (iPods, youtube, poetry slams) would enhance the global connections.

    As everyone knows, we’re moving into a technological age where attention spans cannot always handle a 47 minute lecture. When I was in high school, this multi-media age was just beginning and the transition of educators in my high school were struggling with keeping our attention.

    I have found that lot of small group discussion (even if it is in the middle of your lecture) really helps bring the concepts and ideas to a personal level and focus back on the topic. For example, I was teaching satire yesterday and in the middle of my teaching I said, “Okay. Turn to a neighbor and please come up with one real life, specific example of satire you’ve seen.” The students answers were astounding. This checks not only for comprehension of the concepts, but also application. I then pushed them further to tell me specifically WHY is this an example of satire, which incorporated analysis.

    As for the set up of the room, our professors have suggested making a horseshoe or pods, which will invite the students to interact with one another and share ideas. This organization may tend to little side conversations, but since your students respect you, this problem should be minimal.

    Let the students take authority and pride in their room. This is the space in which they learn; they need to feel comfortable and excited in that environment. A positive classroom environment really has a huge effect on student learning.

    I will send this post along to some of my education friends. Does it matter grade level?

    PS I would never pay for $.25 tappers. Not worth the time/money. I am also really bad at all video games (with the exception of Guitar Hero). I don’t quite fit the charmed college kid world.

    Thanks for everything, John. You’re great.


    • jsteltz says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful insight. I agree with you at many levels. Vet teachers like myself must continue to be learners as well. It’s a lot easier to get in a rut and not change b/c something ‘has worked’ for a while.

      I love to get new perspective…thanks so much for sharing and making a contribution.

      Are you kidding me??? $.25 tappers…a whole not of escape for $5!!!


  5. Ellen says:

    What a great idea to let the kids do presentations! I am not a teacher. I’m a mom who has volunteered as a CCD teacher and Girl Scout leader. In both of these situations I have found that the more the kids were able to take charge of what they were learning or the projects they were doing the more excited they were about being in class/meetings. I think it’s very empowering for them to be in a position of control and responsiblity.

    As far as homework goes, I have been told that it is an extension and review of what the kids were learning that day. I expect my daughter to get homework. If she doesn’t, I think she’s missing out on something. How crazy to say that!! Some of her friedns have different teachers and are getting 2+ hours of homework a night. Typically, my daughter gets about an hour. I feel it’s a good review and also gives me a chance to see what she is doing in school. Gives me an opportunity to see where she is having trouble and am able to encourage her to get additional help if she needs it. I don’t want to see busy work. Homework should always have a purpose.


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