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 room…it’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.