Saturday, December 12, 2009

Outside Having an Impact Inside

Some days are good. Some days are exactly the opposite of good. Sometimes we have high expectations and we are rewarded. Some days we have high expectations and our students do not come through. More often than not I have noticed the extreme impact that things outside the classroom have on what actually happens inside the classroom.

Just last week there were a lot of instances of this idea. We had a day where it snowed a lot and when class started there were only five students - in a class of twenty-two. There was a post on Facebook by a fellow student (Yes, Facebook is unlocked in our school and used throughout the day by our students. It has to do with the Administration's decision because the school itself has a Facebook page and is used as a method of communication with our parents/guardians) that distracted the rest of the class for the remainder of the period. There was a field trip that took one entire grade out for their morning classes. The list continues...students breaking up, a close friend leaving town, and a school pep fest.

What I have realized is how often I have a plan with my lesson and how it rarely goes according to that plan. Usually I want to do this, then this, and now this, but more often then not this “perfect lesson plan” that I have created never happens. In fact, I can count the number of times on one hand that things have gone exactly how I planed them. It is not that my students have not understood the material, participated in class, and applied the material to their lives. I remember in college being taught to write a lesson plan with objectives, activities, checking for understanding and all these “required” parts of a lesson. The idea was that if you have this amazingly planned lesson planned that it will work out perfectly. Well that is not what happens, at least not in my class.

I think it was great to understand the basic structure of a lesson in college, because that is how class period is generally structured. However, I have found that teaching is more about adapting and rolling with the ebb and flow of the class than sticking to a rigid plan. If one strategy does not work, then you try a different one. If that doesn’t work then you have a student describe it. You use a picture, a movie, a physical diagram, and you try anything to make the idea or concept make sense to your students. If you are supposed to teach a lesson and it involves small groups, but the period before you noticed that the same group of students was very loud and noisy. Do you put them into small groups in your class period? That is what happened to me yesterday. I chose to have them complete their reading alone and the result: a perfectly silent classroom. I am not saying that I am some amazing teacher, but it is absolutely amazing to see the changes in students from period to period and from day to day. Something might have worked the previous day, but for whatever reason it will not work the next one.

My thought here is that I have found that teaching is all about having clear objectives for the day and a variety of strategies in your back pocket to get there. Then all the other elements, like checking for understanding, get sprinkled in throughout. If one “cool” idea flops on the first try what do you try next? We need to make sure that we are pushing the students in our teacher education programs to think outside of the “perfect lesson plan” to consider multiple other strategies that they could quickly switch to if the first one does not work - for whatever reason. Teachers need to be adaptable and be able to do that without effort or any preparation.

Your students don’t get it. Do you have something in your back pocket to switch to so that comprehension can happen?