Tag Archives: context

how much do they really understand?

 

I have been teaching a new unit as of late on the foundations of America (as I called it). It covers the American Revolution and slavery and everything in between, and it’s really tough.

 

I just had my first formal assessment from my field instructor. While we didn’t have time to finish our conversation, one point that stuck to me was whether I had considered teaching junior high, or high school for that matter. While command of the subject on my terms was fine, the students, in her educated perspective, weren’t grasping the concepts the way I was teaching them. I was teaching them with high expectations, very high. And they are a high achieving classroom, of that there’s no doubt. Where did I go wrong?

 

Along with teaching the social studies content i’m also doing a read aloud of the book Chains. The reading level, while accessible, is difficult because of one main factor, context. I don’t mean student context in this case, but an historical context. There is so much going on in this time period. The unit I’ll be teaching spans 8 weeks of our time (4 weeks my time) and decades of the most pivotal moments of history.

 

How do I make slavery accessible? How do I get students to really truly understand the extent and brutality and systematic dehumanizing of generations of different peoples?

 

One thing that I will say worked in class (and agreed upon by the field instructor) was I had everyone line up in a row, and to go to one side of the room if they strongly agree, and the other side if they strongly disagree. They could stand somewhere in the middle if they felt that way too. I asked a few decent questions, but one really stuck out.

 

Was slavery good for America?

 

Every student went to the “strongly disagree” side of the room except one student. I asked her why slavery was good for America, she answered that America wouldn’t have benefited from free labor to build such a strong economy (I’m paraphrasing, what she said was better). Slowly students crept towards her. We were having a real discussion of slavery amid all the confusion.

 

We have time. I have time. But the confusion is good ways. I told the class this is a difficult topic. It’s difficult for adults. The students are doing great. I need a lot of work though. I need to find ways that send a spark into the discussion, trying new tactics, strategies along the way. I need to understand as I want the students to understand.

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inconsistently consecutive

 

The setup:

Teach four (4) lessons on four (4) consecutive days to four (4) different groups of students. The lesson plan is the “same” every time.

The reality:

The plans were different every time. The lessons were different every time. Most of this was done subconsciously. After two lessons I did rewrite the lesson plan to reflect on how my thinking had changed. But something else has been happening that I hadn’t noticed: I’m becoming a better teacher.

 

I have been frustrated as of late with the disconnect from learning about teaching and teaching. I feel like I have been drilling on how to play shortstop in baseball, and then I arrive to a basketball game. Sometimes I arrive to a baseball game, but I’m a relief pitcher. Sometimes I can play basketball just because I’m taller than everyone else (this is also true in teaching elementary school students). Then my cooperating teacher noticed something — improvement.

 

A recount:

I adapted a guided reading lesson from a new curriculum my cooperating teacher was auditing. I had to focus points, reading fluency and understanding of theme. I was originally going to put a lot more focus on the former (as my students understand concepts pretty quickly) but the exact opposite happened. I changed the lesson on the fly multiple times. I focused on theme, had the students play off each other, grab onto major points, hit fluency when needed and moved on.

 

Each lesson had a different group of students that I changed the lesson both in planning (context) and per situation (improvisation). I thought, since my co-teacher said I had done well the first time, the next time I would choke (sports metaphor). It didn’t happen, though during lessons I usually internally cringe when I think I could have phrased something differently. But then the students were saying some pretty amazing things. The more we discussed, the more students understood. Then the last lesson occurred.

 

The last group I had was quite diverse. The book we were reading was 15 pages. One student in the last group read the book in three minutes. Another took ten. Another took fifteen. The last took twenty five minutes to read. I ended up doing four indivualized mini lessons within the mini lesson (inception). I had to get up and redirect a student who was making flip books out of sticky notes. I got a student who rarely contributes to tell me what theme is, and found it (including citing evidence) in the book. When reflecting with my co-teacher, she praised me and redirected me (3:1, more on that later). For the future, I should have had the slow reader read on his own for about ten minutes before having the group join together. There were plenty of notes my co-teacher gave me, but this was the most praise I had received yet. Just feeling good about teaching.

Next week, work on discipline! I need to find a balance between anarchy and the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket.

 

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