Tag Archives: management

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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a little too inquerious

My main placement teacher had a great idea for a lesson – give some students some primary resources and have the students be historians and do history! Great!

I planned the lesson well enough, spent a few hours looking for good sources over at the library of congress, worked up a lesson plan with multiple forms of assessment, differentiated instruction, and all that jazz. It was only going to be a short lesson, 30 minutes. I’d talk for 5 minutes, and let them go.

Sometimes, reality doesn’t match my imagination. I should have taken a picture of the exit slips (and their work for that matter) I had them do. Several students said it was the “worst lesson ever.”

The lesson started well enough, we did a preassessment of primary sources, what they’re used for, what a historian does, etc. They understood that. But then I told them they would be historians, and they’d need to construct and interpret items to make a visual representation of a historical event while answering the big idea and unanswered questions while looking for multiple perspectives… (OK, that was a run on sentence. The lesson was thirty minutes, with five minutes of talking and a lot of answering questions. The point is, I don’t think some college kids could do the assignment. Either I was too vague, or something else. And here I am, chattering away in these parentheses.)

Part of me thinks the students don’t think of me as the teacher yet. I need to establish that ASAP. It’s hard as a student teacher, because I have to defer so much, but it is possible.

Secondly, I could have planned the lesson better, predicted the questions they’d have. Though I did want the assignment ambiguous. I succeeded at that.

Thirdly, this was a tough lesson. It was just plain tough. A few students said they could have used more time. They needed to know directly what to do. A few students tore up their primary sources. Some hated the lesson. But the worst response I got by far was: “I don’t have an imagination.”

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