Okay – so I’m thinking out loud here. Hoping some wisdom comes from this exercise and/or from brilliant comments by my dear readers.
Working with my outgoing Calc BC group and I comment to one of my students that it’s a tough day for him. He’s on our swim team and they had a 6 AM practice Tuesday morning and a meet that afternoon. One of the other students – a member of our field hockey team – says that her team never ran sprints the day before a big meet. Now, it’s important to understand that our field hockey team has won’t he state championship three of the past four years. This student was a member her whole high school career. I take this opportunity and I ask her if she thinks that this strategy (don’t stress out your body the day before an important match) might be carried over to another realm. I am greeted by a quizzical look and I say ‘Maybe you should not cram the night before a big test.’ Another quizzical look. She asks if I am advocating not studying. I say that the daily diligence of regular work and studying is comparable to daily hard practice in field hockey. Then, relax a bit before an important match (or test) and maybe this is a formula for success. I don’t think that many of my students saw that as a winning strategy.
I just observed a lovely Precalculus class taught by one of my colleagues. The class was working on a variety of word problems – coins, movie tickets, area/perimeter, etc. My colleague is a remarkably calm, zen-like fellow. He sat in a student chair the whole time (sort of invisible!) and asked one student at a time to come to the board. The rest of the class was attentive, offering help to their colleague and generally being cooperative and positive. The teacher kept asking nudging questions of the student at the board. “What do we want to find here?” “How can we relate the number of coins and the value of the coins?” etc. Being an observer in the class (and not stressing out about HOW to do the problems) I saw that my colleague was modeling for his students a lovely strategy for tackling these problems. If each student could play that conversation back in their head as they struggled with any problem, then they would see much more progress. They might still make mistakes, but they’d have a sound strategy for success. What troubled me – and I spoke with the teacher about it the next morning – is the fact that I KNOW that some of them will not ask themselves those questions. They won’t take his advice for attacking these problems to heart. I am not saying that all of our students need to mimc our behavior. What I am saying is that students who struggle, ought to feel that it is a lifeline that is being offered here. When I asked him about this the next morning, I told him that I was impressed by his careful teaching and modeling. His response was something along the lines of ‘I am a big believer in teaching. I just think it works better when learning happens.’ I really don’t think he was being mean or cynical.
This morning, I awoke to another terrific blog post by @JustinAion over at his blog Relearning to Teach. If you are not familiar with his work, you should change that and visit him. Pay attention to his tweets as well. Life will be better. He closed out his post today with a powerful quote – “Even with everything I’ve seen, done and learned, even with all of the conversations I’ve had with other teachers, I still only feel as though I’m “teaching” when I’m answering student questions or going over examples.
I wish I could scrub that feeling.”
I think that I’ll walk away from my computer now and let these conversations and this quote marinate a bit. I know I have some questions, but I am not sure that I can ask them accurately enough yet.
5 thoughts on “Two conversations and a Blog Quote”
This is pretty great, and not just because you talk about how awesome I am. I love the analogy of getting ready for the championships. All too often, students (including myself) put stuff off to the last minute. They wait until the night before the test and cram as much information in as possible.
They know inherently that they won’t be able to win games without constant practice, but for some reason, that never translates to academics.
Justin – It’s pretty easy to talk about your awesomeness.
I’m glad you like the analogy – it really struck me instantly since the girl in question definitely stresses herself out before tests. I think that classroom teachers need to do a better job of selling the day-to-day diligence. I also think that there is an aspect that we cannot compete with. On a team, or in a play, or in the orchestra a student knows that their successful completion of a task has a direct effect on their friends/peers/teammates being able to complete their task. In the classroom, if I fail then I am the only one hurt, nobody else. I think that this is a powerful motivator (for all of us, not just our students) and I don’t know how to tap into that in the classroom.
It’s only easy because you haven’t seen me teach… 🙂
I think you’ve hit on an important point about why the team dynamic works more than the classroom. This is one of the reasons why I want to work on gamifying my classroom. I want each class to be set up as a team, competing against other classes. That way, students have a stake, but not a sole stake the way they do in individual sports.
Treating test day like game day might be beneficial: streamers, high-5’s, cheerleaders, dump a cooler of gatorade on someone, etc.
It also occurs to me that one of the reasons that students may practice for sports isn’t just to create success, but to prevent humiliation in a public setting.
I don’t know how to translate that to the classroom in a way that would still provide a positive and safe environment.
Maybe I just want to dump gatorade on my students…
That’s a truly interesting conversation in all three cases. I’ll ponder the thoughts I have and reply later. I am also thinking about a situation I was in earlier this week and how that may apply to being a teacher of teachers…interesting thoughts.
Thanks for dropping by again. I’d love to hear about the situation you were in. I am also going to try and post again this weekend as I gather my thoughts. Some of them are in my reply to Justin up above.