Friday, January 15, 2010

My Reign Is Over

Yesterday, Shelly Terrell challenged teachers with the following statement as part of her 30 Days, 30 Goals challenge. She said, "Allow your students to have complete control over one class period. Have them choose the material and the way they want to present the material. Just trust them and see what they create." Before I read Shelly's post, I had a lesson plan ready for each of my classes today. The lesson plans, for the most part, were completely the opposite idea of what Shelly is trying to get across. They were teacher centered with little interaction and student ownership. So, I decided to trash those lesson plans. The students walked into class today and I gave them complete reign over the lesson. Here is what happened.

I teach two math classes that have a combined 35 students. I split the class into small groups and gave them approximately 5 minutes to come up with a proposal for today's classroom activity. Most of the groups came up with some type of game that reviewed previous material we have covered. Each class voted on which game they wanted to play and we then spent the rest of the class period playing that game. At the end of the period, I gave them a five question evaluation of the class. Here are some of their responses on the evaluation.

-34 out of 35 students said they would like to do the same activity again.
-14 out of 35 students used the word 'fun' when asked to finish the statement, "I liked class today because..."
-The two most common suggestions for integrating technology into lessons were using YouTube and using clickers (individual response cards)
-When asked how they could make the activity better, 2 students responded with...

-I would like more time to solve problems
-We moved too fast for me to understand some of the problems
-When asked why they liked class today, some common responses included...
-We had a choice
-We didn't just sit in our desks the whole class
-It was fun and not "old-schooled"
-It was a break from homework and "regular stuff"
-It was more fun than just staring at the SMART Board
-When asked what other ideas they had for class activities, some students said...
-Give us more problems to work on in a group
-Give us more challenge problems
-Let's go outside to play a game. We can get exercise and learn at the same time

Today was off the cuff, outside the box, and completely random for me. An observer sitting in the classroom today would not describe these two classes as perfect. However, this imperfect lesson helped me grow today as an educator. (See my previous post for a discussion about perfect lessons.) I have grown because I learned about a few games that students like to play. I also have grown because I have feedback from the students that lets me know what interests them and what might challenge them. Most importantly, I have grown because my students experienced some new opportunities and ownership over a lesson. My reign is ending. The students are taking over.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Perfect Practice?

Practice makes perfect. I can not even count how many times that has been followed immediately with an additional word in the statement. PERFECT practice makes perfect. Coaches, parents, teachers, and music instructors have reminded me over and over again that I must practice perfectly in order to perfect a skill or concept. As a professional educator, I "practice" every day in my instruction and administration. My lesson plans, assessments, decisions, and interactions with colleagues, parents, and students are all ways that I "practice." What is the end result? What needs to be perfect? Student achievement is the end result, and it needs to be perfect. We all know that it will not be perfect. We also know that the administrator's or the teacher's "practice" will not be perfect either.

I think a new statement may be more realistic as we try to grow as educators. IMPERFECT practice makes perfect. If my practice is perfect, if I take no risks, then I will not grow. Hoerr, 2009 says, "If I'm only succeeding, I'm not learning" (p. 90) He goes on to explain how a change in our mindset may allow us to become better teachers. "People with a growth mind-set are willing to take risks, and they view failure as an opportunity to learn, not as a statement about their worth" (2009, p. 91). I know that I have fallen short in my instruction throughout my career. I have begin 2010 looking for ways to include more technology, more cooperative learning, and more authentic learning. The first 6 days of 2010 have been messy. I have struggled to find new activities, include technology, and break old habits. The good news is that messy has been good. Messy has led to more class discussion, more student interaction, and more student ownership. It has led me to have higher anticipation for teaching and a greater desire to reflect on lessons and determine areas of growth.

I'll conclude by addressing teachers looking to grow, administrators looking to challenge their staff, and students who are willing to learn. I offer the following advice from Hoerr, 2009, "I'll be disappointed if it's a perfect lesson. I want you to try something new, take a risk, so you can learn" (p. 91)

Hoerr, Thomas R. (2009-2010, December-January). Principal as Parachute. Educational Leadership, 67(4), 90-91.