Yesterday, being Tuesday, I volunteered all day in Jackie’s 7th grade math classes. Last night, being me, I started reflecting on what took place– what we did or did not do, what students did or did not do– in terms of the conversation she and I had at the end of the school day. Today, being unusually snowy (for NW Oregon) and stay-at-home-y, I’m gathering my thoughts here.
Let me first say that Jackie, like many other teachers including me, wants to teach in a way that student learning moves forward. Neither one of us know exactly how to pull that off, so in
some many ways, its the blind leading the blind.
She was willing to spend weeks (weeks!) on making sense of integer addition, but was, well, flabbergasted when she asked them to write in their journals (in their own words) what it means to add and, with the exception of one student (out of about 100), students wrote basically this: adding means to put numbers together to go up to a bigger number. The use of “bigger” notwithstanding, what prevented these students from writing something like this?? Adding means to combine. Sometimes when you add, you increase to a higher value, sometimes you decrease to a lower value. It leaves us wondering what in the world it takes for students to internalize concepts well enough to build on them, to move along.
Now, I don’t think at all that zero learning has taken placement but, c’mon. Nor am I going to say these kids are lazy or don’t care or don’t try hard enough. Quite the contrary; these kids are normal, but they are for the most part passive learners. It makes me wonder what’s going on here (and it went on in my classes, too) that needs addressing. Plenty, I’m sure.
Allow me to digress a bit.
(I may never get over how amazing it is that you can be pondering a particular problem or question and *ding*, the MTBoS sends you a pertinent post from a total stranger. Its cosmic.)
This morning my inbox contained a post from Justin Aion. One of the reasons I follow his blog is because he is so candid in his daily reflections and I can easily relate. If I understand him correctly, there’s a conflict between teaching the way he wants to teach (for deep and lasting conceptual understanding) and teaching in a way students expect him to teach (direct instruction), and feels a more than a little guilty when he gives in.
Which brings be back to some questions I have percolating*.
- Are students ‘passive learners’ because that is the role given to them, over and over, the active role belonging to the teacher?
- If a teacher strives to develop a thriving, student-centered learning community and struggles to make it a reality, is it (in part) because these roles have not sufficiently switched?
- What are some obstacles to switching roles and how do you think they can be overcome?
- If so, what can one do, alter, and even not do to make the switch and make it last?
What do you think? What do the roles look like in your classroom? What recommendations do you have for switching the active role to the students?
*My fairly confident answer for 1) is YES and 2) is It’s worth considering. My answers for 3) and 4) are a bit more tenuous and lengthy, so I’d like to make them another post.