Technically the full title for this blog should be “Yoda Was Wrong, Kids are Camels, and Practice Makes Imperfect”.
Basically, I’ve got three sayings that I’ve decided will guide me through this year. They’re all variations of existing sayings twisted so they’re more meaningful for my current situation.
1. Do or Try, There is no Do Not
For a while schools adopted this mantra of the right to pass. I hate it. Yes, I get that it’s meant to make the classroom a ‘safer’ more supportive learning environment but it was regularly misused and misinterpreted. Too many students believed it gave them the right to ignore a reasonable instruction from a teacher. I misused it to, tweaking it to suit my needs. When a student would claim the right to pass I’d inform them they also had the right to fail.
What I told my students today was that effort is what I respect the most. We can’t all be skilled at English (or Math or Science or whatever Social Studies wants to call itself this week). Even within a subject there will be elements students will be strong in and others that they’d consider a weakness. What I want to see is effort. You do what I ask or you show me that you’ve had a go, that gets kudos. Giving up gets you nothing.
2. You can lead a student to knowledge but you can’t make them think
I can put a book or worksheet or an iPad in front of a student and inform them of what they should learn but there’s no guarantee anything will sink in. What teaching has taught me is that kids love to copy from the board because it is an achievable task with a clear end point where they don’t have to think. What’s the point in that? I’m teaching humans not sheep.
The question is, what do I want them to learn? Content is all well and good but the curriculum (regardless of subject) is full of junk that is unnecessary. People don’t need to know what date an event happened on or how many lines in a sonnet. People need skills. Comprehension and control over language are essential English skills but I want my students to learn or strengthen their interpersonal skills too – that’s why I’ve chosen the PL I’m engaged in this year.
Essentially, what I want is to make learning collaborative and engaging. It’s not a new goal but it’s one I want to revisit.
3. Practice changes nothing without feedback
Practice doesn’t make perfect, it just makes things more permanent. A skill practised builds habits (and muscle memory if we’re talking in the physical sense) but bad habits are just as easily ingrained as good ones. Some students write practice essays but, besides ensuring their wrist/hand is used to writing, what skills are they building?
I write poems. I was fortunate to be published early in my writing career but I now have a long line of rejections. I write fairly regularly but I have to assume I’m not improving when I’ve had little recent success. It’s for that reason I’ve joined two writers’ groups (1 online, 1 in real life). I want people to tell me how I can improve.
This year I want more people in my classroom telling me how I can teach better. I want to help other teachers on their own upward journey. I want to find opportunities to talk to students 1 to 1 so I can articulate how they can write better. I want to teach them how to see areas for development so they can help each other improve. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
2016: a better me builds a better you.