Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Do they have a vested interest?

We've been hearing quite a bit about essential learnings and essential questions in the education world for the past several years. What are the critical elements of a lesson that students should take away? What is it that we want them to really know and understand? This is an excellent focus for our planning, teaching, and reflective time. In addition to determining the key learning points for students, teachers need to grapple with essential questions related to their teaching methods and delivery.

One essential question with which I am faced every day and upon which my teaching, for the most part, is centered is: Do my students have a vested interest in what I'm dishing out? Whether I like it or not, the culture in which we live and teach is constantly changing, for better or worse, and I have a responsibility to conduct lessons that meet the changing needs of my students. That's one reason, for example, that I love blogs as a tool for learning. Most of the kids are already using blogs, so why not meet them where they are? Blogging has become another widely used method for communicating news (check out any major news agency's website) and is used by a growing number of employers in different industries. It makes practical sense, then, that teachers incorporate this technology as one of the tools in their toolboxes. My experience with three years of blogging in the classroom has shown me that more reticent students can share amazing learning using technology.

At the risk of sounding trite, I offer the observation that teachers have been inspiring kids and changing lives for years. We're good at it because we care. But today we're finding that the old ways of teaching, maybe even last semester's lesson plan, is ineffective. We are competing with an increasing number of varying interests ... and the competition is fierce! Sometimes, maybe more often than we're willing to admit, students would rather be doing something else than sitting in class. That's why reflective teaching -- essential questioning -- is so important. How do we get the learning to stick?

I've got to show kids they have a vested interest in what they're supposed to be learning. They need to be able to practically relate their learning to something beyond school. Why is it important to know this? How will it benefit me in the long run, past my school experience? For example, telling a senior in College Prep Reading something like "Today we're talking about active reading" is far different than helping the student understand why we're talking about active reading. If you don't learn strategies for active reading, then when you get to college next year you'll find that you're spending far too much time trying to read nearly impossible stuff you won't understand. On the other hand, active reading strategies will not only help you understand that impossible stuff, it will save you time. What I have discovered is that students take that practical piece of justification and make connections that are highly personal. In other words, active reading helps me understand, saves me time, and that means I have more time to do the stuff I actually want to do. That's the kind of connection that leads to comprehension, interpretation, and retention.


Blogger melissa m.o. said...

Denise, Thanks for writing such a well thought out Blog. Made me really think. I just spent 2 days with the Dufour's and they spoke of this very thing, among many others. The one thing that really struck me is that if we find something else that is more effective (and they have tons of research available)why do we as professional educators have such hard time changing? He used many examples of this in other professions. Imagine if there were 2 surgeons. One was the old traditional guy/gal with a death rate of 4 out of every 10 patients. But, by golly, he/she was a great person and really loved the patients, even though almost half of them would die on the table. The other surgeon was always looking for more innovative and better ways to do surgery. Looking at all of the research and going with what works. His/her death rate was much lower. Who would go with? Think of our students in this scenario...

8:00 AM  
Blogger Sally G said...

As an "older" teacher (I've been at this for over 20 years), I am constnatly reminded that the techniques I use, those that I admired and recreated from favorite teachers of my own, are not as compelling as they once were. Standing in front of the class and spouting wisdom can only hold the attention of media-bombarded young people for a few minutes at a time (if that).

Fortunately, I work in an environment filled with young, innovative educators who are always astounding me with new techniques. I thank them for teaching me and helping me find new avenues on which I might lead my students. Variation, individual profiling of students' capacities, constnat updating - these are the techniques I am developing to help my students plug into what I have to offer.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Ms. Fine said...

Denise -
I loved reading your blog and I have thought about this same question everyday while planning. Understanding that as educators we are to prepare our students for the future I feel that it is my duty to help them make connections to everyday life and the world. However, at the same time, I struggle with balancing teaching real world life examples with the curriculum engrained for us. With banned books and monitoring what I say due to job security it is hard to capture essential learning’s. I agree with Melissa in that why can't be change with the times? Why stay confined to old traditions. As Sally mentioned the techniques I learned are different from her upbringing with education........because I'm younger I was taught to teach differently. With standardized testing being the trend how else could we meet those expectations while maintaining learning that is valued? Some things to ponder...excellent questions...Anxious to see the change to come....

10:47 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Paswaters said...

Mo, wonderful analogy! I think there are probably many answers to the "why don't teachers change" question. Each of us has particular lessons, for example, about which we feel passionate. Perhaps they are especially fun to teach or they generate a great deal of positive response among students. I have plenty of friends with whom I've worked through the years that stubbornly hold on to old lessons that don't work today simply because "that's the way they've always done it and, by golly, they aren't about to change." Unfortunately, we often lose sight of the real goal -- student learning. I am constantly having to reassess what I do because, as Sally so aptly observes, different student populations have different needs. Half the time, at least for me, what worked for my third period American Lit class doesn't work at all with my sixth period class. Frustrating, huh?!

11:58 AM  
Blogger Cheryl S. said...

Great Blog! I agree that getting the students to buy in is so important! I think it's great that so many teachers are already using blogging in their classes. I think it was you, Denise, who had 100+ students submit blogs even though there was no grade attached - that kind of participation is priceless! I tend to work one-on-one or in small groups with students who have language deficits. So, many times I teach strategies for improving receptive and expressive language skills...but I always have to get them to first see why the strategies are so important and what impact use of the strategies can have on grades in their core classes.

I have 2 teenagers at home right now, and I have to admit that they are my primary source of "what's new" in technology and communication. Keeping up w/ all of it will be much harder once they leave home!

8:43 AM  
Blogger MickiL said...

Denise, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree that students need to feel that our lessons are valuable and relevant. If students can relate what they do in class, or what they discuss in class to the outside world, they feel that it is worth their time to be an active member in our class. Each Friday I set aside 15 minutes for current events. The current events relate to the content I am covering at the time. For example, students read an article this week called; "Acne Bacteria's Secrets Revealed" from Today's Science. We are currently learning about Bacteria and Viruses. The class discussion that evolved from this article was valuable to the instruction but most importantly the discussion was student driven. Introducing current events has had a positive influence in my class, but I am always looking for new ideas to make science relevant to the daily lives of my students. There have been times while teaching that I have to remind myself that my students may not be as fascinated with science as I am! Although this realization is disappointing, it is reality. I also think of it as a challenge!

2:52 PM  
Blogger Mwiebe said...

We know that our classes are relevant to our students. The trick is showing them how our classes are relevant. When students see connections between what they are studying and what is happening in life, the impact can be powerful. I think we must realize that our students do live in a technological world that we didn't grow up in and we must use that in our teaching. I don't, however, think that just by using new technology in our classes we are automatically increasing the relevance. That can come in many forms. I love Micki's use of current events in science and I do something similar in my classes. Often times I will directly ask my students things like 'Why do you think this matters?' or 'Why are we learning this?' They can usually figure it out. If they can't see why, or if they say 'To do well on the test' then I know I must find ways to connect it to their lives.
Ultimately, one of the most valuable ways that we can connect our content to our students' lives is to really know them and listen to them, and also to know our content well enough to know what connections to make.
I think we must also ask ourselves why we teach the way we do and really examine how we go about sharing our knowledge with our students. If we aren't challenging ourselves and trying to grow as teachers, how can we expect the same of our students?

3:23 PM  
Blogger Michael S. said...

Relevance. Rigor. Relationships. The new R's of education. Interestingly for me, early in my career I was labeled the "easy" teacher, the one without rigor, because I spent substantial time building relationships with my students and allowing my students to "discover" the relevance of the material.

While I often live wearing rose colored glasses, I hate to rely completely on relevance for student motivation for learning. As a teacher of literature, I hope to allow students to discover a love of learning - learning for the sake of learning. I understand the difficulty of this process, but it IS the single concepts missing from my own experiences as a student. I became a better learner when I started to become self-actualized, appreciating the act of learning because it was stimulating, not specifically relevant. This does NOT mean that relevance is unimportant. Rather, this appreciation for learning can stimulate an intrinsic search for relevance, a true desire for rigor and deeper relationships with teachers.

At least this is so in my "dream world". If blogs, alternative assignments that allow for individual interests and strengths and student-centered classrooms and activities work to this end (as I believe), then I will continue to push myself to change, adapt, question and implement. As should we all.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Paswaters said...

Excellent and thoughtful response, Michael, and I especially agree with your comment, I hate to rely completely on relevance for student motivation for learning. Relying on any one method, motivation, or delivery style will likely never produce an overwhelmingly positive result. Building positive relationships and communicating relevance are only two of the many tools we have in our toolboxes. And your toolbox, as I have observed, is full of many meaningful and effective tools.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Krueger said...

Wow! What a wonderful entry. I think this is something that we as teachers think about on a daily basis, but we don't really openly talk about it that much. I think that technology is one way to get students on board, but it isn't enough to just introduce it. How you use it is just as important. I teach technology (Intro. to Computer Applications and Computer Applications I) and the problem that we have is that our curriculum itself is pretty boring. Just because students are using a computer for an assignment doesn't mean that they find it exciting and that they're "getting in." To deal with this problem we try to implement a great deal of creativity into our assignments, but then we run into the problem of rigor. We've been told that our classes aren't rigorous enough. It's a constant battle that we face and I've come to realize that it's a battle that we can't win.

12:05 PM  
Blogger ChingyenG said...

How does motivation tie into all this? We as educators want to impart our wisdom but do the students necessarily want to receive it? How many of them are here at the school because they want to or because they have to?

The image of one particular student comes to mind. He is on a modified schedule. At the rate he is progressing (or lack of) I might retire before he graduates from high school. He is not into technology; he does not even use his planner. He claims he can't do homework for more than 30 minutes each night or he will have an "episode." He often stares into space with his mouth slightly open. Is that an "episode"? So I recently challenged him to a game of tic-tac-toe. And guess what? He beat me.

I don't know how my story related to Denise's post, but I feel better talking about it.

(Does this technology spell check?)

7:41 AM  
Blogger Caroline S said...

I enjoyed this article greatly. I know that we have a society of over protective adults that are always watching their child. The real world does not come with a parachute for every thing that happens.
Consequences are real life.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jared Robinson said...

I appreciate your comments. I am under the impression that blogs with my American lit. class has increased the buy-in of my students. Reading your comments has been especially timely because of the recent lack of personal investment on the part of my sophomores. I am struggling to help them connect to Shakespeare. I would love to create a classroom blog that students could post on a couple of times a week so that they are thinking about the play outside the classroom. Thanks for your insights.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Scotty W said...

I think it is always hard to make sure everyone is buying into what you teach. It is so important to stay up with technology as students will tend to do more if it is up to date. Blogging is huge for high school students and there is many sites they can do it. In fact, there is probably more information that I can find about our students (like than I want or need to know. There is an iteresting article where a Washington (State)School District is punishing some students on behavior that they found out about on a public blog site. Here is the article if you are interested:

1:28 PM  
Blogger Caroline S said...

I love connecting the information to the outside world. If they know that it is going to help them in their fututre goals and aspirations they sit up and participate.
Teaching business classes I try to bring in other aspects of their studies.
HAving the students see the connects provides for much more of a deeper learning.

2:12 PM  
Blogger jaredr said...

Really interesting stuff! Michaels comments about learning not because of relevance but because of the love of learning, because learning is stimulating, hey, that is a dream for all students of ours, isn't it? Blogs can stimulate great discussions, motivate kids to think and interact on a subject. But that is the key: to get them to think on their own and motivate to interact on a subject. Blogging is one of several ways to get kids to do this.

7:27 AM  

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