Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking a Me Day :)

For the first time in my 13-year career, I took a personal day to sleep in, clean house, read, and relax. It has been simply amazing :) At the moment, I'm taking a break from reading Monday's chapter in #sbarbook - "Never Work Harder Than Your Students" by Robyn Jackson. The section I just finished was about "Demystify the Process" in terms of clearing up student confusion and anticipating problems before they start. I had to take a break to jot down a few ideas and process it myself.

This chapter's principle is about providing proper support to students BEFORE they fail instead of waiting until AFTER they fail to provide remediation. One of the keys in providing this support is to anticipate student errors, misconceptions, and confusing topics/instructions. In the section I just finished it says we often assume students know how to do things like study, read a textbook, etc, but that we rarely take the time to teach them how to do these things, to break down the process into clear, concrete terms. This got me to thinking about how this same principle applies to teaching. (While there are many examples I could come up with, I will pick on a current issue in many districts.) A common buzzword around here is "using data to drive instruction", and the upper admin that expects this to happen just assumes that we know how to do it, but has never provided explicit, clear, concrete instructions on what/how they expect us to do this. While I have a vague idea of what they mean, no instruction has been provided to allow me to clearly understand their expectations.

Another point that is made in this section is that we rarely sit down with our students and explain the "why" of doing something. Students have become adept at many academic processes, such as writing a lab report, etc, but how many of them really get the "why" of the lab report? Do they really understand what they are doing, why they are being asked to do it, and how it can ultimately help their learning process? Again, I related this to being a teacher. Teachers are often given top-down directives to do this program or to implement this process, and they do it because for the most part, teachers are rule-followers. But how many of us really understand the "why" of these programs and processes? Are we provided the information that really gets us on board with how these programs can help our students and ultimately help us become a better teacher? I recently commented to Partner Teacher that while we had experienced a lot of good things from implementing SBG, a key part of it was that it was "grass-roots". We took the time to do the research, read books/blogs, really understand the "why" of how it would help us and our students. If SBG had been a top-down mandate without the "why" provided by the research, would we be experiencing this success or would it be yet another program that we felt forced to implement?

Finally, this section also brings up the "Yes, but...." I have to admit, I really like this feature of the book. You can tell that the author truly spent time trying to figure out the common comebacks and excuses and gives her best shot at counteracting them. This "Yes, but.." asks if being so explicit, hand-holding our kiddos through the process, explaining every nuance of an assignment, is that the equivalent of "dumbing down our curriculum"? Her response is a great one - that being concrete as you introduce a process allows students better understanding and provides the foundation for abstract thought as they progress through the material. In my classes, both at the high school and at the university, I often start a chapter or lesson with a hands-on lab activity that walks the students through the thought process of that objective. Then as they gain more competence, I ease off the step-by-step instructions and provide them opportunities to stretch their brain. This concrete to abstract process provides them the support to be independent learners.

Now off to finish the chapter and take a nap :)

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