Wednesday, April 22, 2015

5 Things We Need to Stop Pretending in Schools

1. We can get everything done in the time we're given.
If you add up the minutes for everything we're supposed to do each day, our students are going to need to start staying late. If you look at the amount of time textbook publishers say you should be spending on lessons, they're completely unrealistic.
We need to stop beating ourselves up over this. Find what works for you, and do it. If you can't find what works, settle on a schedule, and get as close to getting it to work as you can. Ask supportive friends for help and advice. We all feel inadequate sometimes. Find someone you trust, and learn from them.

2. A worksheet is adequate practice.
Before I say anything else, we know that for every rule, there are exceptions. I'm talking about the normal busy work type sheets. How often did anyone say, I did the most amazing worksheet today? Now to be fair to worksheets, there are times that they can be helpful for practice, but there are so many more engaging ways to practice. I'm not gonna list a bunch of things, I'm just going to say that worksheets are what I use when I'm tired, I have a sub that I don't know, or I'm stressed out and a little lazy.

3. "After all I've done for you..."
I've heard this phrase over the years. A teacher who has put forth an amazing effort for her students is angry to find that her students had no interest in what they were doing. They played, they messed it up, and they ruined her plans. And that's when she says it. "I worked so hard on this, and this is how you repay me?" Until we start asking our students what they want, until we start building student choice into our classrooms, we're not going to have super engaged students.

4. Everyone doing the same thing is going to work. Ever.
At the start of the year, my students' reading levels ranged from 2.5 to 5.8. Some of my kids could do most of the 3rd grade math curriculum, some would balk at a 2nd grade test. If I try to keep all of my students on the same story or the same math lesson, I'm doing a disservice to everybody. The 'ahead' kids are now bored, the 'behind' kids are sad and confused. One or more of those kids are gonna start disrupting things from either a benign or a malicious point of view, and now the 'middle' kids are distracted and off task. Differentiate, baby, and you reach more of them!

5. We can teach reading.
Reading is like running, cycling, weightlifting, or bowling. If you do it a lot, you'll get good at it. Run every day, at your pace, and what do ya get faster. You can't spend a half hour a day talking about running and expect to get better. I don't think that you can talk your way into better reading either. Try targeted reading activities with small reading passages, and you're gonna kill reading. I've found that if I can get my students to read on their own level each day, their reading level 'magically' grows. My lowest students sometimes need coaching to help them understand reading strategies (athletes use coaching, too...), but you can use student friendly books and small groups to work on this!

Here're two more.

6. Kids shouldn't know what level everyone's at, we have to protect them.
Too bad! They already do. Seriously, when we make leveled groupings, we give them polite names so no one is ashamed of their status. It doesn't matter what the names are. The kids know that the Cardinals are the smart kids, they know that the Robins are the dumb kids, and the Blue Jays are everyone else.
Or.... you could be honest with the kids. You could share that everyone is good at some stuff, and everyone stinks at something. You could let kids know who the experts are so they can get help. You can make groupings fluid based on achievement and understanding. Kids are sharper than we give them credit for.

7. There's an US/THEM dichotomy, aka teachers/students.
Students are the people that we spend the most time with each day. They are human beings. They are not some kind of other. If you treat them like coworkers for whom you happen to be a project manager, you're going to get better results out of them. You don't have firing power. But you do have this: What if you take the kid any teacher would want to fire, find who they really are, and get some results of her/him? You're gonna look like an amazing teacher. And to that kid, that's exactly who you are.

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