A student’s reality
I had a teacher-friend, who would bound into the teacher’s room after teaching a class and rave about how much he had just taught his students. In reality, he felt as good as he did because he got to eschew the ins and outs of a literary work that was miles above the heads of his disinterested high school students. Too often, we teachers feel good after a lesson because we love to talk about analogies, metaphor, or physics. We become so absorbed in our passion that we forget about our captive audience – an audience well-trained in being compliant and polite.
“Just because students are complying doesn’t mean they are learning,” Gerstein said. “We teach too much compliance in schools. I think if 10 percent [of your students] like your lesson and 90 percent are sitting there tolerating because they’ve learned to tolerate, that’s a failure in my mind.”
The next time you come out of teaching a lesson charged with your philosophy, physics, Homer, or whatever your passion may be, get some feedback from your students about what they learned during your performance of passion in the classroom.
Framing and reflecting
Now that you have been humbled let’s look at the big picture – framing and reflecting. Gerstein says that “If we don’t create a process of reflecting and framing our lessons, then we are leaving learning up to chance.”
Frontload the lesson
First, you need to frontload the information for the students. Let them explore what the subject of the lesson before you dive into it. This takes time – time that promotes students engagement, so it is well worth it. Frontloading can be in the form of an objective discussion in pairs or groups.
Turn the objective(s) into essential questions or scenarios. For example, let’s say that your focus is on the following standard:
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.).
Turn the standard into an objective
By the end of this lesson, you will be able to apply the process of writing to what you write by
- Coming up with an idea
- Sharing your idea to make a commitment to write
- Writing the first draft
- Determining your lead in or purpose or hook
- Sharing and get feedback
Turn your objective into an essential question
. . .or a scenario for your students to explore.
- What happens when you come into a class, and you are told to sit down and write?
- What skills do you need to be a good writer?
- How do students become writers?
- How can you use a peer to generate an idea for writing?
- How do writers generate ideas?
- Or what happens when you come into a class, and you have to write an essay?
- Or what happens when someone expects you to write something on the spot.
(This infographic will supply you with myriad essential questions and scenarios)
Then teach your engaging lesson.
Finally, close with reflection — debrief the class
This will provide you with the feedback you need about the value of what you just taught. I often fashion this reflection after a military debriefing. Military generals, who very often orchestrate battles above the trenches, need to debrief the troops upon their return from the battlefield. That way they can make sure that they take what they learn from one battle into the next. The first question the general will ask in a debriefing is what happened out there? This is where he gets the rundown of what occurred. Answers are we did this, and we did that. Once the general has a clear idea of what happened, he asks the soldiers what they learned from what happened. Once they establish what they learned, they can apply this information to win the next campaign.
In a writing class, a debriefing might look like this:
What happened today?
- We wrote.
- I spent five minutes not writing.
- I got frustrated.
- We shared our ideas.
- We brainstormed.
What did you learn by doing this?
- I should keep writing and not stop.
- I can write funny stories about simple things.
- Sharing work is a good way to generate ideas.
- The first draft is just a messy beginning.
What will you do the next time differently?
- I will work with a partner
- I will refocus if I get frustrated
- I will start over again if I don’t like an idea
- I will write as much as I can without overthinking it.
We often overlook reflection because the bell rings and you are out of time, but it is essential to the learning process, and it provides feedback to the teacher. Reflection can be verbal or written, private or public. It can be done in pairs, small groups, on a blog, in a podcast or on a sticky note. Whatever form it takes it makes the student think about how and what they learned in your class and what they are going to do with that learning when they come to class tomorrow, go to the next class and take a test, apply for college, go to a job interview. Students need to articulate what they learned and we, in turn, could certainly use their humbling feedback.