I understand why many educators choose to do things the way they always have. It kinda works. And, once you become relatively proficient at it, things seem to run quite smoothly. Teachers give the information. Students memorize the information. You give the exam. Grading is per usual, a few 90’s, a handful of 80’s, the bulk of your students in the 70’s and 60’s, a few stragglers who just make it across, and likely, several who fail. Teacher-centred teaching seems like it’s efficient and gets the job done.
Trust me, there’s nothing smooth about what’s going on in my classroom. At best, on any given day, it can be described as a crap shoot. Some days we have great days, others, not so much. Today was a not so much.
My bio students began teaching each other the parts of the circulatory system. At the end of yesterday’s class, they assured me they were done and had everything ready to go. They didn’t. At least half of them, hadn’t copied their stuff. And of course, while we were copying it, the photocopier kept jamming, or thinking it was out of toner. It’s not. Some of them couldn’t remember who was in their home group. So the first 7 minutes were chaotic.
When we finally got groups figured out, and everything copied, we then had to deal with the fact that there were 25 students in a computer lab, trying to teach their peers over the sounds of other groups and YouTube videos. I don’t have a 1-1 classroom, as much as I would love one. I don’t even have a smartboard. Instead, I have a mac lab that won’t allow Google Docs to work, or will only play half a YouTube video before it freezes. So we use the computer lab, which is not ideal.
And did I mention the circular saw whirring ferociously in the woods lab next door? On top of this, I’m sick. All in all, it was disastrous. And of course, this is the day my superintendent came to see what we’re doing.
When I first started teaching, I used to play this “game” called “let’s see where this lesson falls apart.” Really, it’s a humorous way to handle the fact that lessons fall apart at an appalling rate when you first start teaching. Guess what? I’ve started playing the game again.
But at the end of class, there were these five great minutes. Once many of the groups had finished teaching all their areas, I told them they needed to work together as a group to figure out how the organs and blood work together as the circulatory system. They began to collaborate, and ask each other questions. “So what does the liver do?” “How would that work with the heart?” “Where does this go?”
Tomorrow, they will meet in their home groups for the last time. I’m going to have each member create a life-size version of the organ they studied. In their group, they’ll make a poster that shows where each is in the body, how they work together, two or three major functions of each organ, and what happens to the body when an organ doesn’t work properly.
Even though today was a mess, I’ll take sixty minutes of disaster, for five minutes of great. I honestly hope I don’t have to do that too often. But disaster also gives us opportunity.
As a class, I’m going to see if we can brainstorm to fix our problem because I think this way has so much potential. Maybe my students have ideas. We need to come up with ways to help them keep track of their groups better, what actually being prepared looks like, and assess what went well and what didn’t. I’d like to see if they can design what the teaching in the next unit looks like, based on what we’ve learned from our successes and failures.
So now what? Well, I won’t give up. I’m too stubborn to do that. I’m guessing many teachers try something like this once or twice, and when it falls apart disastrously, they go back to what they know works. As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach recently stated, “Look- change is not easy. It is always premature. It is hard work. Teaching to multiple choice tests is easy. Focusing on web tools as a means to putting a check in your change agent box is easy. Talking and talking and talking about the issues doesn’t equal change– Talk is easy.”
Changing my classroom isn’t easy, but I believe it’s important. I trust and believe in my students too much to revert things back to the way things used to be, with me running the show. So we had a bad day. Things can only get better.