Our semester is a week away from ending, and I have more questions than answers. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad place to be. I love a mystery and a challenge. In fact, the kind of learning I’m currently experiencing, is the kind of learning I’m hoping to inspire and create for my students.
In many areas, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in my students. When we started this new way of “doing” school, my students struggled with working as a collaborative team. Even when placed in a team, it didn’t occur to them to work as one. Now when we begin a unit, they automatically collect as a team, confer, divide tasks, provide feedback, and occasionally help one another.
My students have taken a number of the technology tools they’ve learned in this class, and are using them for other classes. They use Google Docs for assignments in other classes, without being told to do so. Some even use it to organize areas of their lives outside of school. To me, this is learning.
However, in some areas, there is still a long way to go.
For our last unit, on evolution, my students did their research in subject-alike groups, and are now teaching it to the class as a whole. Some students have done a great job teaching the class; many have been painful. For me, it has been a real eye-opener.
I’m left wondering how do my students learn to teach each other? What’s the best way to facilitate this process? Of course, I’m assuming this is a skill that everyone can learn, at least somewhat proficiently. And to be honest, I think it’s a skill everyone should have. Consequently, I’m planning to take an independent study course this summer, as part of my masters degree, based around collaborative learning.
It would be easier, of course, if students started learning it much earlier, such as Kindergarten or grade one. Imagine what our pre-service teachers would be like after having spent 12 years honing this skill during their schooling.
But in addition to this, my students struggle with taking a paragraph or two of information and condensing it to the essential point. This is an important skill, not only for science. The thing is, I know we teach this skill to them in English, in a slightly different variation. Often they summarize a chapter into a paragraph. But this must not be quite the same skill, or a variation that requires more sharpness.
Consequently, my students, more than once over the past two days, have looked at me, after one of their peers has given multiple paragraphs of information, and said, “so what is it we need to know?” And because of lack of time, I give them the one or two sentences they need. But here is where I’ve noticed a change in myself. Instead of assuming that this is simply what a teacher does, I see it as being necessary, at this point in time, but not learning at its finest. One day, I hope to never hear this sentence again from my students.
This semester I’ve become deeply aware of the abilities of my students. When content isn’t the sole basis for your class anymore, the skills that your students are lacking become evident. But the number of skills my students have strengthened and have begun to acquire over the past three months are a cause for celebration. I’ve been surprised at how much they want to learn, and how often they know what they need. Yesterday, when I watched the video that Dean Shareski created of our classroom, I felt incredible pride for how hard they have worked and all they’ve learned.
And while the learning curve has been steep, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. It has been the most important semester I’ve ever had as a teacher.