Today was one of those days that does not make me feel good as a teacher; actually, I feel like a failure. Most days in my class, I feel more like a researcher than a teacher, trying to discover what works to facilitate the acquisition of the skills my students need. Some days are jubilantly successful, others are not. Today was the latter.
My students have finished their Holocaust research. And to be honest, that was the easy part. It’s easy to find information, difficult to know what to do with it. I think this might be why, as teachers, we see a fair amount of plaigarism and copying and pasting. Students don’t often know how to synthesize, how to create something new from the information they’ve found. And yet I was reading an article yesterday that identified synthesis as the essential skill our students need in the 21st Century. My students, however, don’t have it.
Today my English students met in their research groups to begin designing their Holocaust exhibits. Their goal, by the end of this week, is to have a mock-up of their exhibit. At this point, they are struggling immensly with how to take their information and create an exhibit with it. What information do they use? What do they want to be their focal point? What story do they want to tell?
It’s not that they don’t have good ideas. They have some great ones. As I walked around, I heard some incredible ideas, such as designing the concentration camp exhibit around the concept that many prisoners consumed only 300 calories a day. What does 300 calories a day look like? Even with great ideas, they seem reticent to embrace them.
And I have no idea how to help. I know how to synthesize. I’m reasonably proficient at it. But I have no idea how I learned to do it. I don’t know if you’ve Googled how to teach synthesis lately, but the search doesn’t reveal much. Maybe I’m not looking in the right place.
I find that when my students struggle, I struggle as a teacher too, but differently. At times I’m not sure how to facilitate their learning. If I do it for them, they won’t develop the skill. It’s difficult to know how much to let them flail. I think one of the key things we need to know as learners is how to struggle. However, my students equate struggling with not being smart.
I found today that I needed to walk around and facilitate conversations that they didn’t know how to have. One of my students looked at me and said, “this is hard.” This coming from a straight A student. Additionally, they were more off task than usual; I wonder if it’s easier for my students to be off-task, than to struggle.
I wonder if this struggle is so pronounced because our students are so often taught how to memorize and regurgitate, rather than synthesize the information to create something new. Furthermore, I question why we don’t actively start teaching this skill when our students are younger. I don’t think this assertion is reflective of my school solely, but the educational system in general.
And so tomorrow, I’m going to have an honest discussion with my students. Do they not know what to do? Or is it they don’t want to do it? I want my students to learn that it’s not enough just to find information. Most people research topics to do something with it, not just memorize, regurgitate, and forget it.
I’m fine with the project taking another form. After all, it’s their learning. I think they should be in control of what the project looks like and determining it’s outcome, but that, too, is a scenario they are not familiar with. My students are not used to determining their own learning. They’re used to being told what to do.
Tomorrow we’ll continue to press forward. At times the learning curve is incredibly steep. But sometimes you need to step into the confusion for real learning to occur. All I can say is, at times, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.
photo courtesy of cc flickr: Hljod.Huskona