If You Could Teach Anything You Wanted…

image via Pixabay.com CC
image via Pixabay.com CC

…and action!

The school year has begun and we’re off to what appears to be a very fine start. While brunching with my oldest today I asked him a question that just popped into my head:

If you could teach anything you wanted, what would it be?

He spent some time thinking about it and even said, “that’s a good question.” The conversation that ensued was deeply interesting and proved fertile for a whole new crop of questions like Do you need to be an expert in order to teach something to someone else? What makes a class ‘academic’? Would you require anything of your students? How would you know what they are learning? And many others.

At the same time I was turning the question in my own mind wondering what my topic or theme of choice might be. And sure enough, another very fundamental question emerged: What do I mean by “teach”?

Give instruction? provide expertise? engage in discussion? offer guidance? tell? show?

Wouldn’t this be an interesting question to ask students? How might they respond? What would their responses reveal about their assumptions related to teaching and learning? What might we learn about our students as people with interests and enthusiasms by raising this question?

Taking the idea back to my own classroom, I want ask students about their special interests and think about ways I can offer them opportunities to actively teach each other. While I often remind them that I am not the only teacher in the room, I want to  “put my money where my mouth is” and develop the idea into a visible practice. I wonder what some of them might be eager to teach. it’s time to find out.

Students reflect and I learn

This school year I’ve been trying to develop a new habit: offering students regular opportunities to reflect on their learning and sharing those insights in different ways.  Sometimes I do this near the end of class and students can share their responses with the whole group.  At other times, I ask them to ponder a reflection question while they change clothes and then try to capture each person’s statement in writing as they come out and line up.  I really enjoy hearing and reading their responses.  Many students generate valuable observations and excellent insights about their  learning.

Today, I asked my 1st and 2nd graders to respond to this prompt:

“So now that you’ve been through this obstacle course a few times, I want you to think about which things you would say ‘Whoo! that’s kind of challenging for me, I’d like to get better at that.’ and then which things make you say, ‘Hey! I got this! I feel confident when I do this’.  Don’t tell me just yet. Think about it and in a moment I’ll ask for hands.”

The responses were specific, spot on and best of all, everyone was eager to share responses to one or both questions, especially after hearing a few of their peers point to the cartwheel section and admit that they found it challenging.  Or when a few said, they’d like to work more on their forward roll.  When asked to share their strengths, again, many were eager to pipe up and claim one skill or another as their own.

With my 5th graders I ventured to survey their learning experiences after playing small-sided games of soccer.  This feedback is vitally important as I know that not every child relishes competitive team games and I wanted to find out what each child was taking away from the experience.

The question I posed was: “What piece of learning are you taking away from the games you just played?”

Here are some of the responses I received:

“teamwork and passing – because you can’t do it by yourself.”

“We weren’t working on teamwork, we were working individually.”

“I’m better on defense than on offense.”

“It’s better to pass than to go alone to the goal.”

“you have to jump in when your team needs you.”

“There was a lot of support in my group.  If we made a mistake, they would say, ‘good try.'”

“Defense is more important than offense” (His team lost 5-1)

“You have to take turns with offense and defense.”

“To be more aware of when the ball comes.”

“Teamwork matters more than you think.”

“I should score more; my life was on defense.”

“Soccer isn’t my favorite sport. Maybe if I participated more, we’d show more teamwork.”

As teachers, there is so much we don’t know about what is going on inside our students’ heads.  And it never ceases to amaze me what kids will tell me if I simply ask.  So why not make a habit of asking?

New habit: Asking, listening, processing, thanking

vs.

Old habit: guessing, assuming, blaming, detaching.

Learning involves stretching...
Learning involves stretching…

Students reflect and I learn.  This is a habit I can get used to.

An Unusual Honor

On Wednesday at my school it was “Dress up as your favorite teacher day” and it was a surprise for teachers.  The Elementary Student Council, comprised of some very clever 4th and 5th graders, came up with the idea and organized the whole activity without the knowledge of their teachers.  Parents were informed through the secretary and the results were simply amazing.  Imagine coming to work and being greeted by 3 or 4 (or more) younger versions of your professional self!

My colleague, the art teacher, managed to get a picture of her assembled fan club – many of them sporting colorful smocks and aprons.  So many inspired Ms. Sabinas laughing into the camera. I can hardly express the thrill of having students tell me: “I’m you today!”  There simply can be no higher compliment than that.

Dress up as your favorite teacher Day!

Dress up as your favorite teacher Day!

Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, this remarkable display of student ingenuity and generosity struck me as a powerful reminder of how much there is to be grateful for and that who I am and what I do as an educator matters. What an unusual honor.