Friday, September 7, 2012

A Week in the Life of a Teacher/Learner

Each week of teaching, one thing that I’d learned, unlearned, or relearned. After 20-plus years of teaching, could I find that many? When I committed to continuing this blog in the school year, I wondered, but I figured it would be a good challenge. Well, this week there was at least one thing daily.

Monday: The students have been in their groups of 4-5 for a week so they should be feeling comfortable. I introduce the day's reading (pretty tech-savy, I must say, with a clip of the author doing a TED Talk to prove Isabel Allende is a real, living, breathing person), assign group roles, post the 3 big questions they’re looking to answer, and turn them loose. Chaos and confusion. Luckily, teaching has do-overs. The next period I model reading the first paragraph, performing all 4 roles myself. Perfect understanding as students smoothly take over the roles. (And HOW long have I given lip-service to the importance of modeling?)

Tuesday: Implementing a new idea from my summer reading: a revised paper draft is due for editing today, and I’m going to lead students in looking at narratives we read last week to extrapolate rules for punctuating dialogue. They are engaged, dredging up rules with no additional prompting, asking questions like, “Aren’t you supposed to start a new paragraph when a new person speaks?” So we discuss the reason for rules (clear communication) and the license for breaking them (to communicate something that couldn’t be communicated within the rules).

Wednesday: After 2 days of discussion with assigned roles, today was just supposed to be a brief wrap-up following the vocabulary quiz, so I didn’t assign roles. I’m rather ambivalent about assigning roles in high school anyway. It does multiply the discussion’s productiveness. But nobody assigns roles in life--at some point, people need to figure out how to assume them on their own. And I am humbled and gratified to overhear the least focused student in the class say, “Here’s the question we have to answer. Come on, guys, I’m the facilitator.” Wish I could say I’d planned that gradual release of responsibility.

Thursday: I am secretly surprised at how well using mentoring texts has gone--both on Tuesday for editing and on the previous Friday for revising--looking at examples of uses of specifics: sensory details and description of action as well as exact words for dialogue or internal monologue. I’ve always looked at the literature textbook's selection-specific blurbs and exercises about appositives or compound sentences with a mixture of awe--“If only I could integrate grammar like that”--and of embarrassment--“How terribly awkward!” This year, somehow, it felt natural. I really got the reading-writing connection, so I could pass it on. At least, that's the view from my perspective.  How about the students' perspective? From a student reflection on the final draft: “I had a hard time starting this narrative, but looking at the literature book really helped.” I promise I did not pay her.

FridayUsed a new reading to introduce a unit. In one period, the discussion took off. There were great questions (what does "shalom is energetic dynamism" mean? so then IS it a sin if I do a bad thing for a good reason?) and observations (one group liked that restoring shalom isn't just for missionaries--but it takes  Christians in every profession doing their job well; another group had talked about the pitfalls of translation--starting with what's lost in translating “shalom” simply as “peace,” going through Japanese examples, and ending with wondering what else gets lost in translating the Bible). In the other period, most of the students weren’t prepared for the discussion. Back to the drawing board on that one.

When I started out teaching, I supposed that after a certain number of years I’d know it all and never make mistakes. Well, where is the fun in that! The “aha” experiences are the maraschino cherries on the sundae of life, the failures drive invention, and the most encouraging sign is that I recognize and correct my mistakes more quickly--not that I don’t make them. 

Now there’s a life lesson.

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