Saturday, April 6, 2013

Who's Working, Who's Watching, and Why It Matters

School should not be a place where young people go to watch old people work.

I’m not sure where I first read that idea, but it has stuck with me--long before the flipped class was the thing to do. And you’d wonder how my class has anything to do with “flipping” if you think that has to include lectures on YouTube. But I’ve known for a while that the best lessons are the ones where the students are working and I am the coach, consultant, and observer. 

Here are some comments I heard or overheard while observing this week:
  • “What does ‘divine benediction’ mean?”
  • “I think all three of these paragraphs are about different parts of one point.”
  • “Did you do this on purpose, Mrs. Essenburg, because of what we studied about pronouns?”
  • “I got 18 out of 20. I don’t know why. She didn’t write anything on it.”
  • “Just Google it--it’s easier.”

Student feedback on my teaching--that's what the above is--some of it positive, some of it not; some of it directed toward me, some of it overheard. None of it solicited as feedback, but all of it useful. 

Warning: sometimes preparing to not work during the class time takes an awful lot of preparation BEFORE class time. Preparing, uploading, copying, and renaming a Google Doc to share with each of 10 groups of 4-5 students. Designing, revising, and printing journal pages to guide reading and discussion. (Designing a good rubric or scoring guide to go with the journal!) Constructing a prompt that calls for responses that are original enough that one offered as a model will not be open to direct copying, selecting a paper to keep, and creating a protocol to lead students through a careful examination of what makes that paper good. 

“What does ‘divine benediction’ mean?” was a question I received from a student in each period. They’d supposedly read Genesis 1: 26-27 with all of its notes before (and this was a question on one of the study notes), but as students contributed to a Google Doc on 11 passages relating to the source of individual identity, some students felt a need to understand what they hadn’t before.

“Who wrote I Corinthians?” I overheard another student working on the Google Doc ask.  A classmate told him to read the book introduction in the school-provided NIV Study Bible. But the first student was already half-way to his answer, replying, “Googling is easier.” Sigh. Well, I know which students gravitate toward book text and which to online. And maybe I need to think through a lesson on the benefits of each.

Last time we edited a paper, we did an exercise on pronoun antecedent, and things to consider when choosing third person singular pronouns in current English. The biblical principles that the 11 passages on the Google Doc matched were as follows:
  • Every individual has worth (Gen. 1:27, Psa. 139, Matt. 10.31, Luke 12.7, Rom. 12.3-9).
  • Secure in her worth in God’s eyes, the Christian follows Jesus' example of service, humility, submission (I Cor. 10.24, 12.12-26; Mark 10.42-45; Phil. 2.1-11; Eph. 5.21).

A student pointed to the “her” in the second principle and said, “Did you do this on purpose, Mrs. Essenburg, because of what we studied about pronouns?” He remembered and noticed! Score one for me.

Today (Saturday) I was reading chapter 11 of Understanding by Design in preparation for leading a discussion of it in a department chair meeting Monday after school. I was convicted that I do need to intentionally solicit more peer and student feedback, but structuring lessons so I can observe student processing and have time for students to ask questions and make comments as I circulate and observe is also a great way to uncover what they are understanding, and what they are misunderstanding.

What I’ve learned: I’ve designed a good journal for A Doll’s House over the years, and now I need to develop a good scoring guide. I’m on the right track with designing biblical perspective lessons where students have scaffolding to use the resources they have (NIV Study Bible) to explore and deepen their understanding of how to read the Bible, and there are some students who don’t yet understand the value of the resource, when to use it, what habits they are developing, and what they are communicating about themselves as learners in the world. I’m also on the right track with using model writing. I’ve incorporated more processing than last year, and I’ve gotten good results. 

Now to stay the course and keep adjusting.

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