Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Update - Take 2

Okay, so the last post focused on what did work. Time to be honest: what didn’t work?


::Deep sigh::

Ok, so I should have *KNOWN* this.

The agenda for the third session was really content-heavy. In a little more than two hours, we hoped to “cover” the following:

Direct Instruction (Teacher Centered Approach)
Learning Centers (Learner Centered Approach)
Developing Rubrics
Energizing Classroom Discussions
Cooperative Learning

Let’s take a step back for a moment:

  • Our “Big Ideas” for the class included 1) teaching-as-relationships; 2) articulating and sticking to your big idea; and 3) reflective practice.
  • Even as late as the day before the first class, we were uncertain how many participants there would be – ten had expressed an interest, but only four had RSVP’d at that point.
  • Consequently, we fleshed out the first two sessions pretty thoroughly, including a wide variety of interactive, different-style strategies. We were less thorough in outlining the last two, largely because there’s a world of difference in what you plan for four people instead of for ten people.
  • The topics listed above were fairly “interactive” by their very nature.


We forgot one of those core truths we know so well and espouse all the time – even while we were teaching the above topic: LECTURING DOESN’T WORK. It doesn’t work for kids; it doesn’t work for teachers; and it doesn’t work for my colleague and me. IT DOESN’T WORK. Period. Full stop.

In my/our rush to convey as much “content” as possible, we forgot that core truth.

Within three minutes of beginning my intro to Learning Centers, I knew it was going poorly …. and I knew what I should have done instead. I was explaining (instead of showing) a technique to people who had no framework to put the information into. Given that the overwhelming majority of learners are visual (60% by some accounts) instead of auditory or kinesthetic – what was I thinking of?!? I cut my presentation short… and bounced the topics back to my colleague.

Now he “does” rubrics really well and is great at cooperative learning…. but our participants weren’t with us – they’d already checked out. From a vibrant, alive, energized group the preceding week, they had become transformed into a group of unresponsive chairwarmers, who kept looking at the clock. So very sad.

And we (my colleague and I) had turned them off ALL BY OURSELVES. We cut the class short – distributed evaluations – and barely waited until they were out of the room before we debriefed. We read their evaluations of the session - they were right on key.

The question rapidly became – how do we address this next week? Keeping in mind one of our Big Ideas was that reflective practice is key to improving one’s ability to “reach and teach,” we knew that we needed to open the following class with an admission of what went wrong, taking ownership for our mistakes, AND show how to handle a class that “flumphs.”

So we did. The next week, I brought in the worksheets, instructions, center signs, support materials and check lists for two center programs I’d worked on within the last year (one for 3-5 grade students; one for a family education program). I spread the materials out on the table before the students arrived. Their eyes lit up when they walked in the room.

We began the class by saying, “We blew it last week – we talked instead of showing you. So this week, we brought in materials to show and do.” One student asked if the evaluations they filled out had indicated that there was too much talking and not enough doing. I said (honestly), “No, I knew within 5 minutes of beginning that I’d made a mistake; but your evaluations confirmed specifically what that mistake was and how to rectify it.”

They had a chance to handle materials, ask questions, see how things fit together. I reminded them that I hadn’t provided six or seven centers with multiple activities when I first began using centers. I plucked out the single art, game, and writing activities I might have used at the very beginning. Their questions clearly indicated they were engaged with the activity.

My colleague led the next exercise showing how cooperative learning can be used. He lead a “Stand-Up; Hands-Up; Pair-Up” activity and when we were done, we demonstrated how to “coach” participants into coming up with an answer (instead of telling them what the answer is) and talked about a variety of ways in which this technique could be adapted. Nodding, eager heads let us know the message had been received! We then followed up with a couple of team-building exercises (round-table where they wrote “A Love Poem to Shabbat”), and had them reflect on how they thought the activities had gone.

As a final piece of our final class – we reviewed some of the planning materials in their session folder. For each session, we had provided a folder of materials/resources that they could explore at their leisure. This final folder, however, was somewhat different in that it included a number of suggestions for planning for the year, materials they should get from their director before they start teaching, and ongoing ways to stay on top of their game during their first year.

This session was a vast improvement over the one we'd “fumphed” the week before. I’m glad we ended with this one. I never would have intentionally “fumphed” a lesson, but there was merit in showing how you can recover from a “fumph” – and also in showing that all of us “fumph” at some point or another, no matter how long we’ve been doing this.

A final note: there are some very lucky kids in our community who will have the opportunity to learn with some great adults who are committed to their own Jewish learning, and to making a difference in the lives of our Jewish kids. May they continue to go from strength to strength.

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