Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reality Check on My Teaching

The last week has been very frustrating for me. I am teaching a unit I dearly love about using Web 2.0 tools to create a unit.  However, my class is struggling mightily with this.  I am not sure if my directions were lacking or if this particular class needed more information/rationale about why we are doing this assignment or if I have taught these Web 2.0 tools so many times that I am leaving out important steps.  I have had more students ask for individual instruction than usual.  This has been bothering me a lot.

Then in my other classes, I have been reading picture books with BIG messages (The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and It’s a Book by Lane Smith) and showing TED talks and having rousing discussions with undergraduates, which is unusual.  Of course, we are still doing Microsoft Office applications in these classes and maybe we just haven’t hit the hurdle that Web 2.0 presents.  

So, I wanted to think about my teaching and this morning on my VERY messy desk in my home study, I found this article from a previous semester called 15 Ways to Become a Smarter Teacher  I decided to take these 15 points and do a little reflection on my teaching.

1. Understand that it’s about them, not us--I think I get the idea that I am not there to show my adult students that I am the smartest person in the room. I am there to make them great teachers!  I want my students (since they are future teachers) to understand it is always about learning and that it is FINE to have questions and to wonder. So I need to model lessons and activities that make them independent thinkers so they will do this for their students.

2. Study the Students--Maybe this has not been a strong suit for me this semester. I need to get to know my students in all my classes better so I can help them with what they need to know about technology and education.  I can be a bit distracted by my syllabus and great teaching plans and forget that I need to see how my students are dealing with the material. I need to back up and say--Where are you on the technology continuum? What do you like/understand/enjoy? What makes you afraid?

3. Create Safe Environments--I have always attempted to make my classroom a place where curiosity, wonder, and questions are valued and that it is okay to disagree respectfully; but maybe I only did this in my head this semester. I don’t know if I have articulated this to my students or not.  So, on my to do list--make sure everyone knows that it is okay to ask.

4. Exude Passion as well as Purpose--This one I think I have under control. I love technology! And I hope it shows, but perhaps I need to work on linking my passion to the purpose of teaching and learning and do a better job of explaining why technology is a good thing in classrooms for teachers and students.

5. Show Students How Much They Need to Learn--Never thought I would say this, but having a syllabus that I give out  at the beginning of class really helps me do this.  I give them a list of what we will be doing and ask them as we go what else they need to know.  I also try to put things I am teaching in the context of the Big Picture so my students understand that technology is not the point but simply another tool for them to use to engage students.

6. Keep It Clear, Even If You Can’t Keep It Simple--Apparently, I failed miserably at this last week, so I will try to work on my explanations of my favorite tech tools . I can create written explanations, make a screencast or two, and go over it again with the whole group and have them ask questions.  Perhaps I need an outline of important points so I won’t forget a step.

7. Be Vulnerable While Still Being Credible--This one is hard for me since I like to do it myself and do it right.  Maybe I need to show my students that there are some tech tools that I don’t use, not because they aren’t valuable, but because I don’t “get” how to use them.  Or maybe showing frustration with technology (just a little) would help build some camaraderie with my students.

8. Teach from the Heart--Again, I think I strive to do this every class meeting.  I am passionate about what I do and I think teaching and learning matter.  I want everyone to leave my class not just proficient with technology, instead I want them always to be looking for ways to engage students with whatever is available--technology, picture books, thought-provoking videos.

9. Repeat the Important Parts--I think I am skipping this a lot because I already know the tech tools we are using.  Repetition is the way that many people learn and I need to remember that.  Some people need it 10-20 times before they “get” it.  It’s like the shampoo bottle says--Wash. Rinse. Repeat.  I just have to remember to keep repeating and NOT just saying it louder or faster, but in a new way so my students can internalize what I am teaching.

10. Ask Good Questions--Kudos to Matt for doing this yesterday in class so I could remind my pre-service teachers that they should always encourage questions even if the students ask ones they don’t immediately know the answer to.  Teaching students to think and question is not easy, but modeling it for them can be one of the best ways to get the point across.

11. Don’t Just Pass Out Information--Okay, okay, okay. I think maybe this is exactly where my teaching broke down last week.   I didn’t put my lesson into a context or discuss the point of the unit plan.  I started building in the middle and it fell down, no wonder.  So, I need to give reasons and contexts for what we do when we teach.  It’s important to teach my students not to use tech tools in one way, but to think of the numerous ways the tools can be used to get kids excited about learning.

12. Stop Talking and Start Listening--In my one on one sessions this week, I have “heard” better what my students need from me and my class.  Before, I was just chugging along like I always do without taking into account these students are unique and different.  

13. Let the Students Teach Each Other--I am getting much better at doing this! Once I have taught a student something in a one-on-one session, I always tell them that I will ask them to help others during our next class.  It is a great thing to see students who were frustrated and lost be able to show others how to do the assignments.  Peer tutoring is valuable all the way through the teaching and learning spectrum and I plant to capitalize on it more.

14. Avoid Using the Same Approach for Everyone--I used to be awesome (if I do say so myself) at doing this for my Latin and English students.  Since I have started teaching college, I think I have let the fact that my students are grown-ups get in the way of varying my approach and coming at things from different angles.  Certainly this semester I face a challenge as I have about half of my undergraduate students from the Physical Education and Athletic Training Department.  New approaches mean new thinking and that is always a good thing.

15. Never Stop Teaching--I think I have this one down because people tell me that I teach all the time.  I hope I am patient and kind and fun and entertaining. I am sure there are times I am not, but I hope I never stop teaching and more importantly that I never stop learning.

I am not sure I did anything by writing this, but it did make me think.  Reflection is something not many educators take the time to do.  I want to try to make reflection a habit this year.


Linda Astala said...

Laurie, these are 15 great tips! They are skills that I could certainly use as a parent and grandparent too.

I would particularly affirm #15 - you are ALWAYS teaching, at least I've found that true whenever I've been around you.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Linda, for reading my post and leaving a comment. I appreciate you so much! Can't wait to see you in November.


Linda A said...

Your tips were great, especially the part about the need for reflection. I, too, find that I have done much of the same things as I try to reach my students in order to teach them. I needed to know that I am not alone in my struggles. --Linda A. (the other one)

Anonymous said...

Dr. Fowler,
I really liked your reflections. I think it is always good to reflect and better ourselves. I love technology and love getting to learn great tools to use in my classroom. My teacher friends are loving it too. I am sharing:)
Amanda Case

Andrea Syslo said...

Dr. Laurie,

I really enjoyed reading your reflections! Sometimes it is hard to reflect upon ourselves and realize that we need to change in order to better our students! I have great respect for you for posting this because so many times people are afraid to admit such things! I thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me many things to think further about! Thanks!
Andrea Syslo