Saturday, May 1, 2010

Moving Forward

I was having a discussion with a colleague of mine about teaching, and how in an ideal world we would be able to teach everything until the students master whatever objectives we're trying to teach. Then, we would move on. Everything would be differentiated and specific to each child's unique learning abilities. Ah, in a perfect world!

But, why can't we make this happen? We can, of course. The initial ground work is substantial, but after that it can be very worthwhile. My current goal for the summer is to figure out how to provide such an experience for my students. Some of my students are capable of going so much deeper into topics and aren't able to because of different limitations, mostly due to time and other parts of the curriculum to cover. Another challenge for me is to not step on the toes of the high school teachers, whose curriculum does go into more detail, expanding upon the knowledge students gain in middle school. I also don't want to take away from the objectives of our curriculum.

As I was going over some student work this week, a thought occurred to me. The assignment was a list of divergent questions relating to sexual harassment. These types of questions have no specific answer; they're open ended. Instead of trying to find the answer that may be deemed correct, the students are asked to think critically about the content. I read about these types of questions specifically for health topics in the American Journal of Health Education, and adapted them for use during our sexual harassment unit in eighth grade. I viewed it as an opportunity to hopefully allow students to think about sexual harassment in different ways, as well as to think on a higher level.

A lot of the answers were great! However, some of the students didn't quite make the connections I wanted them to. Others had some great points, but I wanted clarification on their answers. When I was writing comments (a whole other post in itself...comments, their effectiveness, and if they influence student involvement/accountability) I thought, "I wish this was an ongoing conversation between the students and myself." Ideally, I would hand the papers back and have the students answer my questions. I would merely be guiding them. Then I would make comments, and the process would repeat itself. I'm not sure why I don't do this, to be honest. It makes perfect sense.

If a class is really getting into a unit (or even a lesson, or series of lessons within that unit), then why can't I spend more time on it? I'm lucky enough that my middle school has three years of health education classes, and we do cover a lot. But, I still wish I could take more time to cover the topics when the kids really show passion about what we're doing, instead of moving on because I have to cover x,y, and z. I don't want to come off like I'm complaining (I'm just stating facts), but with education today there's so much to cover.

In times like these I find myself craving the opportunity to be teaching language arts, or freshman writing lab. Then, I would be able to work with students as they write and revise, refocusing their efforts and honing their words, and I'd be able to take part in this continuous dialogue of learning.

So, I'm going to try this with my assignments. I'm not really sure how it will work out, or how I will do it with three different grade levels. Because it's currently the third trimester, I see kids every day and only have 125ish students. For trimesters one and two, when I see them every-other-day, I'll have about 220 students. This could prove to be very time consuming!

There is a way to get it done. I just need to find out how I can to fit my teaching situation. In my view, it's using Google Docs, or Moodle, or something to do with technology. I think I've found something to do this summer after I get home from working the summer recreation program.

I know students get a solid health class experience in my classroom, and the other health classroom in my building. To me, there's still a lot to do, but I'm on my way.

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