These experiences have caused me to reflect on teaching, and the wonderful times I had working as a classroom teacher. I remember recognizing the importance of testing, so long as I used it appropriately to inform my practice; I remember my interactions with the many administrators I had over the years, and the impact they had on me and what I did in the classroom; and I remember my desires to ensure that what I was doing with my students on a daily basis was a reflection of best practice in the areas of instruction and assessment.
As I think about these things, for me anyway, it all comes down to engagement. It all comes down to whether or not learning is fun, interesting, and engaging. If not, both teachers and students struggle with the day-to-day aspects of classroom life.
As a classroom teacher, and subsequently as an administrator, I asked myself
To what extent do my instructional and assessment practices promote student engagement and learning in my classroom? (as a teacher)
To what extent do I model and facilitate instructional and assessment practices that promote engagement and learning in both the school generally and the classrooms specifically? (as an administrator)
Some of the conversations I have had recently had to do with reflecting on this year as it's coming to a close, and how that might parle into planning and preparing for next year. From my own perspective, as I communicated it to those who were part of those conversations, is that teaching needs to be fun - fun for the teacher, and fun for the student. I was surprised to find teachers in our district teaching certain things in certain ways even though they hated it and knew it wasn't as effective as it could otherwise have been. The good thing, though, is that has been addressed and those teachers are actively considering how they can make that aspect of what they do more enjoyable, effective, and ultimately engaging for both them and their students.
I came across a TED video recently, by Dr. Christopher Emdin, who talked about teaching teachers how to create magic in their classrooms. I found it fairly inspirational as I considered the extent to which we engage our students and the extent to which we provide our students fun and enjoyable learning opportunities. Dr. Emdin's recommendations are to expose urban school teachers to environments where people rely on engagement in other lines of work - such as barbershops, rap concerts, and black churches. Now I am not saying that our teachers need to go and do those things necessarily; but I am saying that there are some things that we could consider as we make our learning environments more engaging for everyone.
Here are a few things to consider as you bring this year to a close and start to consider how you will approach next year:
- How do I approach instruction in my class? Do I stand and deliver, or do I provide my students with chances to be involved in the instruction/learning piece?
- What types of activities do I have my students do? Am I worksheet driven, or do I find more effective ways of having my engage in the learning process?
- How often do my students get to do fun and engaging projects related to the curricular outcomes that I teach in my units? To what extent are they hands on and/or kinesthetic?
- Is the emphasis in class on learning or testing? How is that reflected in what I assess, how I assess, and how often I assess? And how do I weight my assessments? Do my weightings reflecting learning or testing?
These are just a few things to think about as your plans start to formulate, first in your mind and later on paper (year plans, unit plans, etc.) Additionally, here is the TED video of Dr. Emdin.
P.S. Here is also an article he published in the Huffington Post entitled 5 New Approaches to Teaching and Learning: The Next Frontier.