Jul 23, 2016 Learning Methodology 980 Views
Every time that I work with teachers and students I walk away with so many ideas buzzing in my head. Observation and engagement are excellent ways to expand learning and gain insight. And they are enlightening.
One classroom of fourth graders busily prepared for national testing, a round-up exam of material taught during the school year to gather data to assess what students know and can do and what needs to be retaught or reinforced. These kids were working diligently multiplying to create equivalent fractions. I have nothing against multiplying and I love fractions but I do not understand why 4th graders would need to know this other than as an exercise in learning a new concept and practicing following directions. Really, when you think about it, equivalent fractions are a complex idea and used primarily to reduce fractions (for example, 4/6 to 2/3) which requires dividing. Relevancy, however, appears to be beside the point.
Students spent about 15 minutes reviewing and responding chorally to problems setting them up for success, and then they launched into homework. With this arrives my favorite moment: engaging with students. As I roamed the room, chatted, and checked answers invariably when students sought an equivalent they easily multiplied the numerator but omitted doing anything with the denominator. Thus 2/3 x 3/3 = 6/3 when the correct answer is 6/9. (I hope this makes sense to you because it is very hard to explain). Fortunately, with two teachers in the room we were able to address the issue and set students back on track. Parents, you have probably encountered this as your student completed complicated homework, doing the first problem wrong and then continuing to follow the error pattern through the next 25. A quick fix is to have your child do the first problem, check and double check, and if you spot a mistake, remedy it immediately. Engrained errors are difficult to extract and adjust.
In another classroom second graders were engrossed in Matilda by Roald Dahl during story time. If you haven't read this fun book yet, do so. Even though the students had just returned from a week break, during their oral review they remembered and shared an abundance of details: names, situations, descriptions, dialog, and character quirks. As the teacher read, she stopped frequently to ask questions or clarify vocabulary. Every student remained enthralled start to finish - and I did, too. I offer this story as some educators state that story time is a waste and should be relegated to a distant corner. Good stories, however, are infinitely helpful. What better way to examine character, setting, make predictions, and study storylines than in a wonderful read-aloud. Reading is a vital tool for success and being read to with pauses for discussion is valuable beyond words.
Finally, I visited a classroom with older students. I enjoy the honesty and frankness that adolescents possess. These students busily finished a quiz and then chose partners to complete worksheets for the upcoming chapters. Most students were right on task... except for one table. Here I witnessed no papers, no answers, no engagement, and no interest in schoolwork. One student had on his headset and was plugged into his iPad. When asked if this was permitted in school he told me, "Of course." I replied what a shame that was as students need to be engaged in lessons, discussions, and learning, not in a remote land of technology. I continued with my fears for this young generation including that they will not be able to communicate through eye-to-eye or voice-to-voice or work cooperatively with co-workers, but only through electronic devices. Naturally, I couldn't stop there and added, "It is a detriment to disengage socially and intellectually and retreat to a computer."
The next stage for the this scene is horrifying to me. A student at the table stared at me and blurted, "You lie!" I lie? I lie? Taken aback, I paused to wonder if this retort was a reflection of rude kids or of our society during this nasty election season? No student in my career has ever accused me of being a liar. And why would I lie about this. I calmly replied that I was sharing an opinion just as he had his own, and walked away. I contemplated the sadness of the entire conversation. It reminded me the value of manners, civil discourse, and the ability to listen to and respect opinions. Tell me, please, that these are not gone.