I’ve continued to come to terms with my lack of blogging and other writing/sharing this school year. In the past so much of my blogging was motivated by what was happening in my classroom and the classrooms of others that we were collaborating with. As we continued to develop this new pedagogy around connecting and becoming active learners, excitement continually built and collectively we felt part of a community that was onto something very special.
We had moved even further from the “sage on the stage” kind of teaching and learning, to becoming what could be described more as “co-learners” or maybe “learners-in-chief” … still in charge to keep things running smoothly, and to be there when guidance was needed or it became apparent, through observation or other assessment, that a lesson was needed on a concept or skill for a small group or the whole class. Learning involved every subject and students were more self motivated to do quality work because the work was more creative and was usually published online for all to see … so it better be good. (And note that direct instruction was not and never will be abandoned, just more opportunities for students to build knowledge, use and share what they know and learn in creative ways).
A few things have happened recently in my classroom that brought this into focus for me. One is that we have been involved in a project we mostly had to “sneak in” around required programs and policies. I saw the magic again as my students collaborated using Skype and Google Docs to write non-fiction pieces with a class across the country. Their excitement, focus and requests to work extra outside of school on their research reminded me what we had been onto previously. We didn’t have this new pedagogy down to perfection, but we were well on our way, and with some support we would be even closer to being there now (not that you would ever get to perfection mind you).
Another situation that has happened has been that my students have become excited about several topics that have come up because of reading about a subject or a current event and they have wanted to learn more about them. In the fairly recent past, because we had learned to research in more focused, safe ways, those self guided learning opportunities would have been embraced. But because we have done almost none of that kind of work this year, AND because thankfully my school district leaves the web pretty wide open, I have not felt safe letting them do searches for information, photos and video when there has been even a smidge of time to do so.
Why? For years now, part of using these powerful learning tools has involved lessons and projects in their safe and ethical use. There is no time or real support to do that now. Therefore it would be like setting your class loose in woodshop without teaching them safe use of the power tools. I’m not doing that- I’d be setting my students, parents, myself, my school and my school district up for a load of problems.
The upshot is I have few examples or experiences to share from my classroom this year. The almost total lack of autonomy because of a daily schedule designed by my administration that only includes reading, writing and math … and most taught with prescribed programs or specific direct instruction pieces that MUST be included literally leave no time. I have managed to begin squeezing things in here or there, but “squeezing in” means things are not done comprehensively and there is no time to learn from mistakes, redesign, or even just re-editing well to improve. I have to work hard to keep an enthusiastic face on things and my students aren’t developing as deep an appreciation for and enthusiasm for learning.
The worst news is that I’m hearing a similar story from other teachers I used to collaborate with and from others in my PLN that work with teachers. I have refrained from sharing this woeful tale during the year beyond a few Tweets, because I hoped to find ways to overcome the restraints and did not want to discourage others by my experience. I’m reporting out now because we need to get these stories out there. I would say even more, but don’t feel safe in doing so in a public space.
Things are not all lost however, I’m optimistic. We blog some and I will be writing about a recent project we are finishing up soon. I have learned some effective direct instruction pieces I will use in the future. Most of all I’ve learned that this new pedagogy that many of us have undertaken really works, and not being able to access it much has been a real detriment. I keep hearing that the pendulum is past due swinging back towards teacher autonomy and less testing and test prep pedagogy. I keep hearing (but I’m not totally convinced yet) that the move to common core standards implementation will drive us back that way as well. Perhaps, we’ll see.
At the end of the year I’m hoping to have made some changes that will help get things back on track, and I’ll report back if those things happen.