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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Learning In Grayscale

Some students want teacher-directed instruction.  In fact, a whole grade level may crave it.

We just completed Day 11 of school yesterday.  It's been a good start to school, but disappointing as well. 

I took my usual 3-5 days to introduce myself, explain my grading, seek to plant seeds of expectation for the year.  I shared how I wanted to use technology in our classroom through the use of video, cell phones, wikis, and a possibility of collaborating with a school in another country (one that is a part of our standard curriculum).  And I answered the biggest questions from my students..."Why aren't you in the library this year?  Did you get fired?"

The kids were excited.  I was excited.  We were ready.

I then started with a pre-teaching assessment of their map skills (compass rose, directions, scale, coordinates, latitude & longitude, etc.).  I used the state's matrix of mastery.  It lists grades by which students are to be Introduced, Develop, Master, and Apply the skills.  The results of the assessment became my first source of disappointment.  The skills simply aren't there at a Introductory level.  So we have a lot of catching up to do. 

I'll not blame the students, or their previous teachers, or the parents, or even the state (this time).  It is what it is, and we have 169 days to do about 800 days of work...in theory.  So we get busy.

Then I introduced the first Unit - Social Studies Concepts.  Our standards, and teaching method, is concept-based.  I like it.  Our concepts in the 7th grade include the following eight items.
  1. Conflict & Change
  2. Culture
  3. Economics (Production, Distribution, and Consumption)
  4. Governance
  5. Human / Environment Interaction
  6. Location
  7. Movement
  8. Continuity, although over Time things Change
I enjoy Stations (although at the elementary level what I do would be considered Learning Centers).  Each Station has different material...8 of which covered the Enduring Understandings and Motivating Questions (Essential Questions for your UbDers).  Four other stations were map skill related.  Students spend 1 day at a station then rotate to the next.  At the end of the rotations through each station, we would debrief and summarize our findings, then complete a project that would demonstrate understanding.  That was the plan.


My students are not only lacking in map skills, but are also lacking in the ability to focus on their work without directed instruction from a teacher.  I was saddened for us.

I went to talk with several 6th grade teachers who had this group last year.  They conveyed that they could not get this group of students to ever get to the point where small group work could be done.  I phoned three of my friends who teach in three different K-5 schools in our system, and they confirmed that this group just was not capable of working in Learning Centers.  They were "too social" and did not work on the work.

So I have punted on 1st down.  I went back to directed instruction.  Tried to be as positive about our situation as possible, and on Thursday (day 9 of school) I put the tables back in three rows, and started over.  Funny thing...the students liked it.  They felt like they were learning.

In all our hopes of providing Personal Learning Networks, Web 2.0 interactions, and differentiation through small groups, this may not be something this community (grade level) of learners will be able to experience until they are older and separated.  They simply are not mature enough to learn on their own.

On the positive side, for me, I have a new curriculum to learn (just approved by our State BOE after our 6th day of school).  When the students require a teacher-directed atmosphere to learn, it really is easier for the instructor.

So we may not be ready for the brilliant techni-color of the tech world, but I'll put my kids up against anyone else's by the end of the year.  Why, because I have already identified their group strength.  They are debaters, discussers, and thinking-out-loud kinds of kids.  That's like pitching to my wheel-house.

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