Change. That one word evokes so many different emotions. Why? Because those six letters have an incredible magnitude. Over the past four years, I have been both fascinated and frustrated with the change process. I have read many research articles on topics such as Implementation Science. I have read many books describing different change theories. And I have had numerous discussions with many bright minds on all things "change". My conclusion is...change is difficult. Large change is extremely difficult. But so what? Does that mean we just don't make the effort? Most days, I feel like it isn't worth it because in the end, there is little, if any movement. BUT I also know that if we are not trying to solve the problem, we are just contributing to it. So...WE can do hard things, because we need to. Our kids are counting on us.
In a recent post: "Stop The Insanity", I wrote about a math lesson that I observed. This could have been any lesson in any classroom. Things need to change. But how? I have thought long and hard on this and here are some of my thoughts. I am going to use Math as my example, but insert any educational idea for clarity.
Start with a Mindset shift: This is so incredibly difficult, changing minds...but I believe if this step isn't conquered, the rest will not be sustained. Our wold, our students, our future are continually changing at a rapid rate. Education, instruction and classrooms must change with it. How can it not? But for some, it hasn't. I go to my former schools for Back To School Night and Open House and they are not much different from when I went to school. I have been through 13 years of school with my own children and have seen worksheets that are dated from when I did them as a student. I have witnessed frustration to complete endless problems that are not understood. Why do we need to change? Because everything else has.
I believe that in order to change mindset, we must create urgency. The urgency is our future and our students' futures. They don't need rote memorization skills, they don't need copy notes off the board skills. They need the skills that will help them to be adaptable and agile in the real world because that world is yet unknown. They need to be critical thinkers, creative problem solvers who aren't afraid of risk taking and persevere through many iterations.
Under mindset, I believe there are three ideas we need to consider:
1)The Myth of Average: In Todd Rose's TedX Talk, he pleads the case that there is no "average" student, so we need to change the way we teach. He talks about "designing to the edges" to meet the needs of our diverse learners. I have written about this idea here. Because of this, we can no longer teach one way. We can not "shoot down the middle". We can not say we did a "reteach" by just redoing the exact same lesson. We must meet the students where they are. To do this, we must take the time to first know them. Then we must be equipped with a large tool belt of strategies and ideas to pull from, to meet them.
The unfortunate part is that I don't think many educators have had the opportunities to add many tools. Maya Angelou said "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better." When I was in the classroom, I never visited other rooms, I didn't see others teach, so how could I do better? Luckily, I had an instructional coach come in to my room to do a two day math lesson...and she changed me. She demonstrated how to ask questions to elicit thinking in my students. She showed me how to pose problems to get them talking and struggling in math. But had I not had that one experience, I very well could have been teaching the same way I was taught. Luckily now, with so many resources at our fingertips, we no longer need to be on an island. Teachers can learn and collaborate at any time, any where. But beyond that, we need to create opportunities for them to see others, collaborate and grow their toolkit.
2) Change the tasks: We need to be looking at what the students are doing through out their day. Not what the teacher is doing, the students. Are they being passive learners, "listening" to the teacher or are they digging in and doing the work? One of the easiest checks I use when creating experiences for students is the 4 Cs. Are they critically thinking, communicating, collaborating, creating? If not, we need to change the task. Another idea is that less is more. Specifically in math...we need to have students dig deeper, not wider. I used to have my students spend a whole math period working through one problem. Why? More bang for their buck. The conversations, thinking and understanding about math were far more complex with that one problem, than if I would have had them spend the time doing 30 of the same problem. The difference? The task. Students were given "low floor, high ceiling" problems. They were open ended tasks that all students could access (low floor) but could take it as far as they are able (high ceiling) and stretch beyond, with scaffolds. They were asked to first think on their own and then with a group. There was productive struggle which leads to deeper learning. But it didn't end there. There was always discussion. Not lecture, not me showing them how...discussion on how they solved the problem. They did the talking, they did the teaching, they did the learning. And the proof was in the pudding. My students (at a Title 1 school) always hit it out of the park on the standardized math tests. Why? Because they had an understanding and had the ability and stamina to think and work through the problems.
3) Honor and celebrate divergent thinking: Just like there is no average student, there is no longer "one way" to solve a problem. This is uncomfortable as the teacher, as I have lived it. But it isn't about us, it's about them and the pay off is tremendous! We need to allow, encourage and celebrate different ideas in the classroom. We need to be the "activator" in the classroom, we are not the one with all the answers. To do this, we must offer open ended tasks where students feel safe to discuss their ideas. One tactic I used, that left the students empowered was I was just the scribe. When students shared their ideas, I simply wrote it out in real time. I then named it ("Brian's Way") and we talked about "Brian's Way". By the end of the Math Talk, there were multiple students' "Ways" charted to be hung up in the classroom. This not only empowered the student that shared the idea, but it also gave the rest of the class ideas in which to hold on to and build.
These are just some preliminary thoughts that I often share in different settings, but decided it was time to write them out. Will these ideas change the world? Probably not. Will they change our students? Absolutely. And those students can change our world.
Mother, Teacher, Presenter, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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