In education, we talk about those "aha" moments, when the light bulb goes on for students. But we, as educators have those moments as well. Oftentimes, they just happen and we don't even realize it...but something has changed, we have changed. A switch has been flipped.
I was in a discussion with @jcorippo about one of my last blog posts regrading "asking permission" and "taking risks". Just doing whatever it takes to do what's best for kids. As we were discussing I said "I wonder when I made the switch. I don't even know if I can pinpoint it." His response: "Sometimes it sneaks up on you."
So, this of course, caused me to reflect on my teaching career. I have only taught at one school. It was a high performing Title 1 school. Both my kids went to school in a different district. Their elementary school was a middle class, suburban school. The teaching and learning going on at these two different schools was perplexing to me.
Both schools had the same curriculum for Math and ELA. But my son's school was whipping through those textbooks. It felt like a race, that myself, nor my students could even enter. If I even tried, the only gain would be, we finished...not much learning would be happening. My students needed more time, more scaffolding, different techniques. I wanted them to learn, not just get through.
What was wrong with me, that I couldn't keep up with that pace at my son's school? We also used to have grade level meetings in our district. These meetings would be filled with people talking about what chapter they were on, like whoever was the furthest would earn a prize. I remember myself and my colleagues leaving feeling defeated and shamed because we weren't as far. This caused great angst within me.
Then, my school began looking at teaching reading differently. We used read alouds to teach skills (this leveled the playing field in the classroom), students had reading journals (not worksheets) and choice and conferring during independent reading time. I will admit, I did not buy into this at first. It was so different. How can we not be using the anthology? I was so nervous that I did both! Just in case, this new way didn't work. Poor kids.
Then many of us began using Daily 5/CAFE. It still looked very different than my son's school, but now I started getting frustrated with the things HE was bringing home. So many worksheets about NOTHING! Story tests that tested the story...not the skills. It didn't seem like learning, but he got straight As, so I let it be.
In math, we started using Marilyn Burns Investigations and ditched the textbook (before #ditchbook was cool). I didn't really get that at first either. My son was learning math from the textbook and appeared to be mastering it. He was so far ahead of where my students were, we must be doing something wrong. But I stuck it out...and oh my...the gains for my students was incredible! That may just need to be it's own separate post on math.
But I was still having this inner struggle: I was trying to "keep up with the Jonses" in my son's school, in our district; but I was seeing the benefits of "our way".
My principal ALWAYS said "We do what's best for kids. We need to meet them where they are." Now I find myself saying the exact same thing...a lot!
Fast forward a few years and my daughter was in 3rd grade. She has always had a problem with her memory and struggled in reading. She lost confidence in herself and thought she was "dumb". You NEVER want to hear that from your child.
I remember this incident, as clear as crystal. She had to "memorize" the water cycle and she just couldn't do it. I tried to help her and it just ended with both of us being frustrated and we went to our separate corners. She was mad because she felt I wasn't helping her, and I was upset because she couldn't get it. I was also beating myself up for not being able to help her and getting upset with her.
And then I heard those words in my head "Meet them where they are...". I knew she struggled with memorization, and why would she need to memorize the water cycle...she doesn't even understand the concept! How would I make this work for MY students? Well, I had a lot of tricks in my bag, by then. I could write a song, draw a pictorial, have them act it out, sketch...Hmmm.
So after apologizing for my lack of patience, I decided to try a different approach. We drew a pictorial together as we discussed each part of the cycle. She seemed to be understanding, but would she remember? She then re-drew it from scratch as she explained each part. Then I took a chance and asked her to come up with hand movements for each part. She thought I was crazy, but I convinced her. I believe: What your hands do, your brain remembers. Oh my goodness...game changer! First off, she was soooo excited and thought it was incredibly fun. Second, she realized that she HAD learned the water cycle. Not only memorized it, but understood it. I heard her practicing it in the shower and she wanted to practice it on the car ride to school. Since then, whenever she struggled with a concept, she always went back to those two strategies...sometimes with me, sometimes without me.
I realized then, I had made the switch some time ago...it was just a natural evolution based on the need to meet my students. I started thinking about how I taught and how I met each learner. I provided multiple avenues and strategies for them to receive information, synthesize it and show their learning. I was very lucky to have administrators that believed in it and provided us with professional development and supports. I no longer cared what others were doing, how fast they were moving because I knew our students had understanding...deep understanding. Especially in math.
Just goes to show...what works for one, may not work for another...so it is important to know your learner, first and foremost. Then provide multiple strategies, tricks, tools...whatever is needed to propel their learning forward.
Our students do not all line up at the same starting line. They do not all move at the same pace. They do not all take the same path. They do not all have to jump the same hurdles. And although they all reach the same destination, the journey doesn't always look the same.
It is our job as teachers to be the coaches that provide the supports they need on their learning journey. Do whatever it takes to get them to cross that finish line.
Always, always, always...do what's best for kids...no one can argue that!
When did the switch flip for you? If it hasn't, what is holding you back?
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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