Friday, June 15, 2012

A Year of Contradictions

Image:  http://www.edwebproject.org/
Today was the last day of the 2011-2012 school year.  Looking back, it was the most rewarding and enjoyable year I've had in my fifteen years of teaching.  As I look back and examine the reasons for having such an excellent year, I'm faced with a few contradictions.
  • I taught less this year, and yet my students learned more.  As time goes on, I continue to learn ways to make students responsible for their own learning.  I find myself standing in front of the room talking less and walking around giving encouragement, feedback, and guidance more.
  • I graded fewer assignments and yet my students got more feedback to guide their learning.  My focus continues to shift from giving grades to providing opportunities for students to get meaningful feedback on their work from myself, classmates, and others outside my classroom.
  • My students worked harder, produced more on-line content, researched more, and learned about a greater number of  topics than any other class I've ever had, and yet I've been told numerous times by many students and parents that this was the best school year that they've had.  Since they had more control over their learning, school didn't seem like work as much as a chance to pursue their interests.
  • This year it felt like I worked less hard than at any other time in the past, yet I probably spent more hours collaborating with my PLNs, reading educational blogs, discussing education with other teachers, and reflecting on my practices than ever before. 
I've written plenty about how our educational system needs to catch up to the realities of the 21st Century in which we live.  As that happens, it will continue to be a struggle to balance the demands of a broken system with what we know is best for our students.  I feel like this year I made good progress towards figuring out how to do that. 

Maybe after fifteen years I'm starting to figure out this teaching thing a little.

10 comments:

  1. Great assessment! ...from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side! Yeah, Mike!!

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    1. Thanks, Jean! Anyone who saw me 15 yrs. ago in the University of Scranton performance of Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" knows that I have no business anywhere near a stage!
      -Mike

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  2. I must say that my experience in teaching was quite similar to yours this year. Like you, I spent countless hours involved in research and learning about new tools and venues for learning, but when it came to classroom time, I let children take the lead much more as I mentored, coached and guided their learning. Thanks for your terrific synopsis of what optimal teaching looks like today. I look forward to your continued guidance, reflection and ideas over the summer and next year.

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    1. It's amazing the things our students are capable of if we just let them have the opportunity. It's collaboration in our PLNs with other educators like you that allows me to realize how it can be done. Thanks for the kind words and the support!

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  3. Sounds like you and your students had an amazing year Mike! I just found your blog and am your newest follower :)

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    1. Welcome, and thanks! It really was a great year. Excited to learn together in the future!
      -Mike

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  4. I feel the same way - Maybe after 14 years I'm finally starting to get the hang of it! I am frowned upon by some teachers who seem scared of change, but when I see my students learning (even when I don't send home work!), I feel justified. I still have a long way to go, but we all have such help from our PLNs these days, there's no excuse to not try new ways. Thanks for writing this - I do believe it has inspired a blog post from me! -@JoyKirr

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    1. Awesome, Joy! Eventually, those resistant to change will be swimming upstream against those of us innovating. Thanks for the comment, and please share your post after you write it. I'm looking forward to reading it.!
      -Mike

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  5. I am new to your blog. I have a few questions about your math instruction... Do you assign homework? Do you grade homework? If so, for effort or for accuracy? I am a math teacher in a middle school and I am desperately looking for a way to cut down on the hours I spend checking homework (I try to collect 2-3 times a week), quizzes, tests, and activities. I feel like my time is much better spent on other areas like planning effective lessons. Any advice is appreciated!

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    1. Thanks for the comment. One of my more popular posts deals with the issue of homework: http://teacherslifeforme.blogspot.com/2011/09/fridays-five-reasons-you-shouldnt-grade.html

      I don't believe in grading it for effort nor accuracy. Students desperately need feedback to learn. That feedback needs to come from a variety of places, and not just from us as teachers. Don't spend your time doing things that have no effect on student learning (ie. grading tests, etc.) Spend more time planning ways to get them feedback from a variety of sources (peers, blog comments, etc.) That's where the learning happens. Just my humble opinion - take it for what it's worth.

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