Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Coming to the end ...

My students and I have been working for the last few days on bringing together the different texts we have read for our "Search for Self" theme, and it has reminded me about the ebb and flow of a unit. As we were starting on these readings, I had a few bad days in a row, feeling like the students were not focusing how I wanted them to as they read to prepare for class, then feeling like I had to make adjustments for this lack in our classwork. I really thought they were missing things. And they were, but now that we are making connections across the texts and talking about what those connections mean, they are doing amazing things. They clearly know the texts overall, and they are very engaged in seeing how they link together.

So what does this mean? First, it reminds me of the learning proces -- learning starts out slow because those early stages can be hard. As teachers, we have a duty to try to show our students WHY they might enjoy this new learning, but I know I rarely grab every student as I try to do this. And even those who are excited have to step into new ideas and new skills. These new steps are actually better if they are slower because there is more learning going on.

This also reminds me how much we all want what we learn to make sense. My students' excitement as they begin to see for themselves (and not just hear from me) how these texts and the ideas we have been discussing fit together shows human nature. This reminds me to always move a unit to this level as best I can. In the end, I suppose getting to this level answers that old, old question, "Why are we learning this?"

Finally, I am also reminded of what it means to challenge our students to be more than they are, to push them to push themselves. When my students weren't reading well (or at all for some of them) at the opening of this unit, it wasn't just because they weren't necessarily excited. They are also humans with a lot on their plates and making choices. What I hope to impress upon them is that a choice that shortchanges your intellectual growth should not be made lightly. Yes, we all have to cut corners at times, but I hope to help them see that some corners should be more protected than others. On the practical side of this, I work hard to make sure students can't coast by without ever reading -- even if it means stopping a discussion and making them responsible on their own for the material. (I teach seniors this year and can do this much more readily then I could when I taught freshmen who were at different stages in their growth as learners.) But for the larger picture, maybe seeing how it all fits together in the end will help them want the next time to start their hard work earlier so they can get more out of their learning in the end.

And in the end, that is what matters -- that I have not only helped my students learn new things about my subject area and their worlds but also about themselves as learners.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, did I need to read this. I am struggling with one of my classes. Am I going too quickly? Too slowly? Why aren't they all engaged? What can I do to make them be engaged? There are no easy answers, but I feel reassured after reading your thoughts on this. And, they are after all, ninth-graders. Lots of growing to do:)