Every year I look at ways to improve my teaching. How I might be able to better meet the needs of all of my students and prepare them for the world going forward. Lately, a common question has come up and really more and more every year, “Why do we have to learn this?” That question really started when I was teaching in a testing year. As part of that, the students had to do a writing assignment based around a picture that was provided to them. The constant “Whys” didn’t stop at the picture prompt writing, they only accelerated as they had pages and pages of math work even when they showed they could do it right the first few questions in, or the science lab write-ups for the kids that hated science or as the kids told me this year the terrible Ancient Athens stuff they had to do two years in a row for Social Studies (Side note I loved teaching grade 6 Social Studies and this list is from the grade 7-8 kids that I am teaching now and never taught them grade 6) All issues that seem rooted in the fact that school is not addressing OUR students learning wants but only focusing on what others have decided are their learning needs.
All this thinking has been circling around me the last few years as I try to explore student voice and choice more. Allowing students to have more of a say in what they are doing and to voice what is and is not working for them. This journey has brought me to the battlefield with things like Accelerated Reader which my young readers rate as a non-desirable activity easy to replace with authentic reading conversations. It has saved me a ton of money by helping me see that worksheets and drill and kill type work, novels studies brought to you by the letters TPT and other quick fixes that profit off the backs of desperate teachers are not worthy of my students and certainly not worthy of the time we have, no matter how cute the activities look. Truly listening to my students has taught me that for so much less really is more. We write with paper and pencil in duo-tangs with paper (I know shocking) we read and talk about books and put our thinking on display and my students are taking the lead more and more. But I am still many steps away from where I want to be.
I started getting my feet wet in project-based learning (PBL) a few years ago. I have enjoyed it but again the complaints started to creep in, “why?” Aside from the answer because it is in the curriculum I couldn’t really support much else. I didn’t have a reason for what I was teaching aside from people told me that was the content to teach. I fully support skills and concept-based curriculum but I too struggle with the idea that students have to operate with the confines of examples that do not address what they are interested in.
I have a student who at the start of the year begged me to watch Prince EAs “What is School For” I have linked it if you want to check it out. The video spoke a lot to what I have struggled with and the kids had some great thoughts and reflections as well. What are we doing? What is the purpose behind the practice? How can I do better to communicate that? What can I let go of to give my students even more control? The answer of Inquiry projects came to mind. Open-ended with a focus on skills. Providing my students with a Question and allowing their interested to answer it.
That lead to the idea I am working on this week as we have a winter break. An all-encompassing literacy inquiry project. Containing elements of reading, writing, representing and speaking the project is going to take us a few months to complete potentially but I think it will be easy to stay engaged because it will be topics that matter to them.
This will be new to me, the adventure is exciting and hopefully, it is the start of changing how I teach Language Arts long term. The goals being more students say, more student control and more time to help with individual needs and less with what others say they all need. Beyond that, I am just excited to see what they care about and want others to know. I will be keeping a record of every step along the way here on the blog.