Looking for ways to build your school community and engage students? Some schools are experimenting with announcements over their PA system, to kick off their day and move students between classes. From inspirational sayings to general reminders, schools want students to feel like we are all in this together, and approaching things from the same side. Check out this great list from Connections Academy:
Picture this: you’ve planned, what you think, is the perfect 6 week unit study, with an option to extend to 8 weeks, depending on how fast your students plow through the material. For the first time, you’ve tested the experiments, ahead of time,to ensure they work like they’re supposed to. You’ve also done a trial run on the crafts, for students to have a model.
Day 1 of the unit study, you’re feeling pretty good. Until you start teaching. And you realize your students love this topic so much, and they are so interested in it, that they have a lot of preexisting knowledge. And they all want to share it. Before you know it, you’ve plowed through portions of the first 3 “classes” and several tangents, that you hadn’t prepped, have arose.
First off, yay for engaged and participatory students. That's a huge win.
Now, it’s time for you to regroup.
One of the biggest challenges of teaching, (I think), is gauging the knowledge base of the students. There is always some degree of variation, and it’s rarely visible, until you start teaching.
Being able to reorganize your lesson plan, to meet your students where they are, increases your student’s engagement and positively impacts their academic outcomes.
One of the biggest fears of teachers is not enough time to teach material, which is why they’ll often just cover the material.
What is the difference between teaching and covering materials? A lot of times it boils down to leaving room for the inevitable questions and tangents that will arise, after the material is presented.
Covering presents concepts, facts, and information; the main objective is retention for purposes of recall and testing. Teaching allows for processing the material, asking questions, and connecting it to known concepts; the objective is creative thinking where the information is used in new and different ways.
Both are key to student engagement and learning.
Excerpting from “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools” by Mariale Hardiman, and quoting Ulrich Kraft, a physician and science writer, “Fresh solutions result from disassembling and reassembling the building blocks in an infinite number of ways. That means the problem solver must have thoroughly understand the blocks.”
Simply put, you’ve to have some knowledge before you can think creatively about something!
Here are 5 tips to move beyond covering material in your classroom, without killing your instruction time:
1. Give students a heads up
Let them know what the next unit study is going to be, and ask them to come in to class with 1 or 2 things they know about the subject, and 1 or 2 things they want to know about the subject. Do the same thing for yourself.
What are the big takeaways your students need? How does it fit in with previously units? Include review opportunities to illustrate the connected nature of knowledge and refresh concepts. Does it tie in to other classes? How does it relate to things, outside the classroom environment?
3. Have a running vocabulary sheet for the unit.
As you design your lesson plan, share words or concepts that were unfamiliar to you. It’s a great way to connect with your students and illustrate that everyone is learning, all the time, even teachers. Encourage students to go up and add to the sheet during class time; model this behavior as well.
4. Play detective.
Encourage students to write down their “I wonder” questions. It’s a great way for you to see how they are relating to the information, and explore potential extensions. Remember to model; not everyone feels comfortable sharing their inner musings.
5. Make it fun.
While you’re not there to entertain your students, fun engages learners and makes things memorable. The more pleasure or joy we feel doing something, the more we want to do it. Let’s find fun and interesting ways to present information. Find tie-ins where possible. Relate it to the known.
And remember, if they’re not getting it…it’s most likely the way in which the information is being communicated.