Thursday, February 10, 2011

Responding to student input - an important lesson for me!

Sitting in the airport, waiting on the flight to DC - it will be a long day. Last night's class was, in a word, fabulous - and due solely to the students! They are amazing - sharp, thoughtful, curious. Just what we need in our classrooms. They ask wonderful questions - necessary questions. I hope they learn half as much from me as I learn from them. Here's an example:

Last night, I taught a model lesson [the Columbus lesson, one I've taught all over the world, including Guatemala and Latvia] and as we were discussing the "Forced Choices" each small group of students had made with respect to the most important item exchanged between the Old World and the New when Columbus made his "discovery", a student asked about the validity of the conclusions that were being drawn. The first group had replied with a choice that was in actuality a result of one of the items exchanged [food]. I bungled the response to the group. I accepted what they said and moved on. I could have inadvertently left the class with inaccurate information - but due to the question, we stopped and discussed the issue, exploring in depth the issue of how and why slavery was brought to the New World. A fascinating discussion, and one we needed to have - I can only hope the students understood my explanation of what I did, why I had done it, and what I should have done. What I should have done was to push the reporting group of students to identify to initial item exchanged [food], making sure that they understood that we were considering only items exchanged during the "Colombian Exchange" [a term used in the standard, and one I had usually not included in the lesson] then talk about the ramifications - some of which happened hundreds of years later. I needed to help students get a sense of the time frame we were talking about - and perhaps a timeline would have helped all of us -- in fact, as I type this, I'm thinking that I might need to add that little scaffolding to the lesson. Use a timeline to graphically display the time we are talking about - that would also serve to illustrate the items that made such an impact that we still feel the effects today in our own world. The Response Heuristic is organized sort of that way [Item exchanged / immediate effect / long term effect], but it needs to be more overt - and a time line would help tremendously. Voila! I've re-visioned the lesson now, and it will be much better the next time I use it. What a great learning experience for all of us - but especially for me.

I have been grading their Literacy and Learning Autobiographies, and they are really good. It's taking much longer than normal because they are such a pleasure to read, I find myself reading them twice - and reading them for pleasure rather than to actually grade them. If only I could just provide some feedback and not have to grade anyone. This particular class is one that I look forward to every week. Remarkable - I have a renewed sense of hope for our schools.


CZB II said...

I have to say that class was probably one of my favorites. I loved the discussion and that learning cycle you gave us was a real epiphany for me. My student teaching experience in my undergrad almost made me want to quit, not because of the students but because of the attitudes of the people I was working with and how they chose to communicate with me about my teaching - read last few blog posts if you want the whole story. Having that Learning Cycle in front of me made me realize how to plan a lesson for the first time. Thanks!

java junkie said...

I'm glad it helped - I remember when I first encountered the idea, and you are right - it made all the difference in the world for me with respect to being able to plan good lessons I could have confidence in. Thanks for taking the time to provide me with feedback.

Ibrahim said...

It was a good experience for me. I quietly understood what you did exactly and why you identified the items exchanged during the Colombian exchange. It makes sense for me. I am sure Guatemala and Latvia enjoyed not less than us. And I want to point it out that the class was one of the most enjoyable and understandable to me.