Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Favorite Parts of My School Day

I enjoy two favorite parts of my school day. I seriously get my jollies from planning lessons. figuring out how to make the lesson interactive, collaborative, and relevant. I have the lessons and objectives at the ready, but designing the actual flow and sequence of activities drives me. Daniel Pink, in his essay and video "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" (above)  discusses "mastery", that desire to be the best at something, a skill or practice like acting, dancing, playing video games. He argues that we all possess a desire for mastery, to do something that gets us in "the zone". For me, that's planning lessons. I want to be the best, making sure that activities engage students with intellectual rigor while leveraging the power of community. And keeping it relevant. 

The second favorite part of the teaching day is after I've given directions, after I've set up whatever protocol of small group activity I've devised. Seeing student engaged with each other - answering questions, preparing short presentation, unpacking texts - on their own as I cruise about the room, clarifying and quizzing as I listen in on the groups. What's fun is watching the students do the learning. As I become more and more confident in my craft and the content, I trust that students can make sense of the material if given the right context, if the conditions are such that folks are willing to feel the burn of learning. 

Too many semesters have I done all the work of learning - preparing notes, putting slides together, figuring out what's important to share and practice. I was the one doing the learning! Now, I enjoy designing  experiences (isn't that a much cooler phrase than "lesson planning"?) where students are put in the position of having to actively examine, prioritize, evaluate, and manipulate the material - instead of passively listening to me or watching a slide show. Or mechanically filling the blank of some worksheet. Sure, this approach brings a whole different set of risks than traditional lecture. But we know that lectures don't work (see here, here, and here), Mine are no exception.  So when I devise an experience where students actually engage conceptual knowledge and practice procedural skills, I have to smile. What a joy to see them learning, with me alongside their coach/trainer/cheerleader. 

I love it, perhaps the students will grow to appreciate the paces I put them through. Moving away from recitation and mechanical "drill and kill" toward struggling with ideas provides me many happy moments - planning those experiences, and seeing students feel the burn of learning.