Independent Learning

How do you teach your students to be learn without you? How will they learn when you aren't there to create a Powerpoint, a handout, a  screencast, a Jing tutorial, a Youtube video, etc? Do you explicitly name and teach these skills or are they implied?

I've been researching some literacy strategies for technical reading, reading textbooks, and so on (which I will probably blog about later) and I'm realizing that we need to be more intent on teaching specific learning and comprehension skills.

This was all sparked by our conversation about the use of textbooks, which I'm still reading, asking, listening, and learning about.

What I've come away with so far is that I need to teach my students how to learn and how they learn so that they know what to do in any context, whether that be college, trade school, work, parenthood, marriage, etc.

That is 21st century learning.


The Purpose of Textbooks. Convince Me.

I was having a discussion with my colleague about teaching in general and we ended up discussing textbooks. She suggested that next year I use the book for Algebra 2 because it is closer to college level mathematics and students need to be prepared for that.

Then I spoke with a teacher that works with the hearing impaired who has been in my class at least one day a week throughout the year. Her opinion was that the worksheets and activities we do equal to or surpass the work found in textbooks. She said that the notes we do in class are fit more to student needs and add visual context rather than the canned curriculum of a textbook.

Both teachers have far more experience than me and both agree that there should be a balance, no all or nothing.

I think I don't know how to use a textbook.

As a teacher, I use the book as a problem bank, a guide for sequencing lessons, and in geometry I steal the diagrams and drawings because an artist, I am not.

For my students, we really only used the book to look up definitions or formulas in class.

Am I hurting my students by not using the textbook?

How am I supposed to use the textbook for their benefit? What is the difference in them taking notes from a book or notes from a Powerpoint or notes from a discussion? Is it not still reading, writing, and listening?

Am I supposed to have them just take notes and teach themselves from the book? I'm not saying there is no value in textbooks, I'm saying I haven't found a values that's worth using them for.

I enjoy creating lessons. It puts me in the mindset of a student and helps me think through possible questions and confusion that students may encounter. I use the book and my standards at the beginning of the year to create a pacing guide and priority standards to tell me what to teach. Then I search the Internet, blogs, and Twitter for ideas on 'how' to teach those concepts. Honestly, I don't see how a textbook can add to the rich resources I'm currently using. I don't know how using a textbook will improve my teaching or my students' learning.

So convince me. Why and how should I use a textbook?


What I'm Doing Right

Today was our first day back after nine days out due to flooding. Our school was used a shelter during this time. About 75-80% of our county was affected by the flooding. There's over an estimated $25 million in damages. I polled my students today and 90% spent the nine days sandbagging somewhere in the community. That’s powerful.

In the process, my own home was flooded. We only had about one foot and luckily it did not ruin any electrical outlets and all our appliances work. We are currently moving everything out and will have to redo floors and carpet, repair sheet rock up at least half of the walls, bleach out things to kill the mold, and replace our kitchen cabinets. Lovely.

Some of my students had anywhere from inches to 5 feet of water in their house. Students were literally boating around town because that was easier to do than drive. So today was a pretty much chill day where we gave students time to vent, talk, socialize, etc. But enough of that, they drove me crazy by the end of the day!

But rather than do lesson plans, I felt like blogging instead. I have lost any desire to create lesson plans or basically do anything. I hope this doesn’t last into summer but I can’t even focus on school or think about teaching or…anything. Blech.

To encourage myself, I thought I would post a list of things I feel like I’ve learned or areas I’ve grown in over my second year of teaching. I love lists.

Concept Attainment: Giving examples and nonexamples which forces students to find a pattern or rule.
Sorting: Having students sort things without giving them any parameters to sort by which forces them to notice subtle characteristics, similarities, and differences.
Scaffolded Investigations: Thanks to Mimi, I’ve learned to make activities more independent so that (hopefully) students are thinking more and making connections based on what they already know.
Bell Ringers: A great way to get class started, get students into a routine, review old material, and introduce new material.
Cooperative Learning: While I still am not good at assigning specific roles and holding students accountable, I did learn some new structures. I used teams A LOT and I really think at the very least I created a collaborative/cooperative environment for learning. Students were much more independent from me and dependent on each other compared to last year.
Explaining: I did a better job in my questioning of forcing students to think through what they did and explain why/how. Not that I’m doing a great job, but better than I was.
Confrontations: I did a slightly better job this year of pulling students to the side and talking to them or just knowing when to drop it and deal with it at a later time. There were many times I should have and didn’t, but I’ve made progress.
Structure: By being consistent with my bell ringers and assigning homework, my students knew what to expect. I also used my timer a lot to make sure I gave appropriate wait time and to help keep students on task and managing time well.
Entering Grades: I kept grades updated almost daily so that I wasn’t overwhelmed at the end of the quarter like last year.
Constructive Criticism: I tried a lot of new ideas and suggestions from my coach, even when I was skeptical.
Final Exam Writing: I didn’t cry this year! Or curve. I even had a performance event. Ooh!
Bell to Bell: I have taught bell to bell all year looooooooooong. Yeah baby! I did that like one time last year.
Confidence: I have it.

Did anyone else notice how many times I used the word ‘forces’? Hm.