Sunday, October 10, 2010

Muffins and Pedagogy

So... the muffins weren't much better. I still find them very heavy and with a profound taste of flour rather than the berries or applesauce. Next, we move on to a recipe in a cookbook put together by the ladies of the church we attended in Wisconsin when I was growing up. I'll also be trying a recipe in Nigella's cookbook. I'll keep you posted as to which I prefer, and, if successful, will use from this point forward.

On to pedagogy and my conference. I found the time and the drive worthwhile within the first two hours of the conference. If nothing else, it reaffirmed information I already knew about my 12 AP class that I needed reminding of since the summer conference. For one thing, the entire mindset regarding the class and who could/should take it is different than it was several years ago.

My class was developed entirely by a co-worker. She did an excellent job developing her curriculum, and her students' scores demonstrated that. But her class was designed to ensure that those who succeeded in the class were the ones who would succeed in college without any prompting or assistance - in other words, those who needed help, motivation, or were of a slightly less than stellar caliber were weeded out through the vigorous work load and expectation of prior knowledge.

Prior to taking over the class, I already knew that the the mindset was shifting regarding advanced placement students. In addition to this shift, our school was accepted into the VASS grant, which is specifically geared towards allowing everyone - no... encouraging everyone to take the advanced classes. Now, if I had not known about VASS (Virginia Advanced Studies Strategies) and had been told I needed to encourage everyone to take the advanced classes, I would have been very dubious of the success of the advanced programs. But VASS is not merely asking that we keep everyone in these classes; they are setting us up for success. The training I went to over the summer and this past weekend have taught me quite a few things.
  1. First - that though I have a cumulative 13 years or so of experience teaching, I know nothing. Who was it...Socrates? who said that only by admitting we know nothing can we truly know everything. I must be a genius, then, because I've realized how much I have to grow as a teacher. I only hope I do not damage my students, or leave them completely unprepared for the world, as I search for my own knowledge.
  2. The strategies we were taught, as students in high school as well as in our education classes in college are outdated, ineffective, and overwhelmingly work with a select minority of today's students. The days of "read, answer discussion questions, quiz - repeat" are over and if nothing else, regardless of level or caliber of student, today's kids are so much more accustomed to stimuli that we have to find the way to get them, in essence, to teach themselves.
  3. To explain the tail end of #2 - our students, today, are so brainwashed to answer the correct answer only, or to listen to the teacher who explains the "correct" way of thinking that they no longer think for themselves. I've always striven to teach them NOT what I think (which is why I do not reveal my own thoughts on religion, politics, etc.), but to question and determine what THEY think. And I received confirmation this weekend that we, as a whole, are still failing in this. Increasingly, our youth are going on to life after high school simply regurgitating information they were told in life - about religion, politics, rights, biases, even how to drive their cars. Everything. And it is reflected in their inability to do even the most common free-thinking tasks. Common sense is out the window. Inference is nowhere to be seen. Cause and effect, even, is completely alien.
  4. So, what should we do? We shut up. My instructor this weekend was so knowledgeable. But the real treat was when he held a discussion that explained his tactics. In retrospect, we realized that he actually taught very little. Instead, he would guide his discussions, but allow us, the student, to actually dictate the discussion. It was a way to teach the skills we needed, not simply pound information in to our heads. He would draw out certain ideas to help when we slowed down, but he did not - I repeat - did not tell us what we needed to know.
  5. And, to examine #4 further - he was asked what he does when the students do not ask the "right" questions - when they do not cover something he feels is something they need to know. He answered - "I don't tell them. I simply let it go." WOW! What a concept! And what a difficult ingrained response to let go of, if we follow suit. His reasoning? He's teaching skills, not information. As his students learn the skills necessary to extrapolate all that they need from a lesson, his need to guide them diminishes. It makes sense.
  6. Last, I was reminded of one very important lesson - I, alone, do not have to make sure they are exposed to everything that has ever been on the AP test. I need to keep reminding myself of this. I need to remember that it is about quality, not quantity. Ever since I received the list that states what pieces were on the test, and the years that they appeared, I've been so focused on making sure my students are exposed to the items that appeared most recently and most frequently, that I've lost the main purpose of the list. It is not to make my students drown under the weight of books they should be reading, but to make sure they are exposed to the type of writing so that they can A) be exposed to the type and recognize other pieces within that same era or genre and B) learn the skills that go with the type, not the specific pieces themselves.

Basically, I need to rewrite my curriculum. I knew I needed to do this, but didn't realize, fully, just how badly it needs to be restructured. And to be honest, I'm not sure how to go about doing this so that this year's students will be prepared for their AP test in May. Time goes so quickly when you're swamped. I'll have to keep you updated with my own progress as I strive to "know nothing."

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