Monday, September 4, 2017

Get off the train, Mindi!

Photo via Creative Commons. Attribution here.

I am about to start my third week of school.  As I sat at my desk at school yesterday (yes, I went in on Sunday), surrounded by my teacher's editions and unit plans, I began to feel a twinge of familiar anxiety - how am I going to get everything done that I need to get done so that my kids learn as much as possible during their third grade year?  How much more quickly can I move through the math chapters so that I cover all of the important concepts before PARCC testing?  How are we going to finish this social studies unit before we switch over to science?  Chug...chug...chug....

This feeling of faster...faster...chug...chug... is a familiar one for teachers.  Pacing guides, teacher's editions, and the publishing of test scores underscore this need to move and move quickly.  And to be honest, we want to make sure our kids are learning and growing as much as they can in their 180 days in our care.  We want to be effective.  We want to do our jobs well.

But here's the thing.  Getting on the curriculum train doesn't help our kids.  "Coverage" of content does not guarantee a student is deeply learning.  I have to constantly remind myself to slow down, to allow time for my kids to think about what they're reading, writing, and learning, to encourage them to explore the aspects of our curriculum that they are especially interested in, and to allow them time to research their own passions and then share their learning with the class.

I've seen for myself the difference in learning when I make myself slow down and let the kids show me what they need and when they're ready to move on.  When I ask the class what they're interested in learning about and then let them go, I find that they usually hit the learning targets the district has set out for the unit and much more.  They are also learning other skills... how to develop a research question, how to seek out and synthesize information, how to present that information in a way that is interesting and compelling.  And more importantly, they are engaged in their learning and excited about it.  THIS is what will make a difference in their retention of new knowledge.

To be honest, this has been easier for me to do in my literacy block and science and social studies  periods than it has been in math.  I think this is mostly because I lack the deep understanding of mathematical practices that I have in literacy.  I've written about this before, and the work of learning the "why" behind math is work I continue to do.  The pacing guide in math also contributes to this as well.  It's a much tighter progression through the units than we have in the other subjects.  Luckily, I have colleagues who can help me work through how to make the math learning deep and meaningful rather than just surface knowledge that is easily forgotten.

So here I am, at the beginning of my third week of school, reminding myself to get off of the train, to listen to my heart and my kids, to take a deep breath and dig in to the work that matters.