Thursday, January 21, 2016

Students' Struggles? Re-evaluate Yourself

     My students struggle at times, and like most teachers, I'm aware of the assignments that cause the most angst. Does that mean I should do away with the assignment? Rethink my teaching strategies for this lesson? Or maybe I should ask student input as to what would help make it a better lesson? I'm continually re-evaluating what I teach and how I teach it. An innocent conversation with my husband the other night alerted me to perhaps some unrealistic expectations on my part of my students and their work.
     With the beginning of a new block at school, I welcomed new students to my classroom--both new to me and some who were new to the school. One of those new-to-the-school teens came in the second day of the block and plopped down in his seat. After greeting him, I asked how his first day at CHS was. His response? "Overwhelming." Curious, I probed. Reticent to be disparaging, he said English had been tough. He wasn't "getting" the concepts.
     This surprised me as I had spent considerable time with him the previous day explaining, modeling, teaching, and reteaching the concepts until I thought he had understanding. In a conversation that night with my husband, I chronicled and, I admit, complained about this student's lack of comprehension. I detailed the story to my spouse and asked him the same questions I asked my student. The results? The same befuddled look, grasping answers, and total bewilderment. Obviously there was a problem and the problem was with me.
      I thought this assignment challenging but doable; yet looking at the number of students who struggled with it and the toil my husband endured, I realized I needed to do something. I needed to change...a lot.
     This path to self-discovery, I think, is an important one for all teachers to embark on. Do the students really "get" what you're trying to teach or just going through the motions? To be a student-centered teacher, I needed to re-think what I wanted to achieve with that assignment, and others. Does that mean I lack rigor? No, I think it means I'm trying to lack frustrating my students so much that they want to just give up. Once they shut down, it's hard to re-start and re-engage them.
     Lesson learned--finally. Evaluate your own lessons. If there's something that students repeatedly and historically have struggled with, maybe it's time to redesign the lesson. Take a hard look at yourself and what and how you teach. It could make all the difference.

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