Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 3: "Observation" Improvement

In my family, there is the actual time that is set and there is "Teresa time," which is approximately 10-15 minutes later. We joke that if you want to meet at the restaurant at 6pm, tell Teresa 5:30 so she's there 10 minutes early. Fortunately, most of my girlfriends run on the same clock. When five of us set up to meet for book club at 3pm, there's usually only one of us actually there at 3pm. The other four show up sometime between 3:10pm and 3:30pm.

Estimating time is a weakness of mine, as well as other members of my family. My poor mom used to sit in the car, with it running, anxious and furious because church started at 10:30am and it was now 10:15am and my sister and I were still getting ready. Then she'd get even more anxious and furious because we'd finally hop in the car at 10:20, completely confused by how 10 minutes early could be 5 minutes late. (My mom has since at least stopped calling me in the morning to check if I woke up early enough to leave on time, but hints of that anxiety pop up once in a while when we need to make an airport run or have an appointment.)

My approach to teaching is very much as a facilitator, which is interesting considering the students I've taught (at-risk, inner city, developmental). Most teachers teach how they like to be taught, and this is case for me as well. In most subjects, I catch on well to the foundations and get more value out of analyzing and critical thought about that subject thereafter. The students that I've traditionally taught, however, have needed a much higher intensity of that foundation-level learning. Over the relatively few years that I've been teaching, I've toyed with that balance between the two, and I consider it one of my strengths that I can do both. My students get to know the "who" and "when" of the Enlightenment, and get to experience a salon-type discussion; they define the 'rules' of using commas by analyzing meaning in a sentence; topics like appropriate word choice gets practiced in a ITTT-sort of approach, and then is discussed in terms of the audience perspective.

This sort of approach, however, takes time. And I'm an information-junkie, so I jam as much content from as many different sources as I can into a lesson. I'm also somewhat of a perfectionist. All of this means that the following process happens all too frequently:

  1. Introduce the topic and cover the foundations.
  2. Practice and address any weaknesses or confusion until students are almost to the I-can-do-it-myself stage. 
  3. Refer to the real-world applications of the topic to introduce the analyzing/evaluating/creating activity. 
  4. Start the analyzing/evaluating/creating activity later than anticipated. 
  5. Either: 
    • cut the activity at the absolute end of class and not have enough time to properly close down the lesson, and still let the students out a few minutes late OR
    • try and carry the rest of the activity to the next class, during which too much time will be spent on re-introducing the topic, re-addressing any weaknesses or confusion, and re-initiating the activity. 
  6. Start the next topic behind schedule and either push the rest of the schedule back or take away time. 
  7. Repeat.
My area is much more than simply estimating time. I'm a firm believer in taking the time to do something right, and my students have traditionally been those who had been rushed through and were now suffering because of it. Personally, I am patient just about to a fault, so waiting and allowing that time is one of my strengths as a teacher. The larger issue is that I need, as Stephen Covey says, make the main thing the main thing. That information-junkie needs to sift out the most relevant, helpful piece - not just an article that relates. That do-er (see Day 1/Day 2) needs to focus on the most effective activity - not just something new to try out. Determining importance is a critical reading skill, and it's one I can work on in my classroom to make better use of my class time. 

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