Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Classics: To Be or Not To Be

In the English classroom teachers have been arguing for years over the value of teaching the classics. Some are staunch supporters and some swing to the opposite extreme. I can say that I have always sat on the fence. I could see the value of teaching the classics and at the same time I could see how disinterested my students were. For years I tried to balance somewhere in the middle. Do a little Shakespeare here and some more modern materials there, and always in the back of my mind questioning if I was doing the right thing.

It wasn't until about my eighth year of teaching (yeah I'm a little slow) when it finally occurred to me that maybe the content didn't matter. That maybe it should be about what the students want to learn. The moment these things started to occur to me my world started turning upside down. My practices in the classroom missing the mark; these newfound values were shaking the way I saw teaching and learning as a whole. I started struggling with my own preferences and fighting the urges to teach my way instead of the way I knew was better for the students.

I wanted to incorporate things that they were interested in learning- to include more options and choices and creativity. At the same time, I fought against how it would change the way my classroom operated. I was playing tug-of-war with myself! I started searching, scouring the Internet for ways to incorporate more opportunities for choice. After banging my head against the Internet wall for weeks, I stumbled upon a teacher who was attempting something that clicked for me. Her name is Carol Zortman. She started differentiating her curriculum by creating required parts of a project and then offering choices for the rest of the project.

I found that this was a place for me to start. I took her material and ran with it changing it and adapting it to work with the materials I had or that I was able to get my hands on. I finally found what I believed was a step in the right direction for me and my students. Carol Zortman

Friday, January 27, 2012

Creativity & Choice

One of the professors in grad school that influenced me most helped me to understand the value of creativity in the classroom. I knew that creativity was important, and in fact I thought that I was on the right track incorporating creative projects and activities into my lessons.

What I found to be true, for my students and my classroom, was that it wasn't enough. Not only not enough creativity, but more importantly not enough choice. I was not allowing them to stretch their wings and find out what worked best for them because I was keeping too much of the control over the classroom learning to myself. I needed to find new ways to help these students not only learn reading and writing skills, but to find methods that allowed them choice and creativity in their realm of interests and passions.

One of the people who truly inspired me and helped to change the way I think about education is Sir Ken Robinson and his views on creativity and education. If you are as interested as I am in finding ways to reach our students and help them shape their futures in the 21st century, you might want to check out Sir Robinson's YouTube presentation: Changing Education Paradigms

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Learning in the 21st Century

The 21st century has brought our schools to an age of uncertainty. The future for our students is encircled by a troubled economy, ever-changing technology, and a new age of communication practices that could cripple as easily as it could champion the dreams of our students.

We as educators need to band together to find best practices and research-based methods in a collaborative effort to reach our students. We need to communicate the enthusiasm we feel for learning to our students. I have seen the effects of a positive attitude in the educational setting, and I have seen the effects of negativity. Both are infectious. A positive attitude is team building. It breaks through boundaries and builds partnerships. It inspires and motivates.

In the 21st century we as educators do not know what the next technological innovation or career opportunity might be. Content is no longer key- it is now the skills students possess that will matter in this new age. It is the ability to think, collaborate, communicate, and create that will prepare our students for the unknown future they face.