This post was inspired by @joeybagstock and his post silly question of the week. It is something that I have been pondering for a few years. I wonder how much learning time I have wasted asking ‘activating prior knowledge questions’. A lot of this seem to degenerate into the much heralded ‘student led discussion’, and if you walked into my classroom it was just another example of how students took ownership of their learning. I have now decided they need to take ownership of my learning. After all, I’m mandated to teach what’s in the curriculum, and I’m responsible if they go off track. This is how it works, let’s bounce!
I’m a huge fan of explicit teacher led instruction these days. I have started to differentiate much less. I know the goal is always to cater to the individual needs of all our students, but I would love to watch the teacher who has nailed that! I can’t possibly know the varied students needs (I could think I know and be wrong) and they certainly don’t know. Perhaps trying to differentiate so much is counter-productive. (Yes, yes, surely a ridiculous assumption on my part.) Certainly I think my endless attempts at differentiation may have let students down. Of course there are many strong advocates of the practice.
In my vocabulary lessons I used to waste time asking “Okay who knows what reluctant means”. After some garbled answers and student led banter we generally arrived with a muddied or non-existent definition. Now I start by explicitly teaching what the word means. At this point student input is forbidden! (Gasp). This is the ‘I Do’. During ‘We do’, I ask children to show me how to use it in a sentence. This is where any misconceptions are cleared up. We may go back to ‘I do” again if I think I haven’t explained myself well. Then its ‘You do’ where students independently demonstrate how to use the word. To hopefully really lock it in I use strategies from the excellent books Bringing Words To Life and Creating Robust Vocabulary . To be clear, lots of teacher talk directing the learning. (I talk a lot in class unless its around behavior management, then I say very little).
I do not differentiate our new vocabulary words; each student learns the same words regardless of reading/oral language ability. I could use ‘easier’ words for less sophisticated readers, but as one of the goals of vocabulary instruction is to develop more sophistication in reading I think that would solidify the learning gap. I think perpetuating the self- fulfilling prophecy fits into that argument quite neatly as well?
It’s a huge thrill to me as a teacher to hear a student with very basic oral language skills say, “I’m apprehensive about homework tonight. My dad is reluctant to let me do it myself but he makes it harder!”
In short there may be many holes in my approach to explicit teaching but there is a buzz in my classroom that I haven’t noticed before when I spent huge amounts of time differentiating the learning. I was constantly on the go making sure every student had their learning needs seemingly met, but in the process missing the big picture. Oddly with less differentiation I have more time to individually help students. This is only my perception of course. But at this point I am of the belief that students in the lower primary years at least should take ownership of the teacher’s learning. It is possible, and it can lead children on a path to a world of self-discovery.
If you’ve read this far, thank you and well done.