I had my students write a reflection today on how they had learned over the course of the last unit. It had started with the activity where they were running around the back field, collecting characteristics of an empire and putting them into categories. After that, they had engaged in lots of different ways of learning and mastering the material. They drew pictures; they worked in groups; they wrote paragraphs; they made mind maps.
They took a quiz about half way through the unit to see what they had memorized and how well they knew it. At that point, even with warning that they needed to know the 7 major categories and the facts connected with each, about half of the students simply did not know the material. They were intimidated by having to memorize and seemed totally terrified by the memorization process. I was surprised and concerned by the degree of their nervousness and fear. While we live in a day and age of “information overload” and “information in my pocket,” there is still a place for learning and knowing information. I wanted to empower them to learn new material.
They were struggling with how to remember the categories, so I created a device, using the first letters of each category. All of a sudden, they could do it. What was interesting was that I had suggested a number of ways to memorize before I set them to the task, including doing just what I did, but it was only when I endorsed one, told them that this was a means to do it, that they bought into it and used it to learn the material.
Teachers are powerful people in every classroom, even when we are trying to empower the students.
What was interesting was that while the majority did it “my” way, there was a collection of girls who had already figured out a way to learn the material, and I assured them that they should definitely stick to what they had chosen. I wanted them to know that there was nothing about mine that was “right,” in comparison to theirs. Mine was simply out of the teacher’s head, but that one from them would definitely help them more.
On their second quiz, after another collection of activities, they all improved significantly, but what was interesting was the activity that they chose, when writing a reflection on their learning, as the one where they learned the most, was when I gave them a set of notes. I wrote them on the whiteboard and had them copy them by hand. I have found in the past that writing notes by hand somehow gets the information into their minds better than when they type them. I was still surprised that with all of the other experiences, from running around to drawing, most of them liked the teacher-directed, “Here is what is important.”
It makes me think that I need to intersperse the activities where I want them to explore and discover information with times when I simply present what is important. That way the students could be more secure in what they need to know, which might lead to more experimentation and testing on their part. I need to provide a solid foundation for their experimentation, so that they will feel safe enough to move beyond what is the norm and develop their new ways of thinking.
Good lesson! As always, I am grateful to students who guide me on my journey!