As I wrote last weekend, I got really excited about providing my students with more freedom to explore and develop their background knowledge. I rewrote a series of lessons that had initially involved reading the textbook and finding the significant information. It was a list of vocabulary words as well as some questions to answer. Very straightforward with little room for variation or independent discovery.
When I reworked them, I made it a challenge to discover what life on the Arabian Peninsula had been like before Muhammad, 570 C.E. I only gave them a list of critical vocabulary – Need to Know words – and told them that they could use whatever sources they wanted – textbook, internet or a collection of books and magazines that I had. I encouraged them to add to the list, including new words that they found that connected with the original ones. I gave them the period, 45 minutes, to research and said that they could research in small groups or on their own – following the model that I had read about.
In Role Reversal by Mark Barnes, this is when the students become actively engaged in their own learning, curious to investigate and build their understanding. Only I clearly had left out some critical steps!
My students spread out around the room, forming their groups and beginning to look for just the words on the list. They weren’t interested in adding new words to the list or in making connections. They simply wanted to do just what was there and no more.
“Is this right?”
“Am I done?”
My initial reaction was to feel angry with them. Why weren’t they interested in learning more and delving more deeply? Why didn’t they understand what a great opportunity I had given them to follow their own curiosity and create a rich investigation? I had taken all this time to rethink the lesson, and they weren’t doing their part and loving it, thereby honoring my work!
Luckily, I have been down this road before and been in the classroom enough to know that they are my students; their learning and engagement is my responsibility. If the lesson hasn’t provided the hook that makes them become active participants, then that is on me. Not on them!
For the second class, I realized that I needed to prepare them more for the work that I wanted them to do. It didn’t take much, but without it, the lesson was just that – a flat and boring set of tasks that didn’t catch their imagination. I should have known better, but I got caught up with the idea of self-generated learning and didn’t create enough of an environment for that learning before I set them to the task. I rewrote the lesson and added a kick-off activity where I showed them images of the Arabian Peninsula, the desert and an oasis. I had them make their best guesses on what life was like. We generated a list of questions about which they were curious. Then I let them loose to investigate.
And it worked! They took off and ran with it, becoming the engaged and independent learners that I wanted them to be. Not every class will evolve the way that I imagined, but they will improve if I pay attention and am willing to adapt and grow! Another lesson learned and relearned!