A Gimmick or An Education?

I’ve been in the education business most of my life – first as a student and later as a teacher. I’ve seen educational ideas come and go, but none ever caught my attention like the Socratic Method did.

I frequently talk to my students. I listen as well as talk. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by listening, truly listening, without thinking about something else at the same time.

It’s a way to informally assess students. Rather than put them through one more grueling test, why not just have a conversation? I’ve been told by some that I don’t teach like others do. No, I don’t. It has sometimes gotten me into trouble; it has sometimes gotten me respect and praise.

It works. I can find out as much about a child’s command of the English language by listening to him talk , as I can by giving him a standardized test. I can see writing errors by having a child write and not immediately demanding that he “fix his mistakes”, as I can by pointing out his errors. In fact, I learn more when I’m not critical. You can teach without being critical. Handing back papers and then putting correct sentences from each one on a board can be used to teach. Now is the time to ask why a capital letter was used here (when it was used correctly). Ask the student. We learn from our peers. Sometimes we even learn better when a peer says it.

Ask another child about his use of a period or a question mark, or some other punctuation that someone else missed, but that you want to point out gently. It’s not YOU DID IT WRONG, NOW FIX IT, but, go back and look at your paper and if you see a sentence without a punctuation mark at the end. If you do, please put that in now. Everyone should be checking his/her own paper at this time.

To me, this is teaching. The new, improved ways to increase student success is just something that worked somewhere that you should try because it worked before. How about if what you’re doing already works? THAT’S what I had a problem with in Professional Development. I usually picked up a tip or two, but changing my whole style just didn’t work for me.

That’s one reason a school has for getting rid of older, more experienced teachers. Those older teachers may have already seen that “new: method used before and know it didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Why not do what is working?

My most recent school has adopted the “Daily Five” this year. I found a website for it here. You can hover over tabs at the top to see some of the things it includes.  https://www.thedailycafe.com/daily-5 It’s very structured and I wonder where the teacher/student interaction time – when the teacher actually gets to know the student by taking the time to listen to him/her -comes in? Maybe it’s in there and I didn’t see it. All I know is once someone has gone through four or more (I have a Masters degree, so I went through six) years of college, they should pretty much know how to teach. Are all these new, improved methods really necessary? Would it be better to have older teachers share what works in their classrooms and let the younger teachers share their successful methods as well? Does everyone have to change how they teach completely? They do, if their school adopts a new method, and all are required to use it.

I wonder if it’s a gimmick or an education? Ultimately we are trying to teach students to think for themselves. It’s like the old “teach a man to fish/give a man a fish” story. You can teach a child how to learn or teach a child a certain skill – which method helps more in the future? There is room for both, but if you bog down in strict methods that must be adhered to, you may miss something that would have worked.

My students, for the most part, loved me. I would often give them manipulatives and they would “work” with those independently. One of my favorite were the magnetic letters and either a stove burner cover or a pizza pan to use to make words or move letters around to see how words work. Other teachers said I “played too much”. Children can learn through play, and working with words and letters is a learning experience. You don’t always have to be serious and stick to the plan in the classroom. I would monitor and change what we were doing if it wasn’t working. Can you do that with a strict method that insists you follow that plan every single day?

I love to learn. I know how to learn. I just wonder how many new methods and/or gimmicks really teach a child how to learn for himself?


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