Monday, August 31, 2015

Establishing Patterns - Week Three

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle


Teaching is a grind. Every day has a cadence to it that includes an eclectic mix of action: greet students, take attendance, go over drill, begin the lesson, close the lesson, dismiss students. Then, lather, rinse and repeat either two times or six for the remainder of the day. After students leave, the second shift begins. After grading more papers and running off more copies, we prepare for Tuesday through Friday. Only those who love the process and children will ever commit to teaching and leading teachers for a lifetime. Teaching is what love looks like in practice.

One of the hallmarks of anything that we love, is that we evaluate what we do. A colleague of mine once said that she asks herself "did I do anything to benefit children today?" That's a good starting question. A good place to start with that question may be the daily lesson plan.

Each and every instructional period, we ask students to go through a battery of skills and practices. What may be instructive is to look at what students are physically doing on a daily basis and asking whether, if those tasks were practiced for the next 180 days, it would result in mastery for each student. If my lesson consists of students listening (mostly to the teacher), copying (mostly what the teacher models) and watching (the teacher or the 'called upon' extroverted students), then at the end of a typical school year, I can expect them to ace a test on listening, copying and watching. Just not an SAT, PSAT, PARCC exam or anything else that requires real skill application.

Therefore, it seems most beneficial for us to ask students to engage in critical thinking exercises that promote the acquisition of skills that will be needed to pass tests, as well as enhance their quality of life. As an English teacher, my focus should certainly be on standards-based instruction that assesses skills. I also should include, however, opportunities for students to continue to become skilled and strategic readers. There should be moments in each class where there is sustained composition. Whatever the content area, students seem to benefit most when teachers ask them to establish patterns of excellence that are embedded in each lesson and practiced every day.

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