Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If They Didn't Learn It, You Didn't Teach It

There is an incredible satisfaction that comes from executing a good lesson. I taught them to use textual evidence and walked away feeling as though there was no possible way that they could have not gotten it. I expected a sea of perfect papers to flow over my desk. We did examples, we did corrections, we practiced. The reality that they only slightly grasped the concept, and that their execution of the skill was flawed, was difficult for me to wrap my mind around.

This is a pattern. I created and Oregon Trail game to teach Westward Expansion, and felt sure that I had hit the nail on the head in teaching it. In groups we formed wagon trains and took a fictional journey across the country, making stops, writing journal entries, overcoming obstacles. On the test, when asked where the Oregon Trail ended, most of them seemed for some reason that the trail had led them to Louisiana.

It’s frustrating, and my instinct is to blame them – they don’t listen, they don’t study, they don’t’ know how to learn, they have no interest in learning. When I learn, though, is when I turn it on myself, and on where I am lacking. It’s said in progressive teaching circles that ‘If they didn’t learn it, you didn’t teach it.” That seems rather intuitive, but accepting its truth is daunting. I DID teach it! I know I did! And I was creative and engaging and everyone participated and worked so hard on it – how can it be the case that I didn’t teach it! And yet, they didn’t learn it. And so I have to try again, in some new way that I didn’t consider before. They didn’t learn it, so no matter what bells and whistles I had going off, what I did, was not teaching. And as fun and easy and gratifying it is to blame the 30 reluctant learners in my class, it’s not particularly helpful in raising their scores on their state exams. So I have to look in the mirror, and, reluctantly, learn something.

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