New Teaching Methods
One of the benefits of being a blogger is that my finger stays on the pulse of what’s happening. I am able to stay abreast of new technologies, I learn of new practices, and I hear of the ways in which teachers are creatively conquering the obstacles in their way. And with all these new teaching methods coming into fashion, the range of what is possible in the classroom has expanded, benefitting us all.
It is invigorating to think about what we can do, and the multitude of ways in which we can do it. Nothing seems impossible.
In the past few years I have experimented with the flipped class, student blogs, project-based learning, genius hour, and while I have not dove in head-first into the no-grades section of the pool, I have dipped my toes.
Yet each change I made marked the end of something, an old approach, an old teaching method. What was once a part of me was shed in favor of something new. Many of those choices I made made me a stronger teacher. The willingness to experiment energized my classroom at critical moments.
But not all that is old should be forgotten.
When we follow the fads we run the risk of shiny-object syndrome, rushing to get a hold of the newest and brightest thing, and failing to realize what already working. It worries me.
And I must admit, at times I feel like a dupe. I wonder if I have been manipulated by a corporate presence in education whispering in my ear about new technologies, better data points, and a la carte learning. This is a part of my teacher tension. While experimentation has led to new ideas, new approaches, and new success, I wonder, what have I lost in the process and at what cost?
Sometimes, all a student needs is for a teacher to look them in the eye and tell them that they are capable of something great. And that is something that no app can do with sincerity.
Here are five teaching methods that I hope I never abandon regardless of what happens along the technological landscape.
5 Tried and True Teaching Methods
1. Putting Fiction First
If you are an English teacher, do you feel guilt each time you crack open another class novel or begin a new poetry unit?
Its hard not to. As the Common Core has placed a greater emphasis on informational texts (non-fiction), and with the big state and national exams following along, at times it feels like that is that we should solely focus our efforts on.
Yet, fiction has a place, a prominence in the English classroom. The writer Krys Lee said, “The best fiction is different. It combats our hunger for facts and clarity and reveals most clearly how ambiguous are all our institutions, beliefs, our very selves. The solidity of us is thrown into relief and questioned. When an intelligent critic tries to articulate and give expression to the fictional world, that intelligent analysis will also feel somehow reductive. The best fiction raises questions, creates shadows, brings to relief the uneasiness in us.”
That is why I’m putting fiction first. I owe it to my students to give them more than facts, figures, and arguments. I owe it to them, at this critical stage of personal development, to wrestle with the ambiguities of Boo Radley, the questions of humanity raised by Frankenstein, and feel the horror of a night in Auschwitz.
2. Cold Calling
As Doug Lemov states in Teach Like a Champion 2.0:
When you cold call, you call on students regardless of whether they have raised their hands. It’s deceptively simple: you ask a question and then call the name of the student you want to answer it. If students see you frequently and reliably calling on classmates who don’t have their hand raised, they will come to expect it and prepare for it. Calling on whomever you choose regardless of whether the student’s hand is up also brings several other critical benefits to your classroom.
He lists four benefits to cold calling:
- It allows you to check for understanding effectively and systematically at any time whether the student is offering to tell you.
- It increases speed in both terms of your pacing and the rate at which you can cover material. No more waiting for students to offer up a response. Keep them on their toes and ready to answer at anytime.
- It allows you to distribute work more broadly around the room and signal to students not only that are likely to be called on to participate, and therefore that they should engage in the work of the classroom.
- It helps to distribute work around the room not only to those who always raise their hands, but as an authority to reach out to individual students whom need to be more engaged.
Discussions are great, but debate teaches a depth of knowledge that goes beyond rote memorization or formulaic thinking. When engrossed in debate preparation, students must investigate and understand a topic from a variety of perspectives. Debaters must be aware of their audience as they carefully gather information and marshal it for persuasive appeal.
The critical thinking during debates is dynamic, challenging, and nimble. Debaters learn within the crucible of competition, they only way to succeed is to cooperate with your debate partner. The level of critical analysis and deconstruction necessary to unpack ideas has far reaching consequences for student development across subjects and time.
Elana Aguilar suggests that poetry:
“builds resilience in kids and adults; it fosters social and emotional Learning. A well-crafted phrase or two in a poem can help us see an experience in an entirely new way. We can gain insight that had evaded us many times, that gives us new understanding and strength. William Butler Yeats said this about poetry: “It is blood, imagination, intellect running together…It bids us to touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrink from all that is of the brain only.” Our schools are places of too much “brain only;” we must find ways to surface other ways of being, other modes of learning. And we must find ways to talk about the difficult and unexplainable things in life — death and suffering and even profound joy and transformation.”
I still remember please excuse my dear aunt Sally (P.E.M.D.A.S) and King Phillip came over from Germany swimming (K.P.C.O.F.G.S). Through repetition and recitation, these nemonic devices have been imprinted on my memory. Why wouldn’t I want my students to take the heart of great poems with them beyond the four walls of my classroom.
e.e. cummings suggested that we can show our love by taking the things we love with us. We can carrying them in our hearts so that we are never without them and anywhere we go they will go, too.
His poem, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] is a good place to start.
5. Pen and Paper Writing
Even though my students have voted our blogging unit as their favorite each year, it does not mean that I am looking to my district or Donor’s Choose to transition to tablets or Chromebooks anytime soon. Rather, its the opposite. Blogging is the only time I have my students type their thoughts.
The New York Times reported in 2014:
The effect goes well beyond letter recognition. In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.
They do plenty of texting, Tweeting, and and typing on their phones, they probably don’t need me to add greater frequency. What they do need is someone to encourage them to slow down their thinking, chew on ideas, and scratch out things on paper and see how they look. After all, you can’t open a new tab and see the latest baseball scores when only a pen and paper stare back at you.
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