I began writing this blog almost a year ago. At the time, I seriously wondered whether anyone would ever read it since I had no easy way to get the word out. I decided to write the blog, though, because I thought doing so would force me to think more deeply about my own teaching. In that way, it has been a huge success. I am a better teacher today, I firmly believe, than I was at this time last year because I have taken time to reflect on almost every aspect of my work.
However, I was still faced with the question: does anyone “out there” actually read these thoughts? So, yesterday, I finally broke down and looked at the statistics. Since I wrote the first blog entry last January, there have been 27,398 page views. Wow, that is roughly 27,000 more than I expected. It turns out to be 75 page views seven days per week for a solid year. That is a lot of teachers and a lot of education.
I just wanted to say THANKS!! This could not possibly have happened without a lot of great people helping to spread the word. I cannot fully express my appreciation to everyone who has taken the time to tell someone else about this blog.
I have long been convinced that virtually all teachers want to be better teachers. Often, unfortunately, it is hard to get practical advice. I sincerely hope that this blog has helped some folks become a tiny bit better in the classroom. If so, then my time has been well spent. If we all work to make tiny improvements in our teaching, the whole world will improve in an amazingly short period of time.
At the end of a semester, a few of my students will often write to talk about the goods and the bads of the semester. A student wrote me 3-4 days ago and made a comment that I found interesting. “I want to let you know that one of the greatest parts of the class is that you allowed us to fail initially, but then helped us to see our error(s) and eventually we learned to succeed on our own.”
Probably the essential question in teaching (at least to me) is “how do you get away from simply conveying information and requiring memorization so you can move to the more difficult task of creating understanding and critical thinking?” Can you think of a more important question for education as we enter 2011? It is not 1954—we cannot afford an education process that continues to resemble 1954.
I find that my students are hungry for the right answer so they can copy it down – ready for later memorization. They can get very frustrated at me when (during our conversations) I respond to them “Nope, that answer is wrong; try again and give me a better answer.” In fact, I like asking questions where I’m not sure what the right answer really is. I want them to convince me that they have figured out the right answer and can stand behind it.
Virtually every History student knows that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Why wasn’t it issued on the first day he took office? Why wasn’t it issued on the first day of the Civil War? Why wasn’t it issued on the day that Lee surrendered? To me, those are fascinating questions. Give me a good answer that makes sense. Don’t just tell me what is on the top of your head so I won’t fuss at you. That is not thinking—that is just guessing.
If you have read this blog for long, you know that I don’t believe in trying to surprise my students. I am not sure that anything is served by that. So, 48 hours in advance, I might have given my students the following “conversation starter:” “I believe that the Emancipation Proclamation was one of the key factors in US history. Why did President Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863?”
After about a week in class, my students would come to understand that I wasn’t going to ask them that question – they would have already made a list of five bullet points to read to me as an answer. We would just be back to conveying information, this time from student to teacher rather than the other way around. Booorrrring.
I’d prefer to start off the conversation with a related question like “when do you think it first occurred to Abraham Lincoln that he should issue the Emancipation Proclamation? Do you think he woke up one morning in 1855 and said ‘you know, if I ever become president, I think I will free the slaves?’ Where do you think this idea came from?”
I don’t have a good answer for this question but I do think the conversation can help the students (and teacher) understand the man, the times, and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Education can be so much fun if you get away from the obsession of “knowing” a right answer. Let the students stumble around for awhile and you’ll be delighted to discover that, with a little guidance, they can develop enough understanding to think their way to their own reasonable answer.
And, after graduation, isn't that what they are going to have to do in the real world?