Saturday, May 25, 2013

Just a thought

Thanks to having to go through the BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) program, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my teaching practices.  I discovered this year that while I do a lot of self-reflection, my biggest question is always, and most likely will always be, how does my style define me as an educator?  How would I best describe my teaching style?  How do I see my teaching style best benefitting my students?

Well, at the end of the BTSA program (I'm done with BTSA forever!  Woo hoo!!) we have to give a presentation outlining some of the things we have learned in the course of the two year program.  One thing stuck out to me the most.

BTSA really encouraged me to not be afraid to change things up in my classroom as frequently and as necessarily as I see fit.  And believe me, I did.  By the time the two years were done I was using GLAD strategies, SIOP strategies, SDAIE strategies, language boards, math boards, spiraling techniques, Rick Morris strategies, Teach Like a Champion strategies, Montessori strategies, cooperative learning, independent work, common core assessments, etc.  Just to name a few.  Now, many of you reading this are probably thinking, "Well duh, Maestra.  If you are a good teacher in general, you will utilize as many strategies and pedagogies."  And yes, you are correct.  At the core of my being, I believe you need to use as many of these strategies as possible.  However, here is where my experience kicks in.

I noticed this year that if you stick to one of those strategies for a particular area of learning, you will lose your students' engagement.  If you switch up your strategies too often you become hard to follow and distracting.  Both produce results that are the exact opposite of what you ideally want in your classroom.

So what is the solution?  Simply put, you must become the student whisperer.  You may think I'm joking, but I am quite serious.  Learn to read your class, their collective interests as well as individual interests, what works for them and what does not.  Keep your teaching style organic.

Organic learning is what our students do.  Especially at the primary level, most kids do not learn linearly.  They learn based on their interests.  So pique them.  Ebb and flow with them as much as you can and weave your standards in to those lessons.

For example, we did this awesome unit on bumble bees.  I was not intending to do it at all - I was wanting to do the more classic butterfly life cycle (which we are now doing, have no fear).  However, after a bee hive came to visit us at school and I saw the excitement in my classroom, I developed a bee unit overnight (and every night until we finished).  I had been wanting to try making lapbooks with my kiddos and this was the perfect opportunity to do it.  They loved it, and it was the perfect segue into the butterfly life cycle.

Now, I'm not saying base your classroom entirely on your children's desires and interests.  If we did that, we would spend half the year talking about farts and Captain Underpants.  Very few students will tell you that they WANT to learn about addition and fractions.  But we have to do it.  So find their interests and weave it in organically.  Ebb and flow with them.  If their interests start to wean from maps, find a new interest to teach the same math concept, the same social studies concept, the same science concept, whatever you need.

Yes, this sounds a lot like thematic planning, and you would be right in many ways.  But you must keep it organic.

Some things MUST STAY THE SAME THE ENTIRE YEAR.  Classroom management cannot be changing all the time - you will lose your students quicker than you thought was humanly possible.  Keep that  the same throughout and you are free to experiment and play with different instructional strategies.

I cannot stress enough how important I have found it to keep my teaching style organic.  If I am getting bored, the students probably are too.  If the students are getting bored, I will get bored too.  If I use the same strategy for too long, I lose steam and so do the kids.  It comes down to intuition and knowing your students.  Figure that out and you've found the golden ticket.