Teaching and learning…seems like a simple concept, but do you really know what it means?
As I started my teaching career, I believed that if I had it in a lesson plan and stood in front of my class and delivered the content, students would learn. And not only that, but they would learn the material well enough to apply it to the state assessment (and we all know testing is a BIG deal in Texas). Boy, I was fooled by my own thinking. I spent a lot of time writing a lesson plan and standing in front of my students “teaching” to only learn that they could recall facts fairly well, but applying those facts to higher levels of work was not pretty. And I then felt defeated!
As an instructional leader, I have learned a lot…and always ensure that I share with my staff…if you teach what you are supposed to at the level of RIGOR that is required, everything will take care of itself. What? What is RIGOR? Yep…that is always the first question I get. So let’s talk about that.
Before we do so, I want to be clear, I DO NOT believe in “teaching to the test” EVER! I do believe that if you teach the skills you are required to teach in the way they are intended to be taught, and if your students can apply their learning to any new situation, students will not only pass a test, but will be able to have an extremely productive life. So, how does rigor fit in here? I am not sure when the buzzword RIGOR actually surfaced, but it is one of those words as educators we hear a lot. The Glossary for Education Reform (www.edglossary.org) defines rigor in education as “assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly. Learning environments are stimulating, engaging, and supportive. Work is not just more difficult, but work motivates students and encourages them to think deeply.” Match what you were thinking right now?
I work hard to attend weekly planning sessions with my teachers. I don’t attend so that I can cause stress or make teachers work harder, but I attend so that I can support my staff as they write lessons that not only cover our required skills, but to also ensure we keep our expectations high and that students have opportunities to think critically and creatively. A few weeks ago, I met with a team of math teachers discussing how they were going to teach angles. The team of 4 had a lot of great ways to introduce the skill and the needed vocabulary. They also had thought about the “teacher input” they would deliver so that students could learn. And then we discussed how they would know students had learned. We are about 7 weeks away from state assessments so they wanted to be sure that students applied their knowledge of angles to problem solving situations (similar to our assessment). This was great, but I know kids and I know they are getting tired of just routine worksheets. And I also know, if we don’t keep them motivated right now, they will shut down on us…so I said, “what if our students had to build a house or a building using a certain number of each kind of angle?” The ladies stopped and thought for a minute…and then it came. Something sparked in them and by the end of the session, I knew my students would be charged with making buildings that included angles and lines (as a review), and this project would be based on a problem we have in our community during our rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Harvey. Those students are going to LOVE this! And I know they are going to learn!
As you work to plan your instruction each day, think about how your students will need to apply the skills you are teaching them to REAL problems in the world. Think about ways students can interact at those high levels of thinking with their learning. Think about ways students can put their own creative spin on the learning taking place in your classroom so that they are engaged and encouraged to want to do a GREAT job! I promise, if you do this and make it purposeful, EVERYTHING else will take care of itself!
There are many GREAT resources out there to help you determine these activities throughout the school year. See a couple of my recommendations below! Sparkle on my friends!