I read a quote today by John Carolus – sorry John, I don’t even know who you are but I like what you said. “We think too much about effective methods of teaching and not enough about effective methods of learning.” I met with a group of teachers today to brainstorm how to help a new student with limited English. We did exactly what John suggested and flipped from thinking about the best ways to teach her, and focused on how best she can learn. We decided on more opportunities to work with smaller groups of students even if they were in different grades.
When we changed seating arrangements in our class a few weeks ago, we asked each student to design their own name card. It included their name and also one or two goals to help them be successful members of our learning community. Our students included phrases such as “try to ignore off topic talk”, “listen when the teacher is talking” and “focus, focus, focus”. From time to time throughout the day, we encourage students to reread their goal and think about how they can be a successful learner. We are empowering our students to be responsible for their own learning.
At parent/teacher conferences tonight, I found myself speaking more frequently about what conditions are best for each student to learn. My students will be transitioning to middle school next year and families will be deciding in the next two months what middle school to attend. (I work in a district with extreme school choice.) We talked about smaller schools, ones with fewer distractions and lower class size. We talked about keeping students with their strong social groups as support for those adolescent years. We talked about homework habits that fit each student.
We attend professional development classes and we read professional texts and we engage in professional conversations all to often about how to be better teachers. What if each of those began with the same question – What is the most effective method for this student to learn? Designing a classroom environment that meets the need of every student is not a reality. We are too diverse to be able to fit every child into the same square hole. But what we can do is help our students to find their own best ways to learn and allow them what space and opportunity we can to practice that.
I can’t give each student the one on one they deserve. But maybe I can help them to know themselves as learners so they can advocate for themselves, set them up to be lifelong learners.