Students "Get Real" with Their Teachers
Our most recent staff meeting was an eye-opening event. Teachers were released from sitting through our ritualistic staff meeting agenda of birthday announcements, reminders of policies regarding parking, copy machine usage, and submitting attendance, and the marginally successful presentation on PLCs or teaching strategies.
At THIS meeting, our AVID students ran the show. They requested to be heard; they wanted to "get real" with teachers to know what they felt was working in the classrooms and what wasn't. Most teachers walked onto campus that day expecting to hear that we gave too much homework, that we cover too much content, and ask too much from students. Isn't that what most students report about their teachers?
Shepherded into various classrooms and grouped by departments, we engaged in a Fish Bowl activity whereupon the students were the "fish" and we were the observers sitting outside of their table area. Later, we became the "fish" and were able to respond and reflect on their comments.
I was proud to see three former students of mine who were in an English Intervention class in their 9th grade year, now in a Senior AVID Seminar class, headed for a 4-year University (insert gushing pride here). As the students began addressing issues like delivery of instruction, addressing differences in learning styles, rigor, and classroom management, our entire department was taken aback by how serious the students were- they were here to make an REAL impression.
What was becoming glaringly evident was that students have a distinctly different point of view of what constitutes effective teaching and learning. Many of the researched-based, marketed, touted strategies we pride ourselves in employing in our snazzy classrooms really didn't impress or click with these kids. Instead they rattled off a wish list to teachers:
- Know your students: Understand their learning styles, strengths and weaknesses. Don't assume the whole class group learns the same way.
- Make students take notes often and force them regularly review them. How can teachers do that? Surprisingly, each student in our Fish Bowl valued pop quizzes as the most effective way to "guarantee" students will pay attention in class, take notes and study them.
- Start each class period by reviewing the previous class session's learnings and sum up learning at the end of each class period.
- Chunk lectures into sections for optimal retrieval of information. This was the most requested item for students. In order to take the best notes and confer with other students, students want teachers to employ lecture strategies like the 10/2 or "chuck and chew" .
- Increase rigor as the semester progresses. Students were keenly aware of which teachers were "systematic" and rarely change level and complexity of assignments, etc. These were the teachers they chose if they wanted an "easy A" to boost their GPA's but admitted they learned very little from them. The teachers they really valued and appreciated were those who stretched and challenged students to do "more than they did on the last big assignment", even if the final grade they received in the class was a "C".
The confidence they displayed in front of the ENTIRE English department was impressive. It made me a bit sad to think that they didn't feel comfortable expressing these feelings to their teachers on a regular basis. I took from this experience a renewed commitment to honor students' requests and to take time every so often to use a portion of class time to allow them to "get real" with me.