How can I be a better teacher during the 2011-2012 school year? What can I provide my students so they get the most out of my classroom? How can lesson design, feedback, and evaluations encourage each student to practice and improve their reading, writing, speaking, listening and thinking skills in a way that makes sense and truly forces students to work hard? These questions are guiding me as I look back on the 2010-2011 year in order to plan for the upcoming school year.
First, my students need to read more. I don't care if they read novels, magazines, online newspapers, their sister's diary, or car manuals. Each bit of information they read offers them another idea, insight, fact, and way to assess credibility all while building vocabulary, offering, of course, more words with which students think, thus expanding their world. Reading is one habit students will never regret forming. Even though they may not directly attribute accomplishments to their reading skills, I know that once this foundation is laid it provides a firm structure for future success.
Second, my students need to be smart researchers. They need to know where and how to find the answers they are seeking; then they need to know how to prove those answers are credible. Weighing what is researched against their belief systems by probing why resources contradict each other is another skill that should become habit. Students need to develop their own system of efficiently researching, storing, and organizing information so it fits their lifestyles. My job is to allow that practice through lessons and assignments.
Third, my students need to write more. Writing helps students sort out their deepest held beliefs, solidify knowledge into long-term memory, communicate with others, and create something out of nothing. Trusting their inner gauge telling them their writing is not finished or is veering in many directions or is not really saying what it is supposed to say and then editing accordingly is another student habit that can be formed if I guide students by asking questions like, "Can you see how this idea contradicts that one? Which one do you want to say?" or "What is a one sentence summary of your paper? Is the entire paper about that subject? If not, what needs to be omitted? What needs to be developed?" If I simply insert a correction, I am teaching students to distrust themselves and trust only the teacher. Students can't learn to be independent writers (and writing is thinking on paper) if they aren't allowed to do their own hard work( aka do their own thinking).
Fourth, my students need to discuss more, which reinforces the habit of having confidence in their own thinking. Those listening can disagree or agree, can question the speaker, can probe more deeply into their own opinions, and may learn something new. What is more powerful than students knowing they can share their opinion in class? Fast forward to their future--they will know how to communicate with their spouses, children, bosses, and neighbors, take the risk of starting their own business, follow their interests, share their opinions on school board or city council. Those who share their voices share their talents; those who share their talents lead fulfilling lives.
If I can intertwine the feedback and evaluations students need to develop the habits of success through lesson designs in each and every class period, and I see student growth in the above four areas, I just may be satisfied with how the 2011-2012 school year runs. A year from now I will be doing this same reflective planning exercise, so my goal is to be proud of how all classes are run--this underlying challenge will fuel me all year long.