Fear seeks safety. Love seeks Truth. Please read and enjoy. Productive, truthful feedback welcome.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Accidental Student

You don’t have to be a teacher to be a teacher. Not a Yogi Berra quote, but it could have been.  While practicing the teacher’s 3 Rs of summer—recoup, recharge, and reflect—I’ve found myself in the third R sooner than expected.  This summer I am engaged in 3 recoup and recharge activities. I have re-taken-up fly fishing and golf, and I have discovered yoga. What I didn’t anticipate is these activities would force me to reflect on teaching from the student’s viewpoint. In my last blog it was from an observer’s standpoint. Now, I’ve unwittingly become a student. And you know what? Students have a tough job. Teachers can make that job easier . . . or not. Right now, I am benefiting from a great lesson in teaching from the folks at Moksha Yoga in Minneapolis. As I am trying postures no overweight (slightly), out of shape (moderately), adult (questionably), body (reportedly) has any business attempting this crew of instructors has been consistent in their approach.
·        They know the desired outcome. They call it full expression.
·        They recognize where each student is in her own abilities or practice.
·        They next determine what incremental steps and modifications will move each student along in his practice to full expression.
·        Finally, they patiently, yet persistently, set the bar just a bit higher, all the while allowing each of us to improve at our own pace. And they do it all with humility and loving kindness.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? You don't have to be a teacher to be a teacher. And you don't have to be a student to be a student. For each one of us, maybe we can recall an old “teacher” to thank.  For me, I have found new ones to emulate.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"You can see a lot just by observing.” (Yogi Berra)

Yogi Berra had some great quotes. Among them . . .

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

“We made too many wrong mistakes.”

“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true.”

And “You can see a lot just by observing” which applies to today’s thought.

Have you ever gone to a recital of any type: piano, dance, ice skating? As a teacher I get invited to many such outside of school activities. And besides enjoying the extra-curricular abilities of my students, I can see a lot just by observing. These recitals differ from track meets, football or softball games, and other team sporting events. With team sports you see a current (hopefully refined) product, but none of the practice. With recitals, you also see the current product, but you see it in its various stages. 

Recitals parade out their performers, usually by age, which typically translates directly into ability. As an observer you can see the stages of learning unfold in front of you with each successive age group. The younger kids can’t quite dance, spin, pirouette, or play as well as the older ones. But nobody seems to mind. At a recent dance recital the 3 and 4 year olds were a riot. Five of the six were similar enough to each other in their moves that the intended dance was clear. However, little number six was beautifully performing quite possibly the only number she had learned, and one that did not remotely resemble the others’ movements on the floor. A collective smile spread across the audience in appreciation of her blissful unawareness to the other five and her dedication to her routine.

This disparity in readiness played out to lesser and lesser degrees as the ages --and the practice-- of the dancers increased, resulting in more coordination of effort. This all culminated in a wonderfully choreographed and exceptionally performed piece by the highest level of dancers. Everybody – teachers, parents, other performers, and audience members alike – enjoyed the students and their abilities wherever those might have been that night.

As an observer that night who also teaches in the classroom, this recital reminded me that learning must take place on a continuum.  Further, it challenged me to incorporate staged learning into my classroom. I believe a format would be helpful, as well as feedback from those who have used this type of learning in your own classrooms.  I have been playing around with a 6 step learning sequence I picked up from Dr. Paul McKenna, and I share those steps ostensibly through the eyes of a dance instructor (in italics and parenthesis).

1.     a pre-test, (Where are they when they show up at my door?)
2.     independent learning activities, (Guide them to proper building activities.)
3.     practice activities, (Let’s see what you can do now.)
4.     problem solving activities, (Okay, let’s add something more.)
5.     a post-test, (Dress rehearsal.)
6.     application of the objective to the real world or an integration into other subject areas. (Dance recital.)

What have you used? What has worked? What hasn’t? 

As I move forward I know I will make mistakes, I just hope I don’t make too many wrong ones.