Saturday, March 14, 2015

Teaching "By Ear"

Want to see what we did for this painting? Go here and here.

This piece of art hangs in my office. I love it. I recently saw a Jackson Pollack painting in a museum; I think this one rivals that painting. It was done by 6-year-olds.

This painting represents one of my all-time favorite activities I did with kids. I love this more than anything else we've ever done.

And I've done it with a sum total of one class of kids. I've never repeated it.

I've been thinking a lot about philosophy and the way I teach. I think the best phrase that sums up what I do is this: I teach by ear...or by feel.

When you play music by ear, you don't use print music; you just play by how the notes sound. The sound tells you if you are doing it "right" or not.

I think my teaching is a lot like that. I choose activities and say things by what sounds or feels right for the class. In my second grade class last year, we did some learning on the move. I've worked with classes that could not handle that particular activity and I wouldn't have tried it with them. Or at least would have done it in a different way.

Some things I do all the time. I always use glue guns with every group of kids (since the first time I've done it). We always use the steering wheel or the large magnet board. Other activities I don't repeat as much.

I've not repeated the painting activity because it hasn't "felt" right. Other groups of kids I've had since didn't seem a right "fit" for that particular activity. I can't say why. Maybe it was me and not them. Maybe that activity wasn't a right fit for me at that time in my teaching life.

(To tell the truth, I've not even thought about the fact that I haven't repeated this activity until I began pondering the other day and this post began to form in my mind.)

When I teach, I think about what I want kids to learn. I think of concepts or standards or facts or whatever meets the particular teaching moment I'm involved in. I think about development and interests and skills and temperament.

But mostly I think about what seems right - what sounds or feels right for this group of kids at this moment.

I don't know what that means. Maybe it means I'm not a "real" teacher or a less professional one. Maybe it means I'm less effective or more effective. It doesn't make any difference in the long run.

I do know that if things feel right, if I'm teaching to meet the group of kids I have, everyone seems happier and more engaged. And I'll take that.

(P.S. - I think we may be trying this large painting on canvas with this current group of kids. It feels right.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Lost at School

© Brick by Brick
I read a lot of things. Since I'm finishing my university classes this semester, I read a lot about teaching for school and not much on my own time.

But I'm trying to read through all my "to be read" lists (and I have several...long ones). The book Lost at School by Ross W. Greene has been on my "education" list for a while. I checked it out from our great public library and have just finished it.

It was a really great book - one that kept me thinking and pondering.

This book focuses on kids with challenging behavior. You know those kids - the ones that always seem to be "in trouble." (This book focuses on elementary and older students.) The ones that don's seem to respond to discipline plans or incentives or consequences or anything. Throughout this book I kept thinking "I wish I knew this last year."

The core of this book: Behind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem, a lagging skill, or both.

Students with challenging behavior are lacking thinking skills or problem-solving skills to deal with concerns so they use whatever tools they have to deal with the issues...and that leads to challenging behavior. This book presents a plan to help teachers and students work together to collaboratively solve problems in ways that are mutually satisfying.

This book reaffirmed my own thinking - behavior is telling us something. Usually unmet needs are at the core of challenging behavior. And working with kids (instead of forcing things on them) will help solve the problem and diminish the behavior.

Meeting needs - helping kids develop skills - helping kids discover other tools and other ways to act - great goals that every teacher can support. That's been my goal all along. This book just helped me rethink how I was doing it and what I could do differently.

As I work with kids from now on, I will look for ways to talk with them and discover their concerns. Not just impose my concerns or my solutions. Working WITH kids, not ON them.