Friday, August 5, 2016

TLAP: The Often Missing Piece

I am reading and reflecting on the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

The Third Circle

This chapter of Teach Like a Pirate begins Part II. Dave Burgess calls this section of the book the "toolbox" for a pirate teacher.

Effective teaching, he writes, happens in the overlapping circles of content, instructional strategies, and presentation. Most (if not all) teachers are experts in their content. Most have been effectively trained in using a variety of strategies. But often the missing piece is the third circle, presentation. Training programs and professional development seminars tend to overlook presentation methods and ways to engage students.

The book then uses what I think is a most effective metaphor. Focusing on content, giving it to students without purposefully thinking about how we present it, is the same as serving a raw steak to a dinner guest. Sure, you could choke down the raw steak but it will not be very enjoyable. We teachers often expect students just to choke down the content. We need to season and marinade the content. We need to apply some heat to it with energy and enthusiasm. We need to pay attention to the entire experience, not just force feeding facts or information.

Burgess stresses that we should create learning experiences that lead students to see education as exciting, amazing, changing. He writes: "[N]o content standard in any class at any level is more important than the nurturing and building a love of learning." Presentation, relationship, how we do things is as important (and maybe more) than what we're teaching.

I chose how the paper is oriented.

Then he hit me with a memorable thought. It sums up what I've been thinking for these past months. What he said that has been resonating with me since is in these three quotes:
  • "Everything you do or don't do [in teaching a lesson] is a choice."
  • "Some choices are major and others are minor, but even the minor decisions, when added up, create impact."
  • If you gave no thought to the matter, what's really going on is that you have abdicated responsibility for that decision."
Wow. If I can nothing else from this book, I want to hold on to this: What happens in the teaching experience is my choice. No music playing? I chose that (either purposely or by default). Dead space between transitions? My choice. Sitting too long? My choice. Too bright in the room? My choice. Either I didn't even consider it (which means I chose to go with whatever was there) or I chose it. Burgess says that we dampen the potential impact of a lesson by not consciously controlling all presentation factors. And all these factors (chosen or abdicated) woven together create the learning experience for the kids in my classroom.

Last year I read the book Teaching with Intention and tried to think about how to do things in an intentional way. This year I'm using PURPOSE as my word for the year, trying to make choices based on my personal purpose and mission. And now I think I see the summary of these ideas: Everything is a choice. 

I'm going to look at my classroom with more intention and purpose than ever. I'm choosing that lighting or background noise. I'm choosing that table arrangement or use of wall space. I'm choosing. So let's think about what are the best choices for the long lasting outcome.

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