We stand at a unique time in education, depending on your viewpoint. We are at a turning point of heading up or heading down. After a point in the pandemic, the educational views of many took a turn going from traditional pedagogy to pointing toward more modern pedagogy, and now as things in life are starting to head back to a new normal, we are going back to those traditional ways, but it doesn’t have to be like that. We can start to dethrone those long-time myths all teachers hear, why go back to the ways you knew, let’s try something new.
So let’s debunk one of those myths right now: to teach, you need to be in the spotlight, center stage. How many times have we seen a teacher in a TV show, movie, ad posting, or social media meme standing in the front of the classroom teaching? How many times have we found ourselves falling into the same routine, sometimes without even thinking of it. I know I’ve been out of the classroom for quite some time, but having the blessing of being able to see other teachers in their natural habitat. The best teaching times, don’t always come when the teacher is standing in the front of the room or the one commanding attention. I know my favorite times teaching students come from when my classroom was noisiest and the students were the most engaged. How were they engaged? They were given a piece of their learning to be in charge of. When held responsible for the outcome, it increases their attention and focus and motivates students to engage in higher-level critical thinking. (https://teaching.washington.edu/topics/engaging-students-in-learning/)
So how do we give students that bit of freedom without it turning into complete chaos? Well I can tell you, you can’t just say “go.” It takes building up the skills within the students before allowing to set them free to do their work. You want to be, for lack of a better term “the guide on the side.” The skills we start with are those surrounding leadership, through time management, working collaboratively, problem solving, and more. You set students up to be able to work more independently and motivate themselves to continue to learn about what interests them.
So here are a few suggestions for activities to get you started.
- Oops Masterpiece – One of my favorite activities I just discovered. This stems around the art of learning how to fail with grace and not being afraid to stand up and try again. Get your favorite music creation app, or some lined paper and a pencil. Give your students an initial 5 minutes to create a short piece, this could be a pattern of loops to create an accompainment, a melodic pattern, or a rhythmic pattern. Set the amount of measures you want the students to initially create, and have them only use notes and rests they have learned so far. The trick is, once they put down a note or rest, they can’t erase it or delete it. That’s right, you heard me. Students can’t fix their work the first go around. This encourages students to just get started and go. Once the first 5 minutes is up, have students switch with a partner and do it again, this time the partner gets to add another part to the first, but they can’t listen or read the first and also can’t erase or delete any notes and rests they put down. That’s right, we’re creating chaos here! You can have students switch pieces as much as you would like until they are done. After, have them get their original work back. Then the original composers can listen or play the whole piece to hear how it all sounds together. Doesn’t sound too good on the first go around? Oh well. That’s the beauty of it. You have a good laugh, then they get into small groups or partners to talk about how they would edit their work. Put 10 minutes on the clock, and let them edit and play or sing one more time to hear how the edits sound. We are getting over the fear of messing up before even starting. That is huge for a leader and a big hurddle for most to get over!
- Projects – Projects work on a lot of skills, time management, goal setting, collaboration, listening, the list goes on. Some of my favorite projects stem from a simple guidance such as “Make me a rhythm” to ones that are immersive and collaborative across the whole school. I find starting small, using 10 minutes of class and giving directions and expectations before letting students start is a great stepping stone and does not take up a lot of your classtime with everyone. Projects do not have to be big, they just have to be organized with a great end result.
- One Word Goal – Another new favorite activity, if you are reading this right now I want you do something for me. Think of a goal that you want to accomplish between now and the end of the year. Now think of one word to describe that goal, just one word. Now write down that word and put it away where you can find it at the end of the year. Go back and read that word later whenever you need to to help remind yourself of that goal. Imagine doing that with students at the beginning of the year, or maybe when they need some direction or guidance. How much impact can one word have on their life to remind themselves of where they want to go?
Let’s debunk some more myths, what other taboo things have you heard about teaching and education?