Friday 4 July 2014

Change is Hard

In my last post I eluded to the fact that getting away from a lot of "direct instruction" (there are so many connotations of that terms) is hard. I teach in a department where everyone is expected to teach the same thing, in the same way, on the same day. This stemmed out of necessity. The school population used to be much smaller so when there were 2 sections of a course being offered, the teachers would work together, taking turns making up lessons. They would both teach the same thing on the same day as they had both contributed to creating those lessons. We still do this and also take turns creating tests and test on the same day. But times have changed. Our school population is over 1100 and there are generally 2-4 sections of each math course each semester. However, getting away from the SMARTboard lessons we all share is not an easy task. The thing is that you can't formally teach a lesson at the board (show concept, work through examples, repeat) AND do activity-based learning. Both require time and I can't do justice to an activity if I also have to "teach" the lesson. In MFM2P it was rare for me to do any direct instruction, and when I did, I disliked it. You may be able to cover more, but many of the students are not taking that journey with you. How many times have you found yourself saying "but I taught this!" when students don't know how to do something? Just because we teach it does not mean they learn it. Why it has taken me so long to figure this out is beyond me. Anyway, I want to change the way I teach in my academic classes, but I don't want to rock the boat too much. I value the collaboration I have had with some of the teachers at my school and don't want to upset anyone. What works for them is great and I don't wan to change anyone else (except if they are teaching kids in the MFM2P stream!), but I know that I could connect with more students and do a better job of engaging them all. And I'm okay with doing more work...

So my thought is to stay on track with testing at the same time as the other classes (which rules out spiraling), but do activities for the majority of the days leading up to the test. There will be some skills that I will have to teach, but I'm going to work on making that the exception, not the rule. I will also blog about what I'm doing so if anyone wants to try what I'm doing, it'll all be there. Change is hard, but change can be very, very good!


  1. If what you want to do with the Grade 9 class is ultimately good for kids, then why is it necessary to "stay on track with testing at the same time as the other classes"? Sure, admin wants everyone to do the same thing at the same time but shouldn't they be putting pressure on the other teachers to change instead of you to conform?

  2. It's complicated, but I think it's okay to take smaller steps to get to where I think I want to be. I hope to show others that a different path may be better - I would prefer to work together than in opposition. I do appreciate your comment.

  3. mary, i have exactly the same issue and i really don't know how to overcome it. i teach in a school that follows both the international baccalaureate curriculum and the dutch national curriculum. for my IB classes, i'm the only one teaching what i teach and the IB strongly encourages non direct-instruction, non-rote learning, etc. so i end up thinking about, designing activities for, and blogging about my IB classes almost exclusively. and i'm super excited as to how that's developing. everything i read in MTBoS i try to put intro practice in those classes and it is just great.

    but in my dutch classes, i share the grade level with two other teachers. someone makes a "study planner," which outlines for all the kids in the grade level exactly which problems they'll be doing from the textbook when (and we're really supposed to follow this planner). we all give the same tests on the same day as well. a few years ago, there was some unhappiness in the department because i had also given my students projects and assignments that i graded, but the other teacher of the year level hadn't. they said it was unfair. i'm really opposed to the idea that the only way a student can show their proficiency is through a test, but that's the only grades many of my dutch colleagues give.

    what that has led to is me being really complacent in my dutch classes. i just work straight out of the book. it's boring. the kids are super bright and eager (the classes are heavily tracked), but are like little automatons. i do give an "unfamiliar" problem on every test and try to do some small investigations in class, but nothing like what i could/should be doing.

    i feel constant guilt about this situation, but i'm not sure how to rectify it. i also question whether i'm taking the easy way out, acting like my hands are tied in this situation so that i don't have to do the really hard work of developing great projects and ideas for 5 different classes.

    thanks for this post; it really resonated with me. i'm curious to see how this develops for you next year!

    1. It is very interesting to read about how similar our situations are even though we are so far apart geographically! Thanks for sharing your story.

      I have begun sorting out what activities I will use in my grade 10 academic class beginning in September. I am counting how many days I have for each unit and working in as many activities as I can ensuring that I hit all the curriculum expectations along the way. I think I will do a little spiraling as well - we shall see how it all goes.

      I look forward to reading about your journey next year, too.