Monday, April 22, 2013

What Should Be the Teacher's Role in the Classroom?

In traditional classrooms, the answer to this question is obvious. The teacher is the conveyer of information, the giver of facts, and the vessel of learning itself.  The students are the sponges; they absorb the information.  The problem with this model has been spoken of in depth.  However, there hasn't been much written about what the role of the teacher is in the student-centered, project-based and blended learning classroom (or my version Structured Chaos) This is what I'd like to address.  I believe there are five vital "hats" a teacher plays in this non-traditional classroom.

Modeling- While I do not think the lecture is particularly engaging nor do I believe it is something most students will benefit from long term, I do think Modeling has its place.  This is more interactive and provides students with a benefit of learning through doing while also helping the visual or audio learner too.  When teaching a new skill, demonstrating that skill can be vital.  The I do, we do, you do approach works best.  Every unit or project needs to be crafted around the acquisition of a skill along with some broad framework of a curricular guideline.

Facilitating- This one many teachers focus on and I have seen extensively spoken about on the blogosphere. Facilitating does not mean sitting back and watching the "show" your students put on.  It means encouraging students to step it up and really question assumptions when necessary   Provide students with suggestions on where or how to research a given topic.  Help students who are falling behind to create their own objectives in a project.  When necessary  it can mean becoming an expert yourself in material you never knew anything about in an effort to help you students organize their thoughts.  Think of this as being a product supervisor.  You are managing the project, you are making sure it has continuity, you are making sure it has depth, and you are making sure it achieves the objectives.

Remediation- While this can be seen as facilitating, in my classroom, I actually go to groups and chat with them about their "status."  Periodically, they must give me status updates on their progress.  If I see they are lost, confused, or just don't "get it" this is the time I can help them.  I jump in.  I find over the year, I have to do this less intervention.  Over grade levels, I scaffold this.  However, there may be a few students that need extra help.  That is what I am there for.  I explain the content, or wording they are looking at, I might define a phrase or briefly go over a concept (i.e. the purpose of War Strategy).

Motivate & Challenge- The last thing I want is for my students to become complacent.  I want them to be able to handle tasks and to really test their own boundaries and comfort levels.  I want them to look at material they often found "above" them.  I want them frustrated, if need be, at times.  I also want them curious, engaged, and taking control of their own learning.  I may see a group looking at the financial impact of the Great Depression on minority groups in the South.  They might be collecting data to create pie charts and a thesis about how certain groups were more affected by the GD than others because of discrimination, housing, or access to job skills training.  I might then ask them what role geography played in this data set.  If they haven't taken that into account, this might frustrate them.  But, it might also motivate them to think outside the box, to make sure that they don't assume correlation proves causation.  This might force them to keep looking.  They might think they are "done" with their project only now to realize they have just begun.  Like a coach, I will complement them at times when they produce meaningful work.  I might single a group out to show off to other groups or write about them in the principal's report that month.  I might call home and tell their parents how proud I am.  Recognition is important.  This isn't stupid.  It isn't extra.  It's the same reason why a good boss acknowledges when you do something right.  It's motivating.

Providing Feedback/Assessment for Student Growth- Students need feedback, both positive and negative.  They need to know if their work makes "sense."  They need to know if they are utilizing a new skill correctly.  They need to know how they can improve.  We all do.  I'm critical; I'll admit it.  I tell them I like them to take it up a notch.  I'll explain why their argument doesn't make logical sense or how it is faulty login.  I don't need them to agree with a given idea, I need them to defend and understand their own.  This feedback is continuous   It isn't just the rubric and grade at the end, it's so much more than that.  It's the process.

Did I leave out a role?  Probably, I'm a work in progress.  But for now, this is what I've got.  Structured Chaos continues....