- I get acquainted with some of next year's students. I've done this substitute teacher gig in past years, and the kids really do remember their experience with me.
- I also get to implement and experience the teaching methods these current 7th graders are familiar with. Hint: it's not flipping!
- I don't think I am a good substitute teacher. So these future students are not seeing me at my best.
- Traditional teaching is exhausting and frustrating in many ways that I had forgotten.
- I caught either a summer cold or a weird/intense case of seasonal allergies. I felt it building in my sinuses on Tuesday, and I just can't shake this gross feeling....
It has been 6 years since I stood in the front of a classroom and reviewed a homework task one question at a time. "What did you write down for #3?" I tried my damnedest and put on a fairly good acting performance (pretending that I cared about #3). Unfortunately, at some points I started getting comfortable at the whiteboard, feeling like we were having a real dialogue about Phyrric victories and the role of a censores in Roman government. A quick peek around the classroom reminded me that only a few students were really engaged. Many kids had written down answers on the homework sheet, but I am quite certain that some students' words were copied from a friend's paper. Even the 'right answers' that some students reported out were disconnected and trivial. I felt like an accomplice to a crime.
Today was different. The other 7th grade teacher brought his students into the room to implement one of their weekly routines: a 40-minute historical lecture. Some sat at desks arranged in a U-shape; the other twenty kids sat on the floor in front of those desks, with binders in their lap. He had already written a 15-item Harvard outline on the whiteboard, which students have been trained to copy onto white lined paper. He also had prepared a laptop projecting a cool GoogleEarth map of the Mediterranean Sea during the Punic Wars period.
This teacher put on an impressive performance. He is funny and made the kids laugh a few times. He is very knowledgeable about the topic, and clearly cares about the topic and about the broader importance of learning from history. Unlike my presentations, he could take questions from the audience and make in-the-moment comments. (That has been a common complaint of 8th graders with the flipped approach; today I could say what they have been missing.) The piece de resistance was when he stood on a desk holding a 4-foot plank of wood to demonstrate how Romans defeated Carthage with the corvus. He dropped the plank forward onto another desk [BANG!] and walked across it to show how Roman soldiers could board enemy ships. Again, that's not something I could do as effectively in a flipped video!
But let's step back to take a larger view of what happened in the classroom. I got to see 4 of these performances, with about 40 students in the audience for each.
- How many were taking detailed diligent notes? About 15 or 20. Less than half.
- Were those students actually learning from the copious notes they were writing? I have no idea. There was no exit ticket or other form of assessment.
- How many raised their hand to ask clarifying questions? I counted 6 in one class and 5 in the other; some of those students asked multiple times, and not all of those questions were helpful/appropriate/on-topic.
- How many raised their hand to answer the teacher's Socratic questions? In a couple classes I saw at least 2/3 participation, but that still means 10 or 12 did not feel like volunteering a response. In the others it was more sparse: just 7 or 8 students attempted to respond.
- What about kids whose IEPs require them to get note-taking assistance? They received a printed sheet with the Harvard outline already made for them, and some white space between each item to record notes. I guess the students are used to it, but I cringed at the silent announcement "You have an IEP, and you have an IEP...!"
The students also looked drained. In a way, these classes probably feel pretty easy for them: watch the show and take notes (or don't: there is no immediate consequence or verification by adults in the room). However, over the course of 40 minutes I could see them physically slump forward (especially the kids on the floor), yawning, sometimes staring at the GoogleEarth map or something/someone else in the room. And again, I am still unclear about how their learning will be demonstrated and assessed.
This was a valuable experience. It made me consider ways to make my flipped video lessons more entertaining and engaging, so I can compete with this impressive performer! But most of all this week helped validate why I do what I flipping do.