Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The How is more Important than the What!

I will be up front with you in this post.  I have one sole purpose and it is to get the reader to think about the main topic.  The title of the post has probably already got you thinking.  It could been any thoughts from, "What is he talking about?"  to "What is the How and What is the What?"  I promise this isn't going to be an Abbott and Costello type conversation, similar to their comedy skit, "Who’s on First?"

To be clear in my title, I have explained what my topic is.  The topic is the teaching in the classroom.  From what we teach to how we teach it.  How we teach is more important than what we teach.  Now before any of you strict curriculum people get your britches in a bind, I want to clarify something.  I am not saying what we teach is not important.  If fact, what we teach is one of the most important components in the future of a student's success.  What if we left out addition in math?  Or didn't cover the definition of a noun or verb?  Would our student have success in future settings?  I think it would be safe to say that we would be limiting the success of our students if we believed the "What" of the classroom was not important.

The main point I'm trying to make is how we teach is more important than what we teach.  Let me put it to you this way.  If the students never remember what we taught them because of how we taught them, then what good does it do to emphasize the what in the classroom?  Wow, that really does sound like an Abbott and Costello skit.

When I first got back into teaching back in 1990, the majority of my college instructors lectured in their classroom.  When I got into the classroom, what do you suppose was my style of teaching?  That's right, I lectured most of my way through the class I taught.

It didn't take me long to recognize that my students were not paying attention.  My students had the best intentions. They would pay attention for fifteen or twenty minutes, but eventually they’d give into their day dreams and glaze over.  Before I knew it I had a room full of glazed over students.  Almost sounds like something you would pick up at Dunkin Donuts.  Except this was suppose to be school and my students would not learn a thing of my content if they were a glazed over donut, I mean student.

Still I pushed forward with my style.  I told myself, "I will make them take notes. That will get them to pay attention!"  It worked like a charm, because they had to stay on top of their note taking to keep up with my Kentucky Derby lectured pace.  My version of "And Their Off" was "Take Out Your Notebook".  Students knew once I made that statement it was full speed ahead.  What I discovered was that the students were on task but were so busy taking notes that they missed comprehending my content.

Eventually I would learn to pace my lecture, ask students questions to check understanding, and even stand beside the ones that were almost ready to turn into a glazed donut, I mean student.  I became better at my art, but in the end, the students were not getting any better at grasping the content.

So I decided to do something a little different in my class.  I decided to turn the tables on students. Instead of me doing all of the teaching, I would let them lead the class.  I broke my classes up in groups and told them to teach the next chapter to their classmates.  They had three class days to prepare their lessons and then they would teach their content to their peers.  I would be in the back of the room grading them on their content and presentation.  Guess how they taught?  Yes, that is correct they lectured most of the time.  Sure they took turns in speaking, but pretty much had me glazing over in fifteen or twenty minutes.

It was at that point in my teaching career that I decide how I taught became more important than what I taught.  No glazed over student, no matter how many strategies I tried would understand the content I was covering.  I had to find ways to engage these students to be an active part of my teaching.  I had to step back from my teaching role and let the students take charge of their learning.  Once I released control of my classroom I allowed the students to learn more than they ever could have learned from my lectures.  I still maintained high expectations in the class.  Loafing was not an option! Active participation in either the activities I developed (still had to come up with some) or they developed were the expectation.

By giving up this control not only did I become a better teacher my students became better.  They learned to interact with their classmates in their activities.  They were understanding the content more because they were involved in the classroom.  Students started to learn more because the how was emphasized over the what.  With this type of style eventually the what of the classroom became more important to the students.  As a teacher how is the how of your classroom?  Are students really getting the content? Survey them and ask them to be honest.  Look at the results honestly, without malicious intent and you might learn something from your students.

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