Friday, August 9, 2013

Stealing the Student's Carnival Rides!

I am sure most of you have seen the History Channel show, American Pickers.  If you haven't, let me summarize.  The show follows two guys around the United States looking for old antiques in people's sheds, barns, garages, or even old junk piles.  These two guys are very well versed in antiques and what would be good to "pick" out of some one's barn.

As educators we can learn a lot from this show.  You are probably saying to yourself, "What can I learn from a TV show about two guys going through a bunch of old stuff"?  It's not so much about the stuff they are rummaging through, but the discovery process of finding artifacts.  If you ever have watched the show, you have seen what these men go through to find an artifact.  They dig through, climb over, handle, and scrutinize a lot of stuff.  They are ones that are involved.  How fun would it be if they got someone else to do this for them?

Having someone do this for them is like hiring someone to ride your favorite carnival ride. Wouldn't that be a bummer watching someone else laughing and screaming the whole way through what was suppose to be your ride.  It's enough to make you mad, but wait you're the one that hired them in the first place.  So you think to yourself that was plain stupid paying someone else to have your fun!

As a classroom teacher I would sometimes steal the students' carnival rides. You're probably thinking what a rotten educator I must have been to steal rides from innocent children.  Technically I didn't steal anything from them, so don't go calling a private investigator to pursue my teaching background.  What I did take away from them was an opportunity for them to discover on their own.  I would poor my energy and talents, more energy than talent mind you, into planning a lesson for my students.  I had it all figured all of the research for a lecture of twenty to thirty minutes, give them a worksheet or assignment, answer a few questions from the students on the front row (they seemed the most interested) and then sit down in my chair and watch them go at the worksheet or assignment. 

Through this process I was taking away the discovery part for my students.  I was riding the carnival ride and they were watching me have all the fun.  They were spectators and not participants.  Sure I needed to know my content in order to be a resource for my students, but really I was doing most of the work everyday.  Doing this seven times a day (seven period day) made me a little worn out at the end of the day.  It is a no wonder that my students left the day with more energy than I did.  When the ending school bell rang and they would run from the school with the energy and life of young foal kicking and prancing in the back pasture.  I on the other hand would stay and start the process over again planning for the next lesson.  Once I was done then I would drag my tired broken down workhorse body home and collapse in the recliner.

Eventually it came to my mind that this seemed a little backwards.  The students should be spending the energy and time, as I would like to call it, riding the carnival ride of discovery in the classroom.  They should be the ones rummaging through the resources to find the necessary facts for a lesson.  Once I switched my methods around, I was able to step back and watch them learn on their own.  I set up the parameters in the lesson.  Which sometimes was a simple question to get them started.  Which still meant I needed to know my content area well enough to ask the "important" questions.  Eventually the students started asking those types of "what does this mean?", "how did they?", "what if?" to keep the learning going.  The important transition for my classroom was from teacher centered to student centered.  By doing so the students were spending their youthful excitement which in turn rejuvenated this tired teacher. It was a win - win situation for everyone!

How about your classroom?  Who is spending most of the energy in learning? Is the procedure all about the teacher or the student?  Ask yourself honestly and if you're not sure, try asking your students.  Switch it around to be student centered and you will find several "treasures" in the minds and results of your students.

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