I'm mixing it up in the classroom. Again.
I'm trying to make my Year 9 English classroom less teacher-centred as students develop and 'deepen' their understanding of the plot, characters and themes in their class novel, Phillip Gwynne's Deadly Unna?. I'm also supposedly being a 'lazy teacher', re-inspired as I am by The Lazy Teacher's Handbook, which I recommend, by the way.
I'm employing "a series of strategies that put the responsibility of learning directly and consistently onto the students... they learn to engage with their own learning, and not just in what they have learned but in how they learned it." That's from the introduction to The Lazy Teacher's Handbook. Hey, baby! Yeah! High five! Students taking ownership of their learning. That will look impressive on my Professional Learning Plan. I can write up my Understanding By Design unit plan and cite the relevant Australian Curriculum learning outcomes. (All that onerous (unnecessary) extra paperwork is about accountability, after all.)
I've 'scaffolded' my students' learning; given clear instructions, a rubric, even. I've set clear expectations for the learning and behaviour. They've done their 'think, pair, square' and now they have to 'share'. The Lazy Teacher's Handbook, again. After they've completed their group work, students will present their findings to the group using ICT and presentation software. Don’t I sound competent?
This, however, is what 'learning' sounded like at about 2.45 yesterday arvo. Bedlam. Screaming. Shouting. Bursts of maniacal laughter, occasionally my own,
'Learning', group work, looked like chaos. Scrunched up paper flew across my peripheral vision. It seemed to be snowing litter. Suddenly a pen skimmed across the asphalt outside my classroom door, closely followed by one of my students who'd darted out to retrieve it. Sorry, miss, she said upon re-entry.
I circumnavigated the room again, swooping on groups. Interfering but trying not to because it seemed I was dominating again. At my approach, some students vaguely pretended to be on task, frowning at their computers, tapping a few keys, twisting their screens towards me so I could see a bit of allegedly legit 'work'. So what are we supposed to be doing again? asked a bright student. And this is their second session working in their groups.
I worry that no one is learning. I worry that students will see this as bludging. I worry that the principal will walk in and judge me. I worry that the acrid smell in the room is me. I sneak a surreptitious sniff of my armpit. It's not. Hurrah. God knows I've worked up a sweat pacing around the room trying to look and feel in control.
Five minutes before the bell I gathered the troops and assumed the position, barring the door. I blew my whistle - now there's a useful teaching tool and not just in phys ed classes. "No one is leaving until the desks are straightened, the rubbish is off the floor and chairs are on tables." i bellowed. They complied and the natural order of my teaching world was somewhat restored, or so I told myself.
The positives? The students seem happy. They're not fighting me. They're not complaining of boredom, which many do if one reads sections of text aloud to the entire class. I'd like to think that they are working at their own level. Their presentations will demonstrate that, I expect. I've been able to 'differentiate' the learning and monitor individual students much more effectively that I can in a teacher-centred classroom.