Sunday, April 23, 2017

Plan Your Lessons After the Previous Lesson

Those who know me are aware that I've been frustrated about a number of things at my current school. I haven't always been able to articulate just what I find so frustrating, other than a general feeling that I am not supported or valued as an educator. This weekend I finally understood one concrete instance of what gives rise to some of the frustration.

I believe that I should have an interactive relationship with my students. I am not simply a lecturer. Rather I interact with the students in my classes, hoping to help them gain understanding of the math ideas I'm teaching.

One tool in the interaction is formative assessment. I am always observing the feedback I get, verbal and non-verbal, and using that to help me make decisions about what comes next -- do I reinforce, move on, back up? If I am not doing this, I may as well be a recording. The ability to assess and modify on the fly is one of the things that makes me the type of teacher I am.

Friday evening, after work, I attended a workshop let by Dr. Betina Zolkower. As a side comment at one point, Betina commented how odd it is to visit classes and see a homework assignment written on the board from before the class starts. Homework, she points out, should be an organic part of the class interaction. Until you know how classroom discussion has gone, how can you know which problems to assign? Unless the homework is just busywork.

Reflecting on this minor but profound insight, I realized one thing that makes life in my school difficult for a teacher. I generally plan lessons before the class, and after the previous class. I don't know exactly how far we will be able to get on any given day (although I can predict with confidence that I cannot complete any entire EngageNY lesson in a single class period). So I can't plan what to do next day until the current day is done.

But my school has a policy -- all copy requests must be submitted before the end of each day. There is no teacher-accessible copy or duplication machine. The only way to get classroom sets of materials or worksheets of demonstrations or instructions is to submit it to the "copy center" (which is actually just a guy who has the job of spending some time each afternoon running copies. If you miss the deadline, sorry, you don't get the copies until the day after.

In reality there's another option for getting copies. That is to print them yourself, on your home machine or at Staples of Kinkos.

The administration pays a lot of lip service to "formative assessment" but in practice, through this subtle technique, they discourage us from incorporating information gleaned from such assessment into each day's lesson. We are guided into mass-planning lessons, blind to interactions with students, because that is the only way we can get copies.

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