There are many different ways to teach, but that does not mean every method is effective. When considering the question “How do we teach?” Chapter 4 in Essential Questions demonstrates that teaching can revolve around a layered structure. Maintaining the theme of asking essential questions to yield the ‘understanding’ of a topic (chapter 1), this chapter outlines how teachers can implement essential questions in their lesson plans through either four-phase or eight-phase processes. These processes force an environment that will encourage constant emphasis on the main essential question by having the students examine relevant evidence that draws parallels to the E.Q., eliciting responses from the students and then further probing the students to force them into a position to support their argument, and then ultimately assessing them. In her article, How Looking at Student Work Keeps Teachers and Kids on Track, Katrina Schwartz illuminates that assessments are a great tool for providing feedback. Not only does it allow students room for growth by understanding possible errors in their work, but it also provides teachers feedback by showing them whether students are getting the ‘big picture’ themes out of their lessons or not. Our style of teaching should be one that encourages active participation and thinking of the core themes of a lesson. If a student takes a position, then it must also be substantiated. How we teach can determine whether ‘gradual release of teacher responsibility’ is achieved and whether our students develop a sense of autonomy in the classroom — demonstrating a near mastery of deep thinking and independence in the content matter.
In her article ‘Do No Harm’: A Hippocratic Oath for Schools, Courtney Stewart discusses the purpose of a doctor: to treat a patient. Doctors do not accept failure, nor do they treat multiple patients at the same time the same way. When discussing the roles and views of teachers, Stewart asks the questions, “Is it ok to accept any failure? Why do we tend to lump our classes together and teach each student the same thing the same way, instead of treating them individually?” The questions that this article presented, I believe, ties in nicely to our assigned readings. When continuing to consider the question “What do we teach?” and building off of last week’s theme of “big-concept” teaching, this week’s readings covered the theme of asking ‘essential questions’ and teaching concepts that can be transferable. I say that the article ties in nicely with the readings because failure in teaching can derive from teaching our students “to know.” Teaching each student for their specific and individual needs can take more time and energy than a teacher may be willing to take on. Naturally, teaching a class the same thing can be easier and less time-consuming. Already, failure can derive from not identifying that each individual student may have a different way of processing the information. To continue this theme, teaching our students the same basic information and asking questions that yield a right answer can be sufficient for acquiring passing percentages for Standard Learning tests. But does this mean our students can comprehend or even apply the content? We can celebrate some measure of victory when an overwhelming students pass and graduate, but there will be some that fail because they did not know content or understand it. Teaching for understanding requires more time but it will allow students to be able to transfer themes in a subject throughout the course of a year and be able to distinguish similarities in the content. Learning for understanding allows students to apply the big themes when they come across new content. Therefore, when asking ourselves “What do we teach?”, we teach that failure is not an option; misunderstanding, however, is not failure and rather an okay thing. Misunderstanding is feedback from our students that shows us, as teachers, there are better ways of conveying the main concepts to the students through teaching the content.
When exploring the theme of teachers and their functions, it is important to consider the question, “What do we teach?” and its implications. It is apparent that teachers have a curriculum that, through different mediums, is delivered to the students. Simply delivering the curriculum to the students, however, does not induce actual learning or retention of the content matter. It is not only a matter of what it is that teachers teach but also how they teach. In the readings, it is clear that teachers must have a seeming backward mindset when it comes to how they approach the construction of their curriculum. Teachers must ask themselves first what are the big concepts and themes they want their students to grasp. Once there is a foundation, it can be built upon by activities, readings, relevant evidence, and assignments that can be tied to the concepts and also help to reinforce the ‘big picture.’ Due to adolescents entering a phase in their life in which their brain is more adept to making complex connections and being cognitive of relationships, they are able to handle big themes and big ideas that they can then retain and draw upon when exploring new themes in a particular subject. What adolescents are not equipped for is having endless information being thrown at them and being expected to retain all of it. Rather, if teachers organize their curriculum by the concepts and themes they want their students to understand, then the readings and assignments can be used as a means of making a connection to the concept that is trying to be unlocked by the student.
Considering the readings from the first two chapters of SMART, the essential question of “Who do we teach?” can be simply answered by stating that we teach adolescents and adolescents making the transition into adulthood. By stating this, however, there are obvious complexities that come with adolescence. It is a phase in a student’s life, in which they experience seemingly rapid physical, hormonal, and emotional changes more than any other phase in life — other than during infancy. Therefore, understanding the implications that arise from the natural process of adolescence we can determine that each student experiences adolescence in their own unique process and as a result, have behaviors and mannerisms that are different from any of their peers. As effective teachers we must also understand the pressures that our students are faced with on either a social level or at home; in other words, behaviors and tendencies of our students can be shaped by outside influences. As teachers it is our responsibility then to provide a classroom setting that allows students to feel ‘security, affirmation, affiliation, affinity, high expectations, support, opportunity, power, and purpose.’
Similar to our first question, “Where do we teach?” can answered as simply as ‘in a classroom setting.’ Reading chapter 6 of How People Learn demonstrates to the reader that while where we teach is a constant, the classroom setting itself is multifaceted in a sense. Understanding who we teach as a teacher leads one to be able to understand what kind of environment needs to be established in the classroom. This chapter explains to the reader that there are four basic environments that are fostered in the classroom: student-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered. The issue, however, with implementing these environments is that each naturally has their advantages and disadvantages. Effective teachers are able to tailor the needs of their students and apply a blend of these environments. There are times when the focus must be on the student and building upon their prior knowledge and experiences in order to be able to get the student to comprehend the curriculum. There are also times however, when the students require feedback on their assignments or participation in discussions so they are able to grow (i.e. assessment-centered), and there are times when it is crucial for students to feel they have support-centers or feel they belong (i.e. community-centered).