What Happened To My Pedagogy?

Several classroom teachers in my PLN have decided to share out our experiences this year with “educational reform”. Here’s one that published so far. And I’d encourage others to share as well (let’s hear the “Good” too!)

I’ve continued to come to terms with my lack of blogging and other writing/sharing this school year. In the past so much of my blogging was motivated by what was happening in my classroom and the classrooms of others that we were collaborating with. As we continued to develop this new pedagogy around connecting and becoming active learners, excitement continually built and collectively we felt part of a community that was onto something very special.

We had moved even further from the “sage on the stage” kind of teaching and learning, to becoming what could be described more as “co-learners” or maybe “learners-in-chief” … still in charge to keep things running smoothly, and to be there when guidance was needed or it became apparent, through observation or other assessment, that a lesson was needed on a concept or skill for a small group or the whole class. Learning involved every subject and students were more self motivated to do quality work because the work was more creative and was usually published online for all to see … so it better be good. (And note that direct instruction was not and never will be abandoned, just more opportunities for students to build knowledge, use and share what they know and learn in creative ways).

A few things have happened recently in my classroom that brought this into focus for me. One is that we have been involved in a project we mostly had to “sneak in” around required programs and policies. I saw the magic again as my students collaborated using Skype and Google Docs to write non-fiction pieces with a class across the country. Their excitement, focus and requests to work extra outside of school on their research reminded me what we had been onto previously. We didn’t have this new pedagogy down to perfection, but we were well on our way, and with some support we would be even closer to being there now (not that you would ever get to perfection mind you).

Another situation that has happened has been that my students have become excited about several topics that have come up because of reading about a subject or a current event and they have wanted to learn more about them. In the fairly recent past, because we had learned to research in more focused, safe ways, those self guided learning opportunities would have been embraced. But because we have done almost none of that kind of work this year, AND because thankfully my school district leaves the web pretty wide open, I have not felt safe letting them do searches for information, photos and video when there has been even a smidge of time to do so.

Why? For years now, part of using these powerful learning tools has involved lessons and projects in their safe and ethical use. There is no time or real support to do that now. Therefore it would be like setting  your class loose in woodshop without teaching them safe use of the power tools. I’m not doing that- I’d be setting my students, parents, myself, my school and my school district up for a load of problems.

The upshot is I have few examples or experiences to share from my classroom this year. The almost total lack of autonomy because of a daily schedule designed by my administration that only includes reading, writing and math … and most taught with prescribed programs or specific direct instruction pieces that MUST be included literally leave no time. I have managed to begin squeezing things in here or there, but “squeezing in” means things are not done comprehensively and there is no time to learn from mistakes, redesign, or even just re-editing well to improve. I have to work hard to keep an enthusiastic face on things and my students aren’t developing as deep an appreciation for and enthusiasm for learning.

The worst news is that I’m hearing a similar story from other teachers I used to collaborate with and from others in my PLN that work with teachers. I have refrained from sharing this woeful tale during the year beyond a few Tweets, because I hoped to find ways to overcome the restraints and did not want to discourage others by my experience. I’m reporting out now because we need to get these stories out there. I would say even more, but don’t feel safe in doing so in a public space.

Things are not all lost however, I’m optimistic. We blog some and I will be writing about a recent project we are finishing up soon. I have learned some effective direct instruction pieces I will use in the future. Most of all I’ve learned that this new pedagogy that many of us have undertaken really works, and not being able to access it much has been a real detriment. I keep hearing that the pendulum is past due swinging back towards teacher autonomy and less testing and test prep pedagogy. I keep hearing  (but I’m not totally convinced yet) that the move to common core standards implementation will drive us back that way as well. Perhaps, we’ll see.

At the end of the year I’m hoping to have made some changes that will help get things back on track, and I’ll report back if those things happen.

Learning is messy!
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5 Responses to What Happened To My Pedagogy?

  1. Jami says:

    Hello Mr. Crosby. My name is Jami. I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I have been assigned to visit and comment on your blog for my course EDM310. I enjoyed reading your blog post. I especially loved the project you mention where your students have to work collaboratively with Skype and Google Docs. I am working on a project now which requires me to use those tools. I love how you take precaution about letting your student use the web. It is a good thing to let let students have access to it but it is always great to teach and practice using it safely.
    It sounds like there is very little opportunity for students to engage in the world of technology. Sometimes school administrators do focus on a strict routine. Although there are guidelines that teachers should follow, they should also be given the opportunity to grow with their students. In this particular instance, today’s students should be given a chance to learn with what they are familiar with, which is technology. It should he just as important as any other subject in school.

    I will be posting my comments I have have made to your blog to my blog page. I would love for you to visit it and leave any comments that you may have.
    MY BLOG

  2. Lacie Brothers says:

    Hi there! I am a student at the University of South Alabama enrolled in the course EDM 310 and have been assigned to comment on your blog. I found it interesting to know that teachers like yourself struggle with fitting in fun, hands-on activities for you students learning strides. Being that I am still a student and have not yet made it to my semester of student teaching, I have assumed that teachers and professors find it difficult to fill the day. However, this may be a result of my past education and not so passionate teachers. I remember having “quiet times” or “book times” where we either had silent reading or just sat quietly with our heads down on our desks. So, you can see how your blog shocked me a little when I read of your circumstances. I commend you for being so passionate about your students’ well-being and happiness while in the classroom.

  3. Adam Mckenzie says:

    We are a group of teachers taking a grad class. We really enjoy your work.

  4. Shaniqua Washington says:

    Hello, I’m a student in EDM-310 at the University of South Alabama and I just want to say that I sympathize with you about this. I can see that you really care about your students to the point that it is affecting your blog posts. I hope that things will get better for you and those other teachers who are experiencing some of the same things. As a future teacher, I often overlook issues like this and this has made me realize that it is still and issue in our education. Thank you for this post.

  5. Allison K. says:

    Thanks for this post (and others!). Having only been in education for five years, I still feel moderately idealistic at times, so it’s nice to hear that others are hitting some of the same walls (over…and over…and over). As long as we continue to move forward providing our students with the information and skills they need to shape our world, we’ve done our best. And–the icing on the cake is that we’re working to make sure that the education we provide them includes the strong technological base we all know is imperative for them to be successful adults.

    Another note–it’s great to see that universities are responding to some of the changes in education and presenting such neat options to future teachers. I think web-based searches were a big deal when I was in school :)

    Again, many thanks!

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