Challenge, But For a Benefit
As a teacher, I am pretty candid with my students. Sometimes, I gather my class of fourth and fifth graders on the carpet and couch in my classroom and we grade assignments together. I hold up a student’s work, we highlight the positive aspects of it and then we talk about where it can use improvement. I wouldn’t recommend this for the first year teacher, but I think I have a pretty good grasp of the mentality of the junior learner and the things that push them towards excellence. And to be brutally honest, it makes my job a whole lot easier when I involve students in the assessment portion of their education. But with an open-style comes the opportunity of students challenging grades.
But being so candid comes with its negatives. Because I am really real with my students, I open myself up to a dialogue and relationship between students and myself that many teachers would feel uncomfortable with. My students constantly challenge their grades. I’m not talking about talking back but these kids don’t sit back and take that B- or C+ without objection. But I am secure in my pedagogy, so I not only expect this from my little 10-year-old students – I appreciate it.
As pertaining to the curriculum of my province in elementary school, I am obliged to teach different “writing styles”. Now, I am teaching my students how to write a procedure or an instruction. Versing my students in the language of fiction versus non-fiction is important. But I am a little confused as to why I have to spend a month teaching a strand of writing that basically consists of showing students how to write rudimentary “how-to” manuals. My students need to learn how to write a dang sentence! Let me refrain.
While I was teaching my students how to write procedural texts, like recipes and directions, and pedagogically implementing my community-based assessment strategies, a few students got upset that I was valuing neatness and organization over content. I am all about the “teachable moments”. These were mainly a few of the boys in the class voicing their complaints. I have no problem with students sharing an equal platform with me and challenging my decisions; whether it is 10-year-olds or undergrads (ironically enough, my 10-year-olds make more authentic and concise arguments than most undergraduate or post graduate students I have been around in recent years, see last post.)
The argument a few of my boys made about organization and “neatness” would be valid – if we were talking about an essay or paragraph response. But we were talking about a procedure. My kids were asked to write a simple recipe! Most wrote about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! This is where open communication between the student and the teacher comes in. I have established an environment that supports constructive criticism. If a student feels that something is wrong and unfair, they know to speak up. I don’t even care if they put their hand up at this point. My class is filled with 10-year-olds that operate and challenge thinking akin to a post-graduate classroom.
But this is where I feel most worthwhile. After a few of my students voiced their complaints of my tendency to validate organization over content, I took the opportunity to speak to them in a way that would educate them. I didn’t talk about content but about context – I explained that in a unit that is simply about writing down directions, the main gist of the learning pertains to format and overall appearance. Everybody knows how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But who took the time to add the things we talked about in the lesson before – who added pictures, headings, an introduction, a diagram, and all that jazz and went the extra mile to actually demonstrate that they listened to my lesson and took what I said and applied it. And that is what they heard in my rant about organization and “neatness”. That is what they so courageously asked about and that is hopefully what I eloquently answered for them.
That is learning, it is not simply about a lesson and regurgitation, it is about a lesson, a product and classroom conversation and then a challenge. Through this experience of teaching, we will build students who actually understand a little better what their purpose for doing things are. I have no doubt that, after today, my boys will hand in their next “recipe” or procedural text with a little bit more neatness than the prior procedures they submitted. And that is all that I want. That is why I teach.
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