Feb 27, 2012

DRIVEL: Raising the Bar

I mowed the lawn this afternoon. It was overrun with wild flowers or weeds or green alien lifeforms, and, honestly, I spent an unreasonable amount of time avoiding the chore. Don't get me wrong--I enjoy mowing, but I didn't want to do it in February! 

None of that is important. 

While I mowed, I thought of tomorrow's lesson and ideas for next year. I think we need to raise the bar. I know we are hard-working and spend many hours planning, grading, and thinking. We also spend a great deal of time complaining and making excuses. If we're not pushing ourselves, we'll sputter and stall.

Unless our decision-makers engineer respect and prestige, we'll need another plan. To many people, we are disposable punching bags. We need to make ourselves invaluable.

For the last two years, I've made a point to incorporate stations into my math class. Rather than invent my own activities, I search for them all over the web. Too often, the "activities" are worksheets. Do they have their place? Of course. But I shouldn't find so many of them when searching for activities, centers, and stations. That's a low bar.

On the road to invaluableness, we need to start small. Use as many worksheets as you deem necessary, but don't use them for grades. Unless they ask higher-order questions, use them to improve skills or build knowledge, but assess them with rigorous methods. 

Cut out participation grades. Frankly, they're empty and meaningless. Unless it's optional in your class, participation is usually compulsory--rewarding it seems silly. There's value in experience, but it doesn't need a number grade. Or, find a way to assess it.

For now, I'll mention one more thing: questions. More than anything else in my class, I believe higher-order questions make the biggest difference. In lessons and on assignments, we need to incorporate tough questions. Also, don't answer questions. It's popular to say that there are no dumb questions. That's crap. There are so many dumb questions--all day long. Let them find their own answers. I'm a teacher, not an answer... er. Or something.

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