In this profession it is so easy to run out of time.
In class, after school, at night. In a semester, a unit, whatever.
We are constantly battling with students telling them, “You need to know this for later.” “Get on task, you only have 20 minutes left.” “You need to find the time.”
It is the one non-negotiable. And there never seems to be enough of it.
That’s my excuse, when things get busy, something has to fall by the wayside.
As an English teacher, I think it is paramount that students read and that they are given time to read. For pleasure. It is too easy to let them read on their own, attach a project on to it, and call it school work. But time where students can engage in a book will not be found, save for a few students, unless we give it.
As a civics teacher, I think it is paramount that students be given time to know what’s going on. Sometimes it is an informal discussion of the news of the day and sometimes it is directed reading of an article. But that takes time. If I engage in these informalities and don’t attach specific learning goals, is it “wasted” time?
As a social justice advocate, I think it is paramount for students to witness the harsh realities of the world through media, conversation or connection. Again, it takes time. I often don’t want to attach these “learning” events to a specific project, because I want them to be authentic. Not something a student connects with for the unit, but instead a gateway for connection for a lifetime. But it takes time.
All these things that chip away at that precious resource. Time.
What’s the answer? If it is not in the curriculum, it should be extracurricular?
If it doesn’t have a learning goal attached to it, it isn’t relevant for that 75 minutes?
How do we fit the authentic learning in with the job of schooling? My initial reaction is to forgo the schooling, but that can’t be the right answer. Can it?
How do we create a more efficient delivery model to enable us to have more time?
How do we rethink the use of time in schools? No bells? Flexible classes? Longer days? Year-round schooling?
We all have the same 24 hours but I don’t have the time for everything I want to do, why doesn’t that work out?
I have committed to giving my students time to read. I haven’t assigned anything specific with their reading, just read. It is silent, personal, yet public. I’ve done it in a few ways:
- Choice: Students choose their books. There is no innovation here. I let students choose anything that might interest them. Some have chosen novels (The Notebook, Go Ask Alice, Thirteen Reasons Why and Acceleration), memoirs (Night, When the Game was Ours), I’ve had a few choose collections of essays (Arguably, End Malaria), some have chosen non-fiction texts (How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Book of Awesome, etc.). They have been all over the literary map. I’m happy about that. We don’t judge the reading here.
- Be Personal: The reading happens in silence. Students get comfortable. Reading is an inherently personal endeavour. You get to create (some post-modern theory for you) the book as you read and imagine. All my classes have come to expect the silence and offer it. It is interesting to watch as students get absorbed into the text.
- Be Public: After the reading time is up, often 20 – 30 minutes, a few students book talk their book. Informally, they’ll stand up, show the cover, talk about the plot (so far) and give us a run down of their thoughts. I often open it up to questions where students can explore the book, ask for predictions, etc.
- Talk About it: I’m working my way through everyone in each class and sitting down and talking about their reading experience. The conversation is relaxed, though we record it, and it has headed into many different directions depending on the nature of the student. Some students want to talk about the issues, others like to talk about the characters, while others talk about what they’ve learned. I will always direct the conversation about the nature of the act of reading, what they do well, what they feel interrupts their reading, etc. This conversation usually lasts 10 – 15 minutes. I usually do this while the rest of the class is reading, just outside in the hall.
- Recommend: We are creating a user-generated reading log in the classroom, if they liked their book they are to write up some details about it on the wall. This becomes the first place for people to get ideas for their next book.
- Connect: Students are encouraged to reach out find other readers, in the class, school, world and connect with them. Some of my students have tweeted the authors in an attempt to connect. I’m letting students decide how they want to connect. They have found great success on Twitter.
I’m not writing this because I think this is innovative or incredibly brilliant. Actually, I think it is simple. In such, I’ve made a few observations.
- It has become a class quest to find some good books for reluctant readers. The readers who are active love to talk about their book and I encourage them to personally recommend it to people they think might like it.
- Students, self-described as haters, have read 1 or 2 books in a few weeks. They read. If I’m not talking with a member of the class, I read. It is now one element of being in our community of reading. It is now cool to read a good book and recommend it. One student comes into class, late, breaks the silence by saying, “You have to read this book. I hate reading, but I read this in 2 days.” All this while thrusting Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher into the air. I’ve had a student, in workplace English, read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and ask if he could just read it all period because he was so close to finishing.
- At the beginning, students wanted to know, “What are we going to do with this book?” before they opened it. I’d just say, “Read it. Enjoy it.” They were reluctant, but now they get it. Reading doesn’t have to be work. It doesn’t have to have an essay or assignment at the end to justify their reading it. That conversation demonstrates that the student can read for meaning, that they can understand form and style and it gives them an opportunity to reflect on their skills and strategies, all right out of the curriculum document.
- I have heard multiple times, “This is the first book I’ve read cover to cover.”
I think my success is fourfold: flexibility, unstructured/informal, personalized interest (a dedicated conversation) and ultimately, it is time.
These are my links for June 16th through August 26th:
- For Those of you Heading to Penticton –
A well-written piece that tingles the sensation as to why you'll put the work in to complete the Ironman.
- Who invented the high five? – ESPN –
An interesting feature on the invention of the high five. A style of writing that is becoming more and more predominant, this is an excellent example.
- Text Based Adventures in the Classroom [Guest Post] | Dangerously Irrelevant | Big Think –
Creating interactive fiction using Inform programming language and system. This allows students to take a trip into the past, establish the power of language and create fictional wonderlands.
This is something that needs more investigation.
These are my links for April 14th through June 8th:
- 8 Big Ideas of the Constructionist Learning Lab « Generation YES Blog -A simple set of 8 ideas that close attention should be paid. The ideas provide a basic framework for education that is student-centred, inquiry driven and changes the priority of the classroom and the teacher.
- Dialogue > Article > The Case Against 21st-Century Schools -An interesting article written in defence of the “traditional education” paradigm. Although, I do not share the belief that “21st Century Learning” forgets the past, I believe that it is important to hear the resistance. For anyone interested in the education revolution, it is an important reminder that we need to confirm, clearly define and consistently express the WHY of public education.
- Well, Duh! -Some interesting, thoughtful things that we need to be talking and thinking about as we process this education revolution.
Alfie Kohn agains pushes the status quo with pointed arguments for a better system of education where students are squarely in the middle.
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