Things I Know 144 of 365: I learn by teaching

When someone reflects-in-action, he becomes a researcher in the practice context. He is not dependent on the categories of established theory and technique, but constructs a new theory of the unique case.

– Donald Schön

As of tomorrow, SLA will have been host for two weeks to 5 pre-service teachers from Millersville University. They’re part of a larger cohort taking part in an urban seminar built around the idea of providing experience in urban classrooms to pre-service teachers who would otherwise not have such exposure.

I’ve been happy to have them.

No part of that has come from any excitement over providing these students with a taste of the urban teaching experience. Sadly, SLA isn’t the average urban school.

Instead, my excitement has come from the thoughtfulness in my own practice inspired by, in some small way, being responsible for helping future teachers learn their craft.

I gave Spencer, the student assigned to my classes, room to teach a lesson to my G11 classes today.

He did well.

As we were processing the lesson, I talked to him about having students share their thinking with the person sitting next to them and then sharing out what they heard with the whole class.

I explained it helps encourage active listening, takes off the pressure of having to say something original on the spot and builds their summarization skills.

As I was talking, it occurred to me that I had done the exact opposite during the first period when I randomly called on students to answer questions or offer their thinking on a text.

“Let me explain why I didn’t do any of what I just suggested with the earlier class today.”

In an average day with just my students and I in the classroom, I probably would have taken the advice I’d just given Spencer when working with the G11 classes and employed the random calling method with the senior class, thinking nothing of the disparity of the two approaches.

Held up to the mirror of attempting to explain my pedagogy and practice to someone I was attempting to help prepare for a teaching career, understanding my rationale became suddenly important.

The concepts with which we were dealing in the senior classes have been the topic of our learning and inquiry for the past month or so. By this point, any question should be met with a confident and thorough response. What I was doing was meant as a quick formative assessment to help me decide if they were ready for the next step.

The ideas with which Spencer was asking the G11 students to play were newer, fresher and unanticipated. Giving the students time to think about their understandings and perceptions around the issues would have insured a deeper and more thoughtful conversation.

It didn’t take me long to realize my reasoning. I wasn’t even making excuses. Those were truly the reasons I’d suggested approaching the classes differently.

Because Spencer was there and because I very earnestly want to help him and the others of his cohort meet with as much success as possible when they enter their student teaching experiences and eventual classrooms, it was incumbent for me to pull my thinking apart and explain it.

And aside from all the teaching of pedagogy, being mindful of someone observing my classroom and teaching from a place of curiosity has made me a sharper teacher over these past two weeks.

I’m going to miss Spencer and the others next week. They’ve helped me be a better version of Mr. Chase.