I have been dismayed to realize that despite my self-image as a teacher with a learner centered classroom, I am far from truly achieving that goal.
I have been listening carefully to myself lately, and I don’t like what I hear myself saying to the kids. Instead of empowering my students to take ownership of their learning, I am still the director on the stage. I still ask leading questions rather than ones that push the learner to figure things out for herself. I realize I often spoon feed my students hopeful that they will give me the answer I’m looking for. An answer that will make my job easier. Answers that will fit with what I expect students to say despite the fact that 30 years in education has taught me nothing if not that students are unpredictable, and if we prepare for anything, that is what we should be prepared for.
An anecdote. The other day I was talking with a student about the fact that she was abandoning more books than she was finishing. I was asking her how she decides if a book is just right for her. She started telling me that one of her strategies is the five finger rule. Before she could finish explaining, I interrupted her. (Mistake #1) Instead of listening and probing with more open ended questions, I told her not to use the 5-finger rule anymore because it doesn’t often work. I continued by asking her what else she does to determine if a book is just right for her. She proceeded to do a perfect retelling of what I had just told her about the 5-finger rule. When I asked her if that’s what she really does or if she was telling me what I wanted to hear (not in those words exactly), she nodded sheepishly.
One lesson that I am learning over and over again during this first month of school is that I need to listen more and talk less. I need to simpler questions that force students to dig deep within themselves for their truth. I need to ask questions that help the learner think for herself. I need to ask questions that support students in doing more of the work. I need to ask questions that honor the learner and what she brings to the table. I need to really see the strengths rather than the deficits. Because in the big scheme of things, focusing on a student’s deficits says more about me than it does about the learner. I need to stay positive as I notice and name what students can do even if it’s incomplete or tentative.
I need to continue to listen to what I say to my students. I need to weigh the value of my words.
Although all of these changes may be awkward at first, I know it will get easier with time until I get closer to the teacher I want to be.