Now 1/4 of the way through the school year and I’m still not really clear on exactly what Common Core is, but then, neither is anybody else.
I have made two significant changes in the way I teach. The first involves putting the students in groups and letting them figure things out for a while. More often than not, they are able to come up with a solution or a reason by discussing among themselves.
The second change is waiting. This is difficult for me. I have to give the students time to figure things out. I feel like I only have so much time to cover so much material and, if I wait, we will never get there. The waiting makes them think, however, and getting students to think is really my primary goal. Another challenging aspect of this is that students have been conditioned to wait for someone else to give them the answer. They believe that if they wait long enough, the teacher or another student will tell them the answer and they won’t have to figure it out. It’s really a game on both sides and by me out-waiting the students, they are the true winners.
I’m accustomed to having a fairly controlled class where I present material while the students take notes. They copy my examples and then try a couple on their own and we check them and then they ask questions. This is not the way it goes anymore. Now, I present a problem and they discuss how they might solve it. Being teenagers, the conversation quickly and easily diverts from the topic at hand. My task is to cruise around the room from group to group, providing prompts, questions, and encouragement. I can’t stay too long at any one group because as soon as my attention is focused on one, there is at least one other going off on a tangent somewhere. To the casual observer, it probably seems completely out of control. Often, it does to me as well.
At this point (midterms) I’m not seeing much of a difference in the grades of my students over previous years. It’s hard to say if they are learning more, but they are not scoring higher on tests. I am seeing an increase in what I consider to be good (or productive) questions and more often than not, students are able to answer those questions.
Truth be told, there will always be some great new method for teaching, but I believe the significant changes in students’ lives come from the relationships they develop. IF I can connect with them on both an intellectual and a personal level, I have a better chance of helping find success in whatever they attempt. The biggest benefit from common core, may be that students learn how to better teach themselves, so they will continue to learn when a teacher is not present.