Tuesday, August 03, 2010

No Instructions (Part 1)

I hate reading instructions. I enjoy musical theatre, I cook well, I’m not big on MMA, but when it comes to not reading instructions, my stereotypical guy-ness comes through. My 10th grade math teacher was baffled when she saw my work for dividing polynomials. I made up my own way to do it. I got the right answer, and I could explain step-by-step how I did the problem. But I didn’t do it her way because I would have had to read the instructions. And if I can get around doing that, I will every time.

This informs my teaching style. I’ve talked about this before on the blog. I’m less about mechanics and more about facilitating students with the tools to teach themselves. For example, back when I used to teaching swimming lessons, I’d take a small group of 3-year-olds to a part of the pool where I knew they could stand, and standing just out of their reach, I’d tell one to swim to me. Some were scared, but inevitably one brave soul would push off the wall, wriggle around in the water, and instinctively propel her body to me. And once you get the first one student to do it, the rest follow.

This method works well in computer studies. I assign a task with general instructions, and then watch the students figure out the details. Some of the kids sit around for a while scratching their heads and getting lost in strange dark corners of Microsoft Office, so I stroll around the classroom making sure no one gets too far off the beaten path. But for the most part, the kids find their own way to complete the task. No instructions. Perfect.

This style is more difficult to implement in an English class—particularly in an English as a Second Language class—though not for a lack of trying. In fact, the first task I assigned on the first day of class, which I have repeated weekly ever since, fits the “No Instructions” mold: I assigned a journal entry.

When I have the kids journal, I’ll give them a topic, which usually includes ~3 related questions. For example, the topic I assigned yesterday was, “Who is your father? What does he do? What have you learned from him? Tell a story about your father.” I give the kids a 7-sentence minimum, so I try and make the topic open-ended. At first the kids would protest, “Why do we have to write 7 sentences if you only asked 3 questions.” Because I said so.

I admit, my year 10s’ journal writing hasn’t seen the same success as the tiny tots at swimming lessons or my year 12s teaching themselves to format a page header. Getting the year 10s to sit through a root canal every Monday would be easier than getting them to write 7 whole sentences.

So I’ve tinkered with the system. I’ve offered rewards, and sent the non-writers to detention. On one occasion I was so unimpressed with their performance on Monday I gave them a new journal topic on Tuesday. Nothing sticks.

But I’ve been thinking: It’s all about seeing that first kid push off the wall, right? There needs to be a more public element to the journal writing. So yesterday we wrote journal entries. Today, we read them aloud.

I’ll let you know how that went tomorrow.

I hope you’re well. Picture below.

Rachel and Blakey at The Yacht Club this afternoon.

No comments: