Posted in Education, Teaching

Are Flexible Preparation Periods Necessary?

Last week, I did a dry run of the presentation I will be giving at the NH Science Teachers Association’s annual Conference in April to the Science Department at my school.  I wanted to receive some feedback so that I would have time to revise the presentation if needed.  My colleagues were very kind and insightful.  They asked some good questions that I had not thought about when conceiving the presentation.  I was grateful for the chance to practice and rehearse my presentation before the big show in April.

Like me, I wanted my students to have one final day to prepare for tomorrow’s big debate in STEM class regarding wind power.  While the students finished and finalized their speeches last week, I wanted to be sure they had one flexible, extra period to rehearse their speeches aloud, receive feedback from their peers, work out any kinks in their argument, discuss dress code, and finalize their speaking order.  All of these steps were discussed at the start of class and also listed online on our class Haiku page.  The optimist in me wanted to believe that the students would know exactly what to do because they needed to run through their speeches and be sure everything was ready to go for tomorrow.  However, that’s not quite what happened.

When the students began working, the Con group started rehearsing immediately.  They went into the hallway where it was quiet and ran through their speeches one at a time.  Although they offered each other a bit of feedback, mostly nothing was said after each person spoke.  While they sounded prepared and were emphasizing their main points, I wondered how effectively they were rehearsing.  So, I gave them the grading rubric the judges will be using for tomorrow’s debate and suggested they each use it to critique each other and provide feedback.  This seemed to focus them a bit and they were able to then offer words of wisdom to their peers on how they could improve for the big dance.  The other group, took much longer and many more reminders before they began actually working.  The Pro group just kind of milled around the back of the classroom holding their speeches.  They weren’t really doing anything other than trying to look like they were doing something.  I spoke to their facilitator who was focused on revising his speech.  This didn’t help at first.  I then reminded the other group members of the task at hand.  This didn’t help either.  It wasn’t until about 15 minutes into the period that they actually started rehearsing and working effectively.  They needed much guidance to get started.  I needed to provide their facilitator with the grading rubric to offer feedback to his group members.  Even once they started rehearsing, some group members were distracted and unfocused.  Once they ran through their speeches, they generally stopped working.  While the group’s facilitator did work with some group members on revising speeches and rehearsing aloud, three group members just walked around the classroom doing nothing.  Were they thinking or mentally preparing?  No, they were searching for lacrosse gloves online.  I then said to that group, “If any of you would like to practice your speech with me to receive feedback, please let me know.”  This seemed to help.  Three group members sought me out for help.  I was able to provide beneficial feedback to them so that they feel more prepared and rehearsed for tomorrow’s debate.

While I thought that students understood what rehearse and prepare meant, I realized that much support and help needed to be given in order for them to actually start rehearsing and preparing.  They didn’t know how to do it.  At this age, most students are still very egotistical and think they are done or ready to go when in fact they are not.  They need teachers to remind them of how to check over their work and prepare for the next big assessment.  Although these prep times are needed for students to prepare and work through their problems, they need to be very structured.  I realized today that when I provide my students with another preparation period like this, I will need to be very clear with the instructions.  I can’t expect that my students know how to do everything.  I need to help guide them.  Preparation and practice are only useful when done correctly.  Next time, I will better guide their rehearsal period so that it is more useful to them.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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