Posted in Education, Teaching

Being Open to New Ideas

While I am a creature of habit, I do like trying new things, occasionally.  I like to read new books from genres I don’t usually try.  I enjoy learning about new and different teaching practices.  I love learning about different educational systems in places around the globe.  Those kinds of new things I love.  I don’t like trying new foods from strange places.  I don’t like taking on something I know nothing about.  Generally though, I’m open to giving new things a chance.

Today during Humanities class, my co-teacher introduced a new current event topic in a different manner than I’ve ever done before.  Usually, when I introduce a new current event topic to the students that I want them to delve into via their small group discussions, I share just the main ideas of the topic through a short article and video.  I don’t address questions at that point because I want the students to field each other’s questions in the small discussions.  This normally takes about 15 minutes, which leaves about 10-15 minutes for a discussion prior to a short break in the double block period.  This way, we still have the whole second half of class to cover a new topic or activity.  While I’ve tried different iterations regarding current event discussions, I try to keep them contained to one period.  Why, I don’t know, but I’ve always done it that way.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t know any other way.

So, when my co-teacher kept talking, fielding questions, explaining and detailing the current event she introduced, I worried that the students would have nothing left to discuss in their small groups.  Plus, she took the entire first block just to cover the new topic.  She had the students read the article aloud as a group and dissect each paragraph, asking students to extract the main idea.  She recorded notes on the who, what, when, where, how, and why of the article as she discussed it.  She also answered all of the questions the students asked.  She then showed a short video, further analyzing the topic.  It took the entire first half of class, which meant the students would have less time to work on their Canaan Writing Piece that is due on Tuesday.  Would they be able to finish on time?  Why did she talk for so long and beat the current event horse to a bloody pulp?  I worried that providing the students with so much information regarding the topic would prevent them from having fruitful conversations.  Would they have enough to talk about in the small groups?  Did she need to dig into the topic as deeply as she did?  Did it make a difference?  Yes, I know I said I am usually open to new ideas, but it takes a while for me to warm up to them if they challenge my current line of thinking.  My hypothesis was that the conversations would be no more insightful or deeper than our past discussions.  Boy, was I wrong.

Because the students had built up such a strong foundation of knowledge on the topic, they were able to discuss the current event and guiding question in a very critical and insightful manner.  They analyzed how the influx of Asian immigrants will affect America in the coming years.  They used examples and started to think about how it will change the culture in our country.  The students also discussed how it would affect the Asian countries.  Wow!  Who thought that their small group discussions could have gotten any more effective?  Not me.  I thought they were brilliant before but today’s discussion proved that there was still plenty of room for improvement.  Almost every student got involved in the conversation in an effective and appropriate manner.  Even one of the students who rarely contributed to the discussions participated well today.  Was it because he better understood the material?  Did the extra processing time allow him to digest the facts and knowledge more effectively?

Even though the introduction of the current event topic ate up double the normal time allotted, it seemed to make a huge difference in the level of conversations the students were able to have.  Rather than just offering the students surface-level information, giving the boys the real meat and potatoes of the topic made for deeper comprehension and analysis.  Isn’t that what we want as teachers?  Clearly, the deep-dive for this sort of activity works best.  So, I was wrong.  My co-teacher’s new method of discussing a current event was way more useful than what I had done in the past, despite taking extra time.  While some of the students could have used the extra time to work on their writing piece, they will have class time on Monday if need be.

While at first I was skeptical of this new method of introducing a topic to the students, I did eventually come around.  I need to work on coming around faster and being more open to new ideas rather than shutting them out from the start.  I was so upset and worried that her discussion had taken so long that I couldn’t even begin to appreciate what was happening in the classroom.  Much like my students, I need to have a growth mindset when learning new things or receiving feedback.  Being open to new ideas is the easiest way to grow and develop as an individual.

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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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