In elementary school, I was trained to crave teacher directed instruction. Since I had very few opportunities during which I was expected to think for myself and effectively coexist with my peers, when I was put into those situations, I struggled. What do I do? How do I solve this problem? What page do I need to look at? Where do I go? I was so used to my teacher telling me what to do that I didn’t know how to problem solve on my own. I often wonder, what might my life look like had I been provided very little teacher directed instruction and many more opportunities to think for myself and solve problems on my own. Perhaps I would have become the doctor I always dreamed of being when I was younger. Or maybe I would have traveled the world more because I felt confident. While I love the life I have now and wouldn’t change anything for the world, I do wish I had been educated in a more student-centered environment.
As a teacher, I realize that every student learns differently and needs to be challenged and supported appropriately. Knowing this, I am aware that a few of the students in my class learn best when they are supported from the teacher in a very direct manner. However, I also know that the majority of my students learn best when they have a chance to take risks, try new things, and work with their peers. To meet the needs of every learner in my class, I like to vary my instruction. Each period might include a tiny amount of direct instruction, some partner work, group work, whole class discussion, problem solving opportunities, and independent work. This way, I am giving the students what they need while also exposing everyone to other ways of learning. If students only know one way to learn, when they encounter a teacher who instructs his or her class in an opposite manner, they will be lost. They won’t know how to meet the expectations set by the teacher. My goal is to empower my students with skills and strategies to be successful anywhere doing anything.
Today’s STEM class began with the viewing of a short video about what stock tables reveal about the market and various companies. This lead into a short, whole class discussion about what we can learn from viewing Google Finance. Then, the students had 10 minutes to work with their partner on the Stock Market Game. They could research stocks or update their portfolio. This lead into a mini-lesson on the benefits of a company going public. The students, working with a partner, read and discussed a fact sheet about two different companies, one public and one private. They then answered three questions about the reading. We then discussed what they learned about the two companies before reviewing the benefits and obligations of going public. Then, the students had the option to work at their own pace on the remainder of the homework worksheet packet in the back of the room or stay at the tables for direct instruction. While most students moved to the back of the room, three students stayed up front with me. My co-teacher meandered in the back of the room in case questions arose. I walked the students up with me through various problems about stock shares and prices. I modelled problems on the board, asked them questions, and helped them complete their worksheet. They seemed to really enjoy the structure. This style of teaching works for them. That’s awesome. I’m so glad they were able to have this experience today.
With two teachers in the room for a class, offering choices when it comes to instruction seems to be the best way to educate students. Allow those who work best alone or with a peer to fly solo and problem solve on their own while supporting those who crave teacher directed instruction. While not every class will include these options, it is effective to offer them every once in awhile. What’s good for one isn’t always the best choice for the others. Thus, as teachers, we need to be flexible and mindful as we teach and guide our students. Try new things, vary the instructional methods, and help the students have fun while learning and growing.