Posted in Education, STEM, Teaching

How Can I Be Certain that Genuine Learning Took Place in Class Today?

As a student in high school, I tried with all of my might to hide in the classroom and not be seen.  I was very shy back then and didn’t like to speak in class.  I went out of my way to sit behind the taller students in class so that the teacher might not see me as easily.  I rarely raised my hand in class to answer or ask questions.  I hid behind my shyness.  When my teachers provided time in class to work on a project or activity, I would always pretend to look busy when the teacher walked around and observed what we were doing.  I would scribble on the paper or make it look like I was engaged in reading the text.  Instead of putting effort into doing work and learning more, I put an extreme amount of effort into purposely not working and getting out of actually learning anything.

As a teacher, I go out of my way to create a caring and supportive environment for my students in the classroom.  I make learning engaging and fun so that every student wants to be involved in discussions and activities.  I don’t want students to feel like I did in school.  I want them to care about learning and growing.  I want them to see the benefits in learning and participating.  I praise my students for asking questions.  I work hard to be sure that every student feels and is successful.  No one will slip through the cracks like I did.  Well, that’s my goal anyway.  So far, I feel as though I’ve helped challenge and support all of my students.

Today in STEM class though, I wondered if the freedom and choice I provide students allowed for some of them to appear busy when in fact they were trying hard not to do anything.  While two of the students completed the geology assessment, the rest of the boys “worked” on reading, highlighting, and recording margin notes regarding the geology packet, in class.  A few of the students were actually working on their geology packet during class.  They were highlighting the important facts and vocabulary terms and taking margin notes on questions and the other important details regarding Earth’s geology.  However, four of the boys seemed to have completed their packet but chose not to complete the assessment in class.  What were they doing then: Reviewing the key concepts, studying, or revising their margin notes and highlights?  When I asked them what they were doing in class, their responses were very similar, “I’m looking over my packet to be sure I understand everything.”  What does that even mean?  Were they flipping the pages of their packet?  Yes, but were they reading and reviewing anything while turning the pages?  Who knows.  Sure, several of the students did ask clarifying questions about the major concepts, demonstrating the fact that they were indeed reviewing the major geology concepts covered in the packet.  What about the others who did not ask questions?  What were they doing?  Were they faking it like I did?  Were they actually doing nothing at all because they just didn’t want to take the geology assessment in class?  I did wonder if one or two of my students did nothing in class.  If so, does it matter?  If they chose to waste their time and learning opportunities, does it matter?

As I pondered these questions following class today, I realized that tomorrow I will be able to determine the answers to many of my questions.  In class tomorrow, the students who didn’t already complete the geology assessment in class, will complete it then.  When I review the assessments, I will figure out if any of those four students who seemed to be doing nothing today in class, actually learned the material.  If they demonstrate an understanding of the content covered and can meet the objectives, then perhaps they were really working in class today.  Sure, of course, they could have previously learned the material and were indeed doing “nothing” in class today, but I like to see things through positive glasses and so I’d like to think that if they showcased their learning on the assessment, they must have been productive in class today.  However, if any of those four students do not meet the objectives covered, it might indicate that very little learning took place for them in STEM class today.  While this sounds great in theory, there, of course, are always exceptions to every absolute.  Perhaps because those four students are English Language Learners, they were focused in class today but struggled to understand the concepts covered in English.  Or maybe some students have difficulty demonstrating their learning in written form.  With so many variables at play, no matter what data I collect tomorrow, I may never truly know what happened in class for a few of my students.

What I do know, though, is that I might need to rethink STEM work periods so that I can be a bit more certain if genuine learning is taking place or not.  What that looks like in practice, I don’t know, but I want to ensure that all of my students work to their full potential.  So, for now, I will collect data and then reassess tomorrow afternoon.  Who knows, maybe all will be clear tomorrow.



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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