Aside from spending time with my son and wife, one of my favorite things to do is talk with other educators about teaching. What works well for you? What’s your thought on the Common Core? How do you help struggling students in your classroom? I love getting all deep into the philosophy of teaching. Why do we have schools? What purpose do they really serve? If we are moving towards a student-directed approach to teaching, do we even need teachers in schools? Do we even need physical school buildings anymore? I truly enjoy being challenged to think about the big picture while also trying to challenge others to see the minutia that can’t be overlooked when it comes to teaching and educating our students.
Today, as my co-teacher and I sat in the sixth grade classroom during our Team Meeting discussing future lessons and graded objectives, we started to question our entire sixth grade program. What’s it all about? What is our focus? What should our study skills class really be covering and teaching? It began innocently enough when my co-teacher asked for my input on the assessments she wants to use in the sixth grade study skills course. She wondered if the objectives were more applicable to our Humanities course than the study skills class, “If we have already graded the students in Humanities on this objective, should I be grading them on this objective again in PEAKS class?” My initial thought was, Yes, “We want the students to see how connected the various classes and skills are. We want the boys to understand the value in learning how to extract the main idea from a text. I think you should definitely grade them on this objective again in PEAKS class.” She felt like this was confusing, “How can I include these objectives in my unit plan for the brain? Do I just add them to the list? It seems confusing to me. When I go back to prepare for next year and look at my plans, I worry that I won’t remember what I did because I have so many other unrelated objectives listed.” I tried to explain to her that the unit plan is merely a guide and doesn’t need to include every objective covered during that time frame. This still seemed confusing to her.
She then reminded me of a conversation we had a few weeks back about how I used to teach the studies skills class. I didn’t have a separate curriculum for the course, I merely spoke to the other content area teachers and asked what skills they wanted me to cover. I then taught the students those skills while they were working on applying them in their other courses. For example, in history class, the students needed to take notes on a topic, write an expository paragraph, and include a works cited page for a project they were doing regarding famous Americans. I taught the study skills in my class and had them practice applying them using this history project. I gave them class time to work on the project so that they could demonstrate their ability to take effective bullet-style notes, write a properly formatted paragraph, and complete a properly formatted works cited page. This approach to the course was highly successful. The other teachers loved how integrated I made the course and the students enjoyed having the extra time and support to work on their other coursework. My co-teacher reminded me of this conversation and asked me how I graded the students when I taught the course. “I graded the students on the applicable study skills while the other teachers graded their work regarding the content-specific skills and objectives,” I said, suddenly realizing that this approach helped prove my point. She should be grading the students on the study skills in PEAKS class while assessing the Humanities skills for Humanities class even though they are completing the task and work in PEAKS class. While this seemed confusing for us both to grasp, we finally realized how much sense it made.
This confusion and A-Ha moment led us to then question the entire PEAKS class. Why do we implement a separate curriculum for this study skills course? Why don’t we use the class as a way to help the students practice and apply the essential study skills they will need throughout their academic career? Doesn’t that make more sense, we thought. Instead of spending months on academic integrity, spend a week or so introducing the major concepts involved so that the students have a basic understanding of what it means to be academically honest. Then, later in the year, while we are working on a research project in Humanities class, the students could spend time in PEAKS class working on reviewing the skills of finding reputable sources, note taking, and citation. This seems to make so much more sense to us both. So, we closed our Team Meeting conversation with plans for my co-teacher to talk to the PEAKS Department Chair at the end of the year about changing the sixth grade PEAKS curriculum for next year. So exciting! Who knows what might happen. He could say, “No way!” or “That sounds great.” We just don’t know, but we need to try something because clearly what we are currently doing is just not working for us or our students.