I mess up a lot. Just ask my wife. I can barely remember to do half of what she tells me to unless I write it down. While I’m trying to get better at this, it’s still an area of my life in need of improvement. The key is is in admitting that I’m not good at remembering what my wife tells me to do. Through this admission, I’m telling myself that I need to work on it. My brain then hones in on this issue when my wife next tells me something. It’s almost like sticky notes for my brain. By owning my actions and choices, I’m realizing that I need to remedy the situation; therefore, my brain places emphasis on what my wife tells me in the future so that I can pay closer attention to it and not forget to do what she asks of me.
Teaching students to do this as their brains are still myelinating is quite challenging. The key when working with students regarding this issue is to have deliberate and purposeful conversations with them after mistakes or poor choices are made. Debriefing the situations and then helping them to understand how to approach a similar situation in the future is vital. Role playing can help, but timing is key. You don’t want to discuss things with them directly following the situation as tensions may still be high. You want to follow up with the student a few hours or a day or two later so that they’ve had time to process what happened and are not operating under the fight or flight protocol. After many of these types of conversations, students will eventually build the appropriate neurological connections in their brain that will help them learn from their mistakes. Knowing this, teachers realize that students will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again as their brain grows and develops.
Adults on the other hand, have much stronger and myelinated neurological connections that should, in theory, allow them to easily learn from their mistakes the first time. While I do still sometimes repeat the same mistakes over and over again, despite knowing what I should do, as an educator, I do find that once I make a mistake or try something that fails, I don’t repeat that same poor choice. Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t or won’t mess up or make mistakes, because I do quite frequently. However, I’ve gotten really good over the years, mostly due to this blog, at learning from what doesn’t go right in the classroom. Case and point, yesterday’s academic orientation schedule for the sixth grade.
Although I know what great, evidence-based teaching looks like, every once in awhile, I revert back to the sage on the stage mentality of teaching and find that I’m doing way too much of the talking and leading. I feel as though my co-teacher and I planned a very information-heavy schedule for yesterday’s orientation, day one. While we do need to impart much knowledge to the students during these opening days, there are clearly more effective and engaging ways to do it than what we did in the classroom yesterday. We basically talked at the students for several hours. Sure, we mixed it up a bit with games, activities, and tasks, but for the most part, it felt like we were just overloading the boys with information about our sixth grade program. We could have and should have structured yesterday’s agenda differently. We should have talked much less and engaged the students much more.
Now, it did take me quite some time to come to this realization, as I left the classroom yesterday feeling pretty good about what we had done. I felt like we had accomplished our goals and provided the students with lots of valuable information. It wasn’t until my co-teacher shared some agenda slides she created for today’s orientation schedule that I came to the realization that what we had done yesterday was hogwash. Her slides involved the students in the learning process. She was asking them questions while providing them with crucial information in a very succinct manner. “Why didn’t we do this yesterday,” I thought as I perused her slides last evening.
Luckily for me, my axons are relatively well myelinated and so I was able to see the errors in my ways to know that we can’t plan next year’s orientation schedule in this same way. We need to be more purposeful and engaging. We need to plan more active learning activities for the students. We need to do what we normally do in our regular classes: Ask questions, engage the students in critical thinking exercises, and promote teamwork and collaboration. If we can do this on a daily basis in our classes, why was it so challenging for us to plan an orientation schedule in the same style? Who knows, but what I do know is that this won’t happen again next year. I will be sure that we plan a relevant and meaningful orientation day one schedule, because unlike some of my students, I can easily learn from my mistakes. Yah for me!