Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Playing games in school, but not the fun type.

As a high school student I learned that some teachers played games with their students. (Now some played board, role-play, and simulation games but that’s not what I am talking about.) I mean that they were not focused on helping kids learn instead they were looking for a way to talk about the content, give a quiz, assign a couple of homework sets, test, and then require a paper. These teachers didn't really care if the class got the information, after all he/she taught the information we just didn't get it.

I tried to see if these teachers had patterns that allowed me to disappear within the class. I was looking for the teachers who only wanted to teach the content and didn't care or worry if the students understood. If I found a class like that it meant that I didn't have to give much effort. I could save that energy for the class where the teacher was about teaching children.

This is how it played out. On the first day of class, I would select my seat so that it was close to the edge of the class, but not too close to the front, definitely not in the back and not right next to the wall. I would look at the teacher and take notes. I would complete my homework and turn it in on time. When a friend would try to talk to me during class, I would shush them and get back to looking and listening. I was a good kid. I didn't get in trouble. I was quiet. Matter of fact, probably most of my teachers had no memory of me as a student. As a result, I wouldn't get called to the board. I wouldn't have to demonstrate my ability to do or understand the work. I wouldn't get called upon to answer questions. I just had to sit through class. I was good at this.

Usually these same teachers had patterns for testing. Some thought they were tricky and would only pick out the info from the boxes in the text that nobody read but were supposed to. Some took no time to prepare and it became quite noticeable if you knew what to look for. I usually set the curve in these classes. (As a note, there were some teachers who had no predictability and were not good teachers…I think it was because they didn't know what they were doing from day to day.) Then there were those that were just looking for a reason to not focus on the content. The chemistry teacher who had us play chess. I like chess but we were supposed to be learHe would teach half of the class time and then we would retreat to the lab to play chess. We were required to play. The Algebra 2 teacher who was a former high school football ref, who could be derailed by a simple…wow, what a game Friday night…You thought that was good…back in 76 there was a time I remember…You get the point. There were others.
The most noticeable impact this pattern had on my life was when I took college chemistry and Calculus 2 in college. I kept struggling with understanding how to use the formulas and algebraic equations. My calculus professor took time to walk me through my mistakes. He showed me where I was making simple errors (negative times a negative is a negative…right? I wasn't taking my time.) My behaviors in high school kept me from being thorough. They kept me from really understanding processes.

 Now I did this to myself…but I am asking you to assess yourself…Do you play games or do you allow the kids to do so with you?  As you prepare for this fall, take time to reassess you as a teacher. Be honest. Do you let them get you off topic? Do you teach them for mastery and understanding or do you have specific items you talk about and you don’t take the time to see if every kid is getting it. Do you allow some kids to escape assessment because you have other fish to fry? Do you call upon the kids who might disrupt or only upon the kids who have all of the answers because you know that you can predict what they will say?

 Be the type of teacher who cares enough to know whether each kid is getting it or not.  Be the type of teacher who then takes that information and uses it to help the kids do and achieve more.

Something to think about.