Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What did you learn?

Another day of classes canceled. That's two this semester, or one-fourteenth of our face-to-face meeting time. Immediately, I began considering ways to make up this precious time but then I began to see the Twitter complaints of some of my students who were getting extra assignments from their other professors. This isn't intended to be a criticism of either my students or my colleagues - just an observation. And it raises the question: what do I want my students to learn from my class?

It was a question that I was recently discussing with another professor who is also teaching preservice elementary teachers. We came to the conclusion that, if we are honest, much of the content (mathematical and pedagogical) in our course does not last until our students have their own classrooms; this is both horrifying and freeing. I try to concentrate on the the freeing. Although we have content proscribed by a common syllabus, we can take the advice of Mike Schmoker and Focus on what we think is important. I want to make the most of the limited time we have together by focusing on building the capacity to learn new things and the desire to do so.

And then I found out Pete Seeger died, and in all the tributes I was reminded of his song, What Did You Learn in School Today?

It is not enough for me to identify what I want my students to learn, I also need to be aware of what they are actually learning. In the song, the hidden curriculum, intentional or not, is made visible and the possible consequence made implicit. While I never want my students to non-critically consume content, unintended consequence to my instructional actions always need to be considered. I might have designed what I thought was the perfect experience to replace today's missed class. However, the result might have been a blow to my efforts to foster a positive affect toward learning how to teach math.

I guess I can live with the choice to let today's learning be in the hands of the learner.

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