I was given an excerpt from Robyn R Jackson’s book Never Work Harder Than Your Students. I must admit I was intrigued by the title. At times, I’m sure most educators feel they are indeed working harder than their students. Jackson makes some wonderful suggestions that I thought I’d try out with one of my classes today.
Last week my class went to the River Torrens and did some water testing. We tested for phosphates, nitrates, salinity, aquatic insects, turbidity and the acidity of the water. I had a feeling that although the class carried out the testing well they did not understand what they were testing for, why they were testing for it and what their results could tell them about the overall health of the river.
Jackson suggests that rather than giving the students the information teachers should pose questions to guide the student learning. This I did well. The class worked in groups of 2 or 3 to define their nutrient; how the nutrients presence impacts on water quality and what their results tell them about the health of the River Torrens.
The students all have laptops, so I asked them to research their topic to report back to the class in 10 to 15 minutes. While some students did this well, others were unable to locate a good source to answer their questions.
In hindsight I realise that I assumed students would know how to narrow down their search to find the appropriate information; however it became evident that this was not the case. Although some students were able to complete the task successfully others were lost. Perhaps this is because I (and many other teachers) don’t often give the students the questions. Instead we tell the students the answers leaving them unable to find the answers for themselves.
There is a quote in the reading that I particularly love ‘Learning is a messy process and we cannot control it. Sometimes we have to let it get messy….’ Today’s lesson would have been a lot neater if had I simply lectured the students about the information I wanted them to have; however I am hopeful those students who successfully sought out the answers for themselves will have engaged with their learning more actively, giving them a more meaningful learning experience, than if they had simply listened to what I had told them.
Next time I try an activity like this I will give the students more guidance and model strategies they can use if they are not getting the desired results. I will need to be careful how I do this as I don’t want to merely give the students the answer but aid their search for it so that they find out the answers for themselves.
I believe that teacher directed instruction is still necessar at times; however as I plan for future classes I will be looking for ways I can ask more questions and encourage my students to ask questions too.