September is a golden month. The heydays of summer are over but there are still times when the afterglow of warmth burnishes our days before the early morning dews of autumn take over. In school there is still that freshness that goes with the beginning of a new school year. Classroom displays still look crisp and new, there is an eagerness to deliver new areas of learning which were planned over the summer and marking has not yet overwhelmed us.
Given all of the research on retrieval practice and spacing, I knew I wanted to continually review previously learned concepts with my Math 2b class. At the same time, I was stressed to cover all course content in the given term, and the students were always asking for more small group instruction. I have been looking for ways to solve all of these needs by integrating technology in an effective way.
Year in, year out, teachers will spot trends in their classroom. They’ll observe how, for instance, the more lively and easily distracted pupils grab seats at the back of the room, as far away as possible from the teacher’s admonishing gaze; how the quietly studious pupils shy away from volunteering an opinion during class discussions and the natural entertainers take any opportunity to get a laugh from their admiring peers. Same game, different players. They’ll also notice how similar groups are formed organically within the class as children, in line with natural human instincts, form bonds with people who are intrinsically similar to themselves and with whom they can relate.
For many educators the professional experience can be a paradoxically lonely one. Teaching is all about communication and relationships, they spend most of their time with large groups of people, yet their position is unique and in many ways isolating. They spend class time as an ‘other’ in a large group of peers, conceptually if not physically alone, and when the classes leave and the work of planning and assessment begins they are often physically alone as well.
The personal implications of this are obvious but there are professional implications as well. In an isolated situation is is hard to develop and progress in what you are doing, as the impetus to do so must come entirely from within, and the models and ideas for next steps must be created from nothing or very deliberately sought out. Why else are so many teachers eagerly communicating through platforms such as twitter, blogs and other social media? Developing on your own is hard, and truly moving forward often requires the ideas, encouragement and challenge of others.
Photo credit: Naparazzi