how is it that teachers continue to pull out the same lesson plans when they have not met their students yet? Just a thought.It's true. As teachers, we're trained to prepare. We've got arsenals of prepared lessons, assessments, schedules. But there's one thing we can't prepare for: we can't prepare for which students are going to walk in our door.
Sure, we might know some of their names in advance. We may have heard stories of their prowess on the softball diamond or their antics in Ms. Jones' chemistry class. But we can't really know who those kids are until they've come through that door, sat down in our classroom, and opened their mouths and told us who they are and what matters to them.
This is why the ability to 'differentiate' shouldn't be the mark of a good teacher, but rather the expectation of anyone who calls his or herself a teacher: because if you don't understand your kids, how can you expect them to understand you?
And so next year, I'm trying out something new. As I tweeted earlier today:
I'm making it a goal next year to not plan out my courses until I've first met my students.My plan going in is to meet the first two days of class with the students to learn the interests of each and to help them start PLNs on Twitter to extend their interests into a broader real-time conversation. Then I'd like each of them to explain the ups-and-downs of their prior experiences learning -- both in the classroom and out in that zone of experience the education folks call "informal learning". We're gonna spend some serious time getting to know how each other like to learn from the very beginning before we ever even touch on course material.
They won't be getting a syllabus, either.
Rather, we'll take a look at the general themes of the course -- next year I'll be teaching West Civ and Modern Euro History -- and we'll start constructing a wiki to structure where we want to go. I'll guide them by adding some historical context and then help them use Twitter to start crowdsourcing the essential questions we'll use to guide our study.
I'm also teaching a Human Geography course and my co-teacher and I have been swapping ideas back and forth. The one we are gravitating towards is not having a curriculum at all, but rather having students listen daily to PRI's The World each night and write daily blogposts about what they hear. Classtime will be spent discussing the previous night's episode and helping students to fill in details and to learn how to access more information about subjects talked about on the program.
We as teachers will constantly be learning new stuff at the same time as our students. Rather than thinking of this as being perpetually 'unprepared', it'll actually be more a situation where everyone involved will bring to the table whatever they've got with them. Classtime will be a matter of sorting things out and making connections; and of course, we'll have our PLNs to turn to for help, ideas, and advice. And by the end of the semester, each student will have a complete digital portfolio of their own responses and comments to their responses to daily world events.
I think both approaches emphasize dealing with the real-time world in real-time. And that's where I think my students and I need to be.