The New Basics

After a few days away from thinking about teaching, I attended ISTE Tuesday just for the day. That was enough to get me going again. As I reflect on the dizzying array of options and messages I heard and saw there, I find myself having to filter down to what is most essential in thinking about my planning for next year. Those key elements are what I am calling the “new basics.” Embedded in all of these is the need for me to be in continuous conversation with students about their work. Feedback, feedback, feedback.

Beginning next week, I will be meeting with my colleagues to work on the core curriculum for next year in Modern World and then US History in August. I have learned so much in the past few months from my PLN and the sites and reading they have suggested. Now, it’s time to move it forward and share.

My first “new basic” is that students need to produce work for audiences other than me. They need to be sharing their work and using their peers as well as me to form their own PLN. I want my students to work through their ideas and process them on blogs, soliciting feedback, just like I am doing here. At the end of a significant project, there needs to be a way for them to share their projects and learn from one another. I would like these projects to be saved/archived in a more permanent way – not just a class presentation, although there is value in that as well. I want them to write and think for audiences beyond the walls of the classroom.

The need to share with others brings me to my next “new basic.” Students need to be able to write different products for different audiences. The way one writes a blog is different from a short essay, which is also different from a longer, formal research paper. They should be able to produce quality Tweets as well as strong analytical papers. To that end, I would like to find a way to encourage the use of social media, like Twitter, as well as blogging, without ridding my curriculum of the formal essay and research paper. Clear writing and clear thinking go together. Knowing the purpose and audience for a piece of writing is essential.

My third “new basic” is about forming a partnership with my students in terms of content. I need to pay more attention to where students want to go within the bounds of my curriculum but with limits. I need to find ways to honor student interests. Free Fridays and portfolios are easy options, but there may be more ways to do it in daily discussion. At the same time, I still think there is room for my guidance since I know more of the rest of the story, and I can point out at any given time that students may want to pay attention to something because it will come back later. That is why I will include discussion of what happens to the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, even though students tend to gravitate to the story surrounding Germany. They may know the Nazis are coming and see the connection, but I need for them to understand how the end of WWI in the Middle East helps to explain what is going on there today.

My fourth “new basic” is that students need to be able to construct a story or craft an analysis by drawing information from a variety of sources. I need for them to think and act like good historians. To me that’s really the only way for them to experience history as a construction. I can tell them different interpretations of the same event, and discuss historiography, but having them do it themselves is much more powerful.

All of these take time to develop. I need to keep telling myself it is worth it. I am reading Brain Rules by John Medina. He uses the analogy of force feeding geese to make foie gras. The process is pretty awful. I don’t want to do that with my students. It is counterproductive. Because I have said it does not mean that anyone has learned it. I need to keep reminding myself of that.

What are your “new basics”?