During this weeks observation, I learned simple but important lesson from my co-op. This may sound obvious to some, but to me, it really struck a chord on a deeper level as I reflected on several of my experiences as a student and as a teacher. This lesson was that as a teacher, it is important to try and make your students truly struggle and grapple with an assignment or a question: at least at first. by this, I don’t mean that teachers should send their students down river without a paddle, but they should also not make the answers so obvious that the students don’t have to work for the answer. Teachers also should not just give their students the answer when they see that they are struggling a bit.
For example, in the archaeology class that I was observing this week, my co-op was teaching students about various dating systems and the several dating calendars that are still used today. This was important for them to learn because their textbook features many of these different calendars when detailing various places, events, and artifacts. His main emphasis of the lesson was to be able to get his students to be able to convert different dates in different calendars to the calendar that we use so that they could have an accurate understanding of how old something was or how long ago something occurred. Once he had taught the lesson, he handed the students a work sheet full of various dates. Their task was to convert these dates into the specified calendar and in some cases add years or subtract years from the dates.
It didnt take long before the students were noticeable shaken and distraught by the assignment. They were having a rough time trying to convert the dates, and their frustrations were obvious as questions were flying and hands were shooting up. However, my co-op didnt not respond to the countless pleas for help. He simply said to refer to the notes and the tables he had just taught them and think about the information. As he said this, the students realized they would be on their own and in order to salvage a good grade they flipped through their notes and began thinking. As I walked the room, I saw that more and more answers were appearing on their papers. This diligent effort continued for a while and then my co-op slipped a stack of papers on one of the open desks at the front of the room. The papers were sort of a cheat sheet that spelled out the ways or formulas to convert dates on one calendar to dates on another.
The students collectively breathed a sigh of relief but for most of them, they had figured out many of these formulas as they struggled with the questions on their own, so the addition of the cheat sheet allowed them to quickly complete the problems they were stuck on and check the ones they had completed.
Overall, this showed me that students are a lot more capable than some, including themselves and other teachers may think. In an age when all the answers we need are accessible at our fingertips, and where we truly dont have to learn much on our own, it was refreshing and eye-opening to see my co-op force his students to teach themselves something and to work to find an answer. For one thing, the students absolutely now know date conversions much better than if they would have just been given the cheat sheet to start with. I think as teachers we have to empower our students, and I think the firs step to empowering them is by showing them that they are intelligent and that they are capable of doing many things that they dont think they ever could.
Lisa Hollenbach #SED363