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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I'm really struggling with this.

I am a big believer in #stuvoice. I am also a believer that one of my jobs as a high school teacher is to get students to think critically about their thinking.  Also, as a high school teacher, I think it is my job to help the students realize they need to cut the cord.  I shouldn't be the sole source of their learning. They need to engage in the process and be self-starters as well as independently motivated.

This leads me to my current struggle.  I had a conversation with a student yesterday that made sleeping last night a challenge to say the least.

Background of the topic.  In US History, we have finished our study of the 1950's and 1960's and I have asked the students to work in pairs (one assigned the 50's and one assigned the 60's) to debate which decade was more historically significant.  They have to pick a person, event, judicial decision, cultural event and political event that is evidence that their assigned decade was more historically significant.  They can choose the platform and the way that they screencast the debate for the class to eventually evaluate the strength of evidence and argument.

Here is the gist of the conversation.

S: "Adding technology to the curriculum isn't helping us get ready for the test, it just makes things more complicated."

Me: "The technology allows us to access the information at a later date, create both an audio and visual debate and then share with an audience beyond me.  Beyond that, evaluating events from a decade that you feel would make it significant, then putting together a coherent argument that can not only support your assertion, but refute the other partner's evidence is absolutely getting you prepared for the test".

S: "I need packets, I only learn from packets and flashcards."

Me: "Are you learning or memorizing from packets and flashcards?"

S: "I'm learning."

Me: "How do you define learning?"

S: "Knowing what I need to know for the test."

Me: "How about making flash cards that contain your talking points and that is your platform?"

S: "That's still doing what you wanted me to do."

The conversation lasted for about 25 minutes, but that is the above part is the part I am struggling with.

Here is my struggle:

I want to honor her voice in telling me the way that she learns best.  I just can't make the argument that learning is happening solely from a packet.  I still do packets.  I have not replaced packets with projects, although I would like to lessen our reliance on packets, but that is a different conversation. All the information they needed for the test was in the packet.  The project is to extend the learning and help them exercise their critical thinking muscles as well as their ability to formulate and articulate an historical argument.  Not only is this a real world skill, but this will come in handy on the test in the form of the thematic essay and DBQ, but I don't think I should only be teaching them to be successful on the test.  But again, that is a different conversation.

My struggle continues with the question whether she really does learn better from packets or if she just hasn't had any other type of experience that takes her learning beyond simple memorization for the test.  Is she just memorizing the packets?  If so, is that really learning to the level that we want our students to be learning?

My other concern is that the student wants to go into a field that is solely based on collaboration and technology.  How do I get her to see that she needs to branch out, be more flexible about her learning and go beyond what she thinks she will need on the test.

This is my struggle.


  1. We must always take into account that children learn in so many different ways. My son was a sequential learner like most people but my daughter had to see the whole picture first. I had to learn how to help her succeed. As teachers we should support students in whatever ways work for them. It may not be what we would want but if the student is comfortable why fight it. Give students choices and let them pick their pathway to learning.

  2. I totally understand that we need to support the student's learning styles. I just don't feel like she is learning from a packet. I feel like she is memorizing. I'm not saying tech is the answer, I'm just saying that I can't wrap my brain around that a packet can provide the rich experience that a project or other activity can provide.

  3. Have you considered bringing in some outside perspective from experts in the field she'd like to work in? Perhaps have a Hangout or Skype with them to help all your students see how important it is to learn to be flexible and collaborative in addition to passing tests and working independently. Perhaps they could share "a day in the life" so your students can see the different activities, and required skills, that occur on a daily basis.

  4. I was thinking of doing something like that. Thanks for reinforcing the idea.

  5. Your student reminds me of myself in high school. I hated projects. I hated them because I couldn't see the connection between them and what I was supposed to be learning.
    Packets and flashcards give an immediate and clear connection between the activity and the learning outcome. It sounds like your student needs you to draw that line more clearly for your debate project as well.
    I used to hate the "frills" of projects because no one explained to me that those "frills" were actually learning skills that were also important for me. You've made it very clear and explicit on this blog. Draw that line for your student as well.

  6. Thank you for your feedback. I thought that I had made it clear because I explained the same thing I put in my blog, but upon reflection, I don't think she was in a place where my explanation could make a difference yesterday. My plan is to have a conversation with her tomorrow and maybe we can better communicate about this.