Regurgitation: it’s time for a change

Chomping gum, the phrase “same difference” or interrupting others, we all have our own pet peeves.  As an English teacher, I have plenty that deal with written language: confusing its/it’s would be a perfect example.  But the frustrations about teaching practices are much more important and potentially damaging.

Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results may not be the actual definition of insanity, but it is certainly not best practice!  This is why I find it increasingly amazing the more I hear this quote: “I don’t know why my students did so poorly on the test; I gave them all the answers the day before!  All they had to do was study!”

Now besides the point that this is, as some would say, a sign of insanity, where is the learning?  Where is the problem solving?  Why are our students being asked to remember exactly what was told to them the day before?  We are developing regurgitators!

The more we continue in the evolution of teaching and facts become less important, our students should be problem solvers, not fact or equation rememberers.  We have a chance to get students to engage like never before.  The possibilities are endless.  The world is their oyster.  But time and time again, students are asked to memorize a way to do something and spit it back out on a test.

The more of a challenge, inquiry or problem we give to students, the more likely they are to do the assignment.  This type of learning is more likely to be seen as authentic and will engage young people in a way that remembering one way to solve a problem for the test the next day cannot.

Let’s stop giving answers to students and start challenging them to come up with the answers. Better yet, let’s ask students to invent answers!


When I was your age…

That is one thing that I do not say to a roomful of teenagers.  Having sets of eyes roll simultaneously while I speak is not really my thing.  Students love to hear a good story from their teacher, but not when it is announced like a lecture is about to be delivered.

Don’t roll your eyes, but when I was in school we didn’t have a great way to communicate about the great books that we read.  I wasn’t encouraged to find amazing young adult literature and enjoy it on a daily basis.  To be honest, I don’t remember reading many books outside of the required curriculum in school.  Readicide was taking place in my hometown.

Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. – from Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide

I was nearly a victim, and I don’t even know how I escaped.  At one point (sophomore year I believe) each student in our class was required to choose a book from a list of classics to read on our own.  I scoured the library, searching long and hard for the perfect book.  Debating over covers, summaries, and what my friends were going to read led to great confusion.  But I knew it when I saw it – The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway.   At only 93 pages long, this choice was a no brainer!

It is slightly embarrassing for me, a current English teacher, to have chosen a book based on the number of pages, but where was the support?  Where were the book talks and personal recommendations?  Where was the display of great books to choose from?

There are many students today who are taking advantage of, a type of social networking devoted to books.  You can rate and keep track of what you have read and get recommendations based on those ratings.  You can also join groups and see what other people are reading.

Goodreads is just another way to help our students avoid the perils of readicide in schools.  Join in and start liking books!  When our students start to say, “When I was your age…” we don’t want them to be complaining about the lack of great books and recommendations in schools.

Will rescuing the princess rescue education?

“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom.  It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.  As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.  I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.  I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.  In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

– Dr. Haim Ginott

This is the most inspirational and true quote that I have seen about teaching.  The teacher’s attitude has an incredible impact on the entire class.  Children’s lives are influenced on a daily basis.

There has been a push in the teaching world away from the human element and towards the computer in ways such as game-based learning, individualized programs, and online classes.  Yes, these provide more focused instruction to individual students in many cases, but does it take away from important aspects of a student’s education?

Schools are a place where young people learn much more than the subjects that are taught.  Interacting with peers, respecting rules, and working collaboratively are all skills that are not easily taught in person, let alone in an online environment.  Think about how much students would miss out on if they spent all day with earbuds in and videos on their screen.

The differentiated lessons offered with this type of learning is great, don’t get me wrong, but there needs to be a human element as well.  The more we de-humanize people and think of them only as the avatar in the corner or a single picture, the more we disregard their feelings.  We also end up with weaker social interaction and discussion skills.

Without the human side of education, students will miss out on motivation from the teacher.  Will the game on the computer give students motivation at the time?  I’m sure it will, but what happens when the game disappears?  Will that student’s motivation disappear as well?

There is never a perfect system, but balance is an important idea to keep in mind.  Using games as motivation can be great.  Online communication is a necessary still.  And individualized instruction is a key factor in helping students.  As long as a balance is maintained, students will have a chance to succeed in multiple environments and situations.