The Forgotten ‘R’: Using Reflection to Speed Student Learning

“Most classrooms are oriented more to the present and the future than to the past. Such an orientation means that students (and teachers) find it easier to discard what has happened and to move on without taking stock of the seemingly isolated experiences of the past.”

Learning Through Reflection by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick

As I sat at a session by The Paper Graders at NCTE17 called Stop Grading, Start Reflecting,  I was struck by what an odd job teaching is. In most professions the sign that a lot of work is getting done is to see the worker actively working. We know mechanics are working when we see them under cars and we know writers are working when we see their fingers dance across keyboards. This is not the case in teaching. In teaching, student growth is the work, and often that growth is at its highest in the moments where the worker (the teacher) is not actively standing and delivering in front of students.

Of course, this is not to say that teachers aren’t central to student learning. They are. But their role is different. In that way teachers are more like farmers than anything else. Like farmers, their job is to properly prepare the ground, plant ideas at the right time and with the right spacing from each other, and then nurture, troubleshoot, and supplement as the tiny tendrils of understanding slowly turn into solid stalks rich with the fruit of knowledge. Continue reading “The Forgotten ‘R’: Using Reflection to Speed Student Learning”

How to Get Students Interested in Grammar

If you want to understand why so many students hate grammar, find a student and ask them the following questions:

  • What is grammar?
  • Who made it?
  • Why did they make it?

I start my discussion of grammar every year with these three questions, and the responses I get tend to go like this:

  • “Grammar is writing rules.”
  • “I don’t really know who made it. Maybe English teachers or professors.”
  • “Why was it made?? [confused shrug]

Responses like these tell us all we need to know about why so many students loathe grammar. While humans tend to have a nearly bottomless well of curiosity for things that they see as connecting to their lives, they generally have a profound indifference towards things that don’t apply to them. The problem with grammar is that if students don’t know what grammar is, who made it, and why it exists, then the chances of them feeling like it truly applies to them are low. Sure, English teachers can and do make the argument that a firm grasp of certain grammar rules will help students get better scores on things like standardized tests, but that argument rarely persuades students to learn more than the bare minimum needed to get the scores they want. Continue reading “How to Get Students Interested in Grammar”

The Importance of Wonder

We in Michigan are right at the point in November where the fall takes a sharp turn from crisp mornings, beautiful red and yellow trees stretching as far as the eye can see, and apples so sweet that you question why you eat anything else to a barren, cold, and fruitless landscape that suddenly seems cloaked in darkness most of the time.

It is during these next cold, dark months, when the grind of school can cultivate a malaise in even the most bubbly students, that I make a conscious effort to regularly infuse my writing classes with what I think is one of the most important tools in a teacher’s pedagogical toolbox: wonder.  Continue reading “The Importance of Wonder”