As a Year 7/8 teacher, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has in times of frustration complained that kids these days just don’t seemed as clued in as the kids of yesteryear.
They’ve been at school 7 years and still don’t know the four times table.
Their work is littered with text speak.
They copy and paste without pausing and thinking.
Sometimes it is easy a middle years teacher to place blame on those at the lower level not doing their job. But here’s the thing, I don’t consider it part of my job to prepare kids for high school. Maybe I need to stop expecting teachers from the years to hand me the perfect students and accept my students for who they are right now.
It is my job as a teacher to find out where the kids are in their learning and help move them along.
I was reminded of my responsibility this week during a class read aloud of The Wave when one of the characters made a quip about the school newspaper office being Anne Frank’s attic.
Quickly realized that only one student knew of Anne Frank.
Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?
Rather than tell my students who Anne Frank was, I challenged my students to find out.
“Anne was born in Germany,” one of them piped up.
“She spent years living in attic” another student found out.
“She was hiding from the Nazis because she was Jewish.”
“Then someone told the Nazis about Anne’s family hiding and she was sent to a concentration camp.”
One of the students noticed that Anne died only a matter of weeks before her camp was to be liberated.
A silence fell over the room.
Her diaries were kept safe and then they were published.
Would Anne’s story have been so powerful if she had survived the holocaust?
In focusing on what students didn’t know, I could easily have missed a learning opportunity.
Our students are not the same.
They were never the same.
How often in focusing on deficits of our learners do we miss the potential for learning?
“Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?”
It was both…
I looped with a class – teaching them in Grade 2 and then moving with them to Grade 3.
At the end of Grade 2, I was SO proud of their progress. I had portfolios of the children’s work, specifically showing their growth.
I remember the first week in Grade 3. I looked at a lesson on subtraction and thought, ‘This will be quick – they learned it last year.’ The lesson was a disaster. The students stared at me as if I were speaking martian.
“Look!” I said as I pulled out subtraction sheets from last year’s portfolios. “Don’t you remember doing this?”
I never again criticised a teacher at a lower grade. It is possible they taught something very well, students demonstrated their learning, and for whatever reason, the students don’t remember. I learned that I can’t assume student knowledge.
You’re absolutely right: If we focus on students’ deficits, we will only frustrate ourselves. We need to do what you did – find out what they know at this point in time and work from there :).