Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teach Well: How Do You Hurdle the Time Crunch?

Students made characters to learn their measurement facts. 
In this age of seemingly endless resources, how do we best navigate the teaching/learning path?

As I continue to embrace the new math standards and fifth grade program, this question stands formidably before me.

I know many answers related to this including the following:
  • The more I know the curriculum with depth and breadth, the better I am able to teach it.
  • The more I understand the tools and resources available, the better I'm able to choose the best resources for learning.
  • The more I know and understand my students' needs, interests, skills, concepts, and knowledge, the better able I am to teach each child well.
Knowing takes time, and knowing is an ever changing construct in this time of education evolution.

To know well in some areas means that other areas have to stand still for some time--you can't know it all, and you can't focus on all teaching/learning areas at once.

I am most focused on math at this time. I am committed to finishing the Stanford Mathematical MOOC for the single reason that the course is truly impacting my math teaching in many positive ways. Although I'm not giving the course the time it deserves, I am giving it enough time for substantial impact and that's good.

I am also focused on the area of learning design and creating math learning paths. The resources out there for dynamic math learning, teaching, and share are awesome, but it takes time to study each resource with depth as well as to present the resources and concepts to students.  My goal here is to choose the resources that have the greatest depth and breadth, and to provide learning choices that inspire students to learn math well beyond the school day.  For example last Friday, I showed students some examples of "sight bites"--wonderful images that display a math concept.  One little girl started making the images with joy. Then she said, I'm going to make a whole group of characters that match the measurement information.  She found a way to learn that she liked, and now she'll do it on her own time which means more learning and knowledge.

Finally, I want to inspire students' optimal mindsets and behavior for learning--I don't want to waste class time, instead I want to maximize engagement and time on task so that everyone is learning with depth. This means matching the curriculum standards to topics, processes, and questions the students are interested in and want to explore. 

In a perfect world, I'd have two full days a week for planning, research, and design, then I'd teach for the three remaining days. That would be a start towards giving me the time I need to really plan for and respond to optimal teaching. But for now, like all teachers, the time for good learning design and study comes from early mornings, evenings, and weekends. For example, today as I drive to an event with family members, I'll listen to the MOOC on the computer. It's not ideal, but it's better than missing out on that powerful learning opportunity.

How do you find the time to design engaging, empowering learning experiences for your students? When do you study and learn about new tools and resources?  How does your school system support that needed research and development that brings students and a system forward?  Do teachers have the time to do their work well?  These are critical questions as we hurdle the time crunch factor in schools, and rearrange our resources, schedules, and structures to better meet the needs of today's learners. 

Questions that could lead the efforts of schedule and structure audits in your system may include the following:
  1. What are the systems' main goals for teaching and learning?
  2. Who is responsible for those goals?
  3. Do the people responsible for the goals have the time they need to carry out the tasks?
  4. Do the support structures truly support good teaching and learning?
  5. What are the time-on-task/time-for-planning ratios for each educator--do those ratios match the expectations?
  6. Who is responsible for research and development, and how is that information communicated assessed, and revised to best teach children?
The way time is spent in schools is a vital factor. I believe the way we look at time and the impact of the time spent can bring about positive changes in schools, changes that don't necessarily mean more dollars. For example time audits may show that in some areas, there's a lot of time spent, but little impact, and in other areas there's little time, but lots of impact towards system-wide, classroom, and student goals.

Teachers are always aware of this time crunch because of the fact that most of our work is done on our own after school time, and this is a factor that often challenges our families, health, and other personal matters so we take the discussion seriously. 

I look forward to your thoughts and ideas related to this perennial teaching/learning issue--an issue that can gain from everyone's honest discourse and share.