Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Young Teacher Goes Old School on Students

Prologue: Is it narcissistic that I titled this post like it is a headline about myself? Don't worry, I assure you that no one is interested enough in what goes on in my classroom to write a headline on it (much less an article). I just wanted a title with the word "old school" in it. That word is funny to me.

I would describe the district I work in as extremely modern. The district would scoff at that label--not because they want to be traditionalists or conservative in practice, but because the term "modern" can be used to denote a movement in education that they have progressed beyond. I could call them progressivists, but that too is an educational movement of yesteryear. To be a progressivist is so not progressive anymore. My district would want me to say that they are "on the cutting edge". My point is that in my district we are always asked what is new in the field of education. I have never heard a question in a formal meeting or traing about what is tried and true in education.

That is why, if we were at school, I would only say in a hushed voice that I have been using a lot of old school teacher techniques that have been really successful. I thought I would describe some of these, and why I like them, but I do admit that I find myself watching to see if anyone will come in and "catch" me using outdated, washed up methods. I, of course, prefer to call them classics.

1.) Reciting Times Tables We've been told by the Math coach that we need to carefully consider if developing fluency in Math facts is the best use of our time, so I know that no one would be happy if they knew I have taken to reciting all the problems on our timed test with my class at least twice a week.

The kids love this, though. We follow such a nice rythm it sounds almost musical and I figure that we have to check all one hundred problems anyway, so I may as well do this to aurally reinforce the information.

2.) Choral Response This year my class has to answer questions from every area of the curriculum in unison. Below are some examples.

Me: Class.
Students: Yes
Me: What is the predicate of a sentence?
Students: The predicate is the 'what' of the sentence, Ms. Understood.

Me: Class
Students: Yes
Me: What are the narrative elements?
Students: Characters, plot, and settings are the narrative elements, Ms. Understood.

Me: Class
Students: Yes
Me: When did Colombus sail the ocean blue?
Students: In 1492, Ms. Understood.

Could my students answer these questions in their sleep after a while? Yes, but they know these definitions so well they can answer them in their sleep!

3.) Reading to the Wall One thing I have had to work on is building fluent readers. So, I give the kids all one passage. They echo me and read it correctly, and then we have a drill. They all sit with both feet on the floor. When the bell rings, I start the timer and each student gets up and finds a spot facing the wall. They read the entire passage, return to their chair, count to three, and go back to the wall to read the same passage. They have to do it three times to complete the relay. They write down the time on the timer and try to beat their own time when we repeat the drill. Contrary to what you might be expecting, the kids love this drill.

4.) Red Pen Editing and Student Rewrites I have been told that a teacher should never go through a students piece of writing and correct all errors with a red pen (apparently something about red is bad for self-esteem), but this is the most successful thing I do in Writing. Every week I correct errors in their rough drafts and I make them write their final copy correctly. Yes, most of them would prefer that I did not make them rewrite things, but all of them are better writers now. I have never had a parent complaint about this either, but I have had many parents thank me for this.

Epilogue: To use an old expression, let's not throw the baby out with the bath water! I embrace technology. I embrace new methods that have come about over the years, but old does not mean bad.


Literacy Teacher said...

I love your "read the wall" activity. I may have to steal that for the little girl I tutor! I agree... some of the "old school" methods work and work well!!

luckeyfrog said...

I've started to do some choral response, although it's with less of a special format. While we worked on parts of speech, I'd ask "What is a noun?" "A noun is a person, place, thing, or animal." Then "What is a verb?" "Something you can do!" (We have so far only focused on action verbs.)

I think it really helps some of the students.

In addition, I teach a kindergarten reading group and was told to use as rhythm and song if I could. For one of the students I have, I can see her rock along to the rhythm. Once I start many of the patterns they join me halfway. Another student taps his finger on the desk as we go. I can tell that this really helps them!

I love some of these ideas, especially because they keep all students engaged. You're not calling on one student to do something, and sometimes you're letting the kids get up and move, too. Thanks!!