The Texas Council for Social Studies annual conference was a few weeks ago in the Houston area. It’s one I’ve attended off and on over my years as an educator in Texas. This was the first time I went with a group of other teachers as well. The conference (although in a poor location with tiny rooms) was full of a variety of sessions tied to technology, specific topics, writing, reading, and talking. Unfortunately, I only saw a few sessions on the importance of talking as educators and as students.
Talking to learn new content, talking to review old content, talking for sharing opinions, talking to agree or talking to disagree, talking to share ideas and create new lessons are all crucial to education.
The more time I spend in education, the more I realize that we (educators) do a lot of talking that we think is teaching, but really we are just telling it to the kids. We are just ‘covering’ material that we think they need to know. And the students might learn it temporarily…for their next unit test and then they will review it before their semester test, but what is the point really? And as educators, do we talk to each other enough? I feel like I really solidified my learning from the conference by talking to other teachers about the sessions and sharing ideas. Given how much talking happens in the news, in politics, in jobs outside of high school, why are we missing the right kind of it in education?
How can we focus our teaching to be more about talking and learning and less about telling? Can we move our focus to asking questions? To providing resources that students can consume (news articles, primary sources, videos, definitions, etc) and then sparking curiosity in our students to find themes, patterns, solve problems, make connections?
When I reflect on my own teaching, I know in my classroom, I definitely did too much telling of the Social Studies material and did not provide enough opportunities for students to talk and explore. I know I tried things out and tried to focus on the students being at the center of the learning, but I definitely could have been a lot better at it. I see that now as an Instructional Coach because I am blessed with the opportunity to read more, research more and spend more time in classrooms with a variety of other teachers. These opportunities allow me a bigger picture focus on learning.
The nature of high stakes testing, of documentation, rules, regulations, new state initiatives, new district initiatives, new campus initiatives…all of these things have interfered with students actually doing things in class and actually learning material beyond the surface level of memorizing for an assessment.
So what can we do differently? Can we get away from the worksheets? From the copying down notes from a slide? Give students time to write to learn, to read to learn, to argue to learn? Be the curator of resources for an essential question? Give students the time to come up with the questions themselves? Go back to the KWL charts (or anticipation guides) to spark that curiosity?
Check out some resources that will help you if you want to get students back into the world of doing the learning in your classroom and less in the world of you ‘telling’ them the content.