Photo Credit: Jenni via Flickr, CCL 2013
This post was supposed to be about a personal narrative writing unit I’ve been doing in cooperation with my child’s 2nd grade teacher. She was kind enough to let me come in and have a go with her students at the “images first” approach to writing. It has been tremendous fun. In fact, I’m typing and binding my little heart out this week as we are having a big publishing party on Friday morning! Photos will be forthcoming.
Then the circus in my brain took over and I ended up not writing about that at all! Instead I started thinking about how intimidating it is to try a whole new approach to teaching (whether it be writing, or math, or just a new way of having your students move through a familiar routine.) There are so many “What if” questions!
What if it doesn’t work?
What if my kids don’t understand what I’m trying to teach them?
What if I don’t do it “right?”
What if they get rowdy and start misbehaving?
What if it’s a total disaster and the principal comes in and wonders what the heck I’m doing and I get a letter of reprimand in my file and I don’t have time to teach all my standards and the kids bomb the test and the state starts merit pay and I don’t make any money!?
I hate what ifs. They hobble our strides toward real growth.
Sadly, the “what ifs” are real for all of us- me included. In fact, I had several before I started working with my daughter’s class.
What if the kids don’t get it and their writing regresses? What if the teacher regrets letting me take this time with her students? What if this hurts my professional reputation?
I mean, here I was, asking for days and days of a teacher’s writing block with her second grade class. I felt immense pressure to make it good! In fact, I was trying so hard that a “what if” came to pass. One of my lessons flopped.
It didn’t happen right away. The first few lessons went just fine as I shared some techniques artists use to tell stories with images.
It even went fabulously when we created our images using a watercolor resist technique (and that’s always a nail-biter with a class you don’t know well.)
My “flop” was the first writing lesson. I tried to do too much. I over-taught and overwhelmed the kids. They tried to follow along but I blew their little minds. Too much too fast.
It would have been very easy to give up and say, “This just isn’t working.”
Fortunately I have flopped before. I am familiar enough with failure to know it doesn’t have to be a permanent condition.
The reality is that some lessons just don’t work. We over-teach. We under-teach. We’re boring. We’re overly stimulating. It’s Halloween. There are many reasons why a lesson might miss the mark.
The trick is to pick yourself back up and try it again. Reflective practice is the remedy.
After the lousy lesson with my daughter’s class I went home and had a long think. Where did I lose them?
When I sat down and replayed it in my mind, the answer was clear. I had simply gone too quickly. I revised my plan to include more modeling and step-by-step guided practice, retaught it the next day, and the kids did beautifully! They “got it!”
As teachers, we so desperately want our students to understand and learn that we often find it difficult to take instructional risks. However, let me assure you that the reward is worth the risk.
I have forced myself through many instructional changes over the years:
From Morning Work to Morning Meeting.
From Writing Prompts to Writing Workshop.
From Teaching With the Arts to Teaching Through the Arts
It’s never easy. I always spend the first week (or month, or year!) second-guessing myself and telling myself I don’t know what I’m doing. But if I stick with it, I am always blown away by what my students can do when I give them the opportunity to get out of the curricular box.
I was thinking about this topic yesterday while I was going through the motions of putting a roast in my crock pot for French Dip Sandwiches. I linked to the recipe because they are so delicious. There’s nothing like coming home after a long day to the smell of made-from-scratch French Dip Sandwiches for supper.
Photo and Recipe Credit: Laurie at Simply Scratch. (Check out her amazing cooking blog! Step by step recipes with photos! And it’s all “from scratch!”) P.S.- Don’t bother pinning the photo from this site- you need to click over to the recipe site and pin it there if you want to link back to the recipe!
When I first found the recipe it felt laborious to prepare. I had to read the instructions several times. I kept stopping while I was cooking to double check the ingredients and measurements. I had to slice up an onion. (That is a hardship in my kitchen.) I couldn’t remember the order or temperatures required. It felt frustrating and “not worth it.”
When I tasted the results that night, I decided to persevere. YUMMY!
The next few times I prepared the dish still felt “hard.” Lots of checking my recipe and laboring over each step.
Yesterday was probably the fifteenth time I’ve cooked this dish. I did it without thinking. I know it by heart now. I can throw it together in no time flat. I don’t even have to measure- I know how much wine to add to the pan, how much Soy Sauce to drizzle into the pot. The steps that once seemed labor-intensive and “too hard” are now quick and easy as pie.
That’s the nature of learning a new process, or recipe, or teaching technique. We have to stick it out. We can’t give up when at first things don’t seem to go as planned. We have to be brave and reflective and willing to persevere!
I bet most of us have been meaning to try something “new” with our students for a long time. More movement? Arts integration? Writing workshop?
Don’t wait until you can do it “right.” If you wait until you are an “expert” it will never happen! The only way to become an “expert” is through experience- both the good and the bad. Don’t you think Lucy Calkins taught some crummy writing lessons before she became the national face of Writing Workshop? Don’t you think Regie Routman had some reading lessons go miserably wrong before she figured out the key elements of reading instruction? Don’t you think Laurie from Simply Scratch has cooked up some disastrous dishes on her way to mouth-watering magic?
That’s life, gang.
Which curricular swimming pool is calling your name?
It’s time to take the plunge!