Going through the motions

This week I received my second observation of the year and on it was the phrase “teacher and students appear to be ‘going through the motions.'”  Anyone who is doing the Flipped Classroom knows that it is very difficult to simply “go through the motions.”  Being the scientist that I am, I decided to test a hypothesis and start doing what the observation said I was already doing.  I discovered some interesting things about myself and the class:

  1. I hate going through the motions.  When I reduced the amount of effort that I was putting in each class, I became frustrated.  I felt like I wasn’t being myself and, in turn, wasn’t giving my students the best version of me.  On a related note, it is really boring sitting at a desk and just watching people work, even if it was for only 5 minutes.  How do people do this on a regular basis?
  2. I was far more frantic getting things ready for class when I wasn’t preparing properly beforehand.  I found I needed to print out material right in class that should have been copied, the advanced students were always waiting for me to get to them and therefore wasted valuable class time, and I ended up cleaning up the lab benches after my students were done because I wasn’t making sure they were doing as they went along.  In the end, I felt more overworked while attempting to do less.  This led to feeling exhausted at the end of the end; drained of energy for the wrong reasons.
  3. My students are hate not going through the motions.  Whenever they encountered something that required real thought or directions that didn’t clearly state every single thing they needed to do, they balked at it.  There are guided inquiry activities in each unit we do and those represented the biggest struggles for my students.  I had known this was the case already, but it was more obvious when I was spending more time behind my desk simply observing them at work.  This isn’t true for all, but the majority (even many of the “A” students) kept asking for me to “just tell me what I need to do next.”
This last part really disturbed me.
Why is it that students are frustrated when they have to think/problem solve in school?
So it comes down to expectations.  Is what we expect students to do during the school day too low level for them?  Do their brains really want more?  From their teachers? from the school? from the curricula?  From society?  
Somewhere along their path to my class, they learned the wrong message about what school should really be.  Now, how do we unlearn them?
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2 thoughts on “Going through the motions

  1. Kim

    That last part really bothers me as well. I have an idea about it, but I'm not sure if it holds up. When the whole school year is sent preparing for The Test, everything revolves around the curriculum and staying on track to finish before The Test. There is no time for inquiry learning. There is no time to allow students to struggle with getting the right answer. When the teacher feels like he/she is always behind schedule, then the only way to move on is to tell kids what the answer is. We train the kids early in their educational careers – ask me what the answer is, and I will tell you so we can move on. By the time I get these kids in high school, the idea of not getting the answer from the teacher, and having to figure out the answer for yourself, and maybe even having the wrong answer is frustrating (and maybe even scary) for the student. I have had students tell me “I don't want to figure out the answer. I want you to tell me the answer.” It's very hard to retrain them in high school, but I think it's crucial for the college-bound kids especially.

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  2. Arnold

    Marc, have you read Daniel Willingham's Why Students Don't Like School?

    Great book that answers some of this. I am sorry about the eval, that kind of remark is crushing.

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