One thing I miss most due to my new part leader/part mentor/part member of teaching team role this year is a full time relationship with students. I get to play cameo roles teaching mini units to focus groups, taking extension groups in Maths and helping children use ICT effectively in their learning. What I don’t get to be, though, is something I believe in deeply – being a role model in learning.
With the shift in emphasis to independent, student centred and driven learning, I think sometimes we drop the ball as teachers in showing students how to be learners through example. I believe teachers have to jump out of the comfort zone of providing guidance, developing rubrics for students to follow, working on samples of work created by other authors and other pre-prepared lesson plans and ideas and get involved in real learning as an example for their students to follow. While I’m not a full time class teacher anymore, these are some examples of how I was a learning role model over the previous years that I think are important for teachers to do.
I read to my class a lot. When I did, I showed joy in sharing the stories I read. I was, and still am when I can be, a performer. Asking children to read with expression but then reading to them without passion does not encourage them to make the effort. Use character voices. Accentuate emotion. Model getting involved in the story. Vary the pace to match the mood. Show them how to respond to written text. I have worked with teachers who always passed responsibility to reading class novels to the students, saying it was important for children to practise reading to an audience. Agreed. But the students won’t know how to if you don’t model how to. If performing is not your thing, modelling the struggle to “sell the story” becomes a teaching moment in itself.
Respond to texts in the same way you expect students to. We often bemoan the lack of detail and quality in our students’ text responses. Sometimes the blame has to be placed on us. We rely on textbook annotated models that break down a response into a series of soulless sentences that follow a structure. For me, I always thought it was far more beneficial for me to write my own reviews, character descriptions, book reports and answered the questions they were expected to answer too. I wrote them at an adult level to show students what could be achieved if they pushed themselves. They didn’t reach my adult level but they wrote some great responses because the bar was raised and the example was set. Teachers need to write, not just tell students to write by following a pattern.
Clearly I have embraced blogging and I write for an adult audience for a specific educational purpose. Alongside this blog, though, I have another less visited blog that I set up to be a model for the writing we expect our students to write. I haven’t maintained it as much as I want because I haven’t been involved in students’ writing as much as I had hoped. As a full time class teacher, though, I see genuine writing as a vital component. I don’t see all teachers being as passionate about being writers as they should be. How can you assess a student’s ability to write a narrative or a poem or an exposition, if you can’t show you can do it yourself? I have a problem with children being expected to meet the requirements of rubrics created by teachers that follow ideas from writing textbooks but the teachers don’t write themselves.
Not only should we be writing during class time to model writing behaviours ( and sometimes we may struggle to meet the standards, modelling how difficult writing can be and what we might need to do to achieve some success ) but we should be writing independent of class time to show that writing is a genuine, meaningful activity. Teachers can’t expect students to set up Writers’ Notebooks and Writers Gifts or blogs if they don’t have their own and maintain their own. I love writing. My students have read my stories, plays, poems, songs, reviews, reports, explanations, persuasive and argumentative texts and used them as models for their writing, rarely meeting my standards but pushing themselves ( not all of them, obviously) to achieve a high standard. They’ve also critiqued them and I have accepted some of their advice ( and knocked back plenty, too), modelling the whole conferencing and editing process. Again, some teachers may not find writing as easy or enjoyable as me, but students can learn just as much about the struggles of writing – my blogs are littered with half finished or initial ideas as an example that not all writing ideas work ( I keep them to show not finishing is part of a writer’s life).
We rightly push the importance of problem solving. Modern maths teaching methods revolve around multiple strategies. If we are genuine about this, again we need to be role models for contemporary maths thinking. Again, ( I know I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet) I find Maths easy at the primary/elementary/middle school levels I work in but I am very careful to model the varied strategies I want my students to use. As a student in the 70s and 80s I went through the era of pure procedural calculation. I could do it easily then and can easily do it now. By being a role model, though, I have actually improved my Mathematical thinking and understanding by using various strategies and maintaining their consistent use.
I don’t have a problem with procedural algorithms; sometimes they are the most efficient method. What I have a problem with is teachers working so hard in a 4 week unit on mental computation and multiplication strategies in Semester One then undoing all their good work by falling back into their comfort zone of algorithms and times table tests in Semester Two. We have to maintain the rage, easy or not, and keep being role models for mental strategies. I repeat, I have improved my mental computation over the years through sustained use of multiple strategies. Students will too, if we keep up the pressure. If we aren’t good role models, they will follow what they think is the “best maths” and use algorithms when they don’t need to.
Problem solving is the same. Students need to see us trying to solve problems and not problems we find easy. I believe as Maths teachers, we should be modelling the struggle involved in problem solving by tackling problems we don’t know the answer to. No shame in getting others to help you too. That is good role modelling too. I like to work on problems in front of the students. I like investigating with the students. We need to show we think problem solving is relevant and useful by doing it, not just setting the problem and showing them how to solve problems we have the answers too.
I love learning. A lot of my colleagues think I’m a weird freak ( in the nicest possible way!) at Trivia nights and constantly ask me questions to find out quick answers, often in front of the students. I make the mistake often of telling them the answer. They shouldn’t be asking me the question. They should be inquiring themselves. We expect our students to do the research. We should be role models here as well. The reason I know so much is not just because I grew up in the educational era when you were actually expected to remember stuff, not just “Google” it. I know stuff because I am interested in learning. I investigate. I show interest. I experiment. I do this in front of my students. I have a genuine interest in their topics and want to find out more. I ask probing questions to show how they can go further with their questions because I actually want to know what they are researching. When my classes research, I research. When my students do projects, I do projects. Why wouldn’t you if you really believe in the life long learning mantra we spruik in our policies and mission statements. Again it’s about being genuine. I don’t copy and paste so the students know I won’t accept copy and paste. I want deep understanding so the students know I won’t accept superficial answers to research questions. We have to be good role models as inquiring learners.
It might sound like a lot of hard work. Sometimes it is but I enjoy hard work if the result is learning. But sometimes the work actually make teaching easier. Less planning involved for literacy if you just model what to do. Don’t go looking for books on how to teach narratives. Just write a narrative and share your work with the class. Learning will happen on the job. Don’t spend days making up a poster outlining the research process. Just start researching with the class. Be a role model. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how it’s done.