Friday, March 7, 2014

Owing Attention

"Okay, now please be quiet and pay attention to this part or you'll miss something"

Yuck. How many times have I said this? Even this year as I embrace more student autonomy in my classes, even at the elementary level, I find myself being self-conscience of how my class "looks". The general idea is that students who are talking while you are talking, or are busy on something else while you are trying to show them how to do a task are being disrespectful.

I don't believe that any more. If you herd 25 - 10 year old children in a small area, and put them in front of a computer with something new to do, they are going to investigate, and try, and then ask questions if they don't know how to do something. They are going to want to get up and show, talk, or lie on the floor because they are 10 and have a 5 second attention span. But the funny thing is, they have the "bank-roll" to pay attention to things for long periods of time. But, like something out of an economics lesson, they'll only want to pay attention to things WORTH their attention.

And that is where I believe I have it wrong. Instead of focusing on what students pay attention to, I have been too focused on students "owing attention". Traditionally, I think we've believed students OWE their attention to what we are doing.  There is often very little concern in a structured curriculum for what students are paying attention to. NOW - this isn't to say that teachers aren't getting to know their students and forming great relationships. They are! And they are doing well at that! But that is aside from working with students on the things THEY are interested in.  It is amazing what students have naturally found themselves interested in, and will figure out, and will try, and will want to share with others. With access to technology, the possibilities are wide open here.

For instance - this week in 4th grade keyboarding, we have been building Google Sites. Not because there is any mandate to, but because the kids wanted to do that in class. So we did. And I did what I've always done, planned a lesson with some tips to go through.  So I gave students choice and followed what they were interested but still felt the need to "control" it. And what happened? A lot of excited kids that I was trying to get less excited to tell them how to do something. This probably isn't always bad, but the time it took to get through it probably would have been equal to just letting them go and doing 1:1 instruction. I still have a long ways to go to really entrust learning to my students.

I'm just about finished thinking along the lines of "developmentally appropriate instruction", simply because if we listen, and watch, and follow our students, they will lead us right to the things that are interesting to them that they want to learn.  But that will require a dramatic transformation into what we do and how we think about teaching! At times, I am frustrated because I am "just" a Business ed teacher, who doesn't teach anything "core" and doesn't have to hold a classroom of students all year every day. But, in one way, I don't have the pressure that many other teachers feel when it comes to the Common Core, and two, I am in front of students every day, meaning I have the opportunity to help them find learning in whatever form it comes in. 

Being confident, being enthusiastic, and being interested to what my students are saying, trying, doing will help me reach them at their moment of peak interest. I'm tired of expecting them to owe me attention. They don't owe me anything. It is time I pay attention to them and we can all explore this thing called learning with a lot more fun and learn a lot more along the way.

By the way - I find my thinking heavily influenced recently by the following twitter people:  Jared Cosulich, Sisyphus, Andrew Carle, and Manan Shah.  They are constantly pushing me and stretching me to challenge everything I thought I knew about education. Follow them and challenge yourselves!

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