August 15, 2015

I Did That?

About a year ago, the EDC ran a training for eCMI table leaders. These individuals would be returning home and attending online PD with their departments throughout the school year. The PD is problem sets provided by EDC, but since these are remote sites, the table leaders would manage the participants and report back to whoever was running the session from Boston. Since I've been a table leader at PCMI (the live, in person, 3 week intensive version of eCMI) they invited me to model for the group. This was a fascinating experience. We spent some time working some problems together and engaging in discussion. They were an easy group to manage. When we finished the demo I was asked to explain what I did - this was shockingly hard to do. I could spout back some tenets of the program (don't give answers, you don't need to know any formulas to solve the problems so don't teach) but had no idea what else to say. People started asking questions and my answers surprised me. Someone from the EDC asked how I dealt with one of the quieter participants. My first reaction was "like everyone else" but that obviously wasn't true. I realized that I'd made a choice to let her work independently. Then at some point I'd made a choice to check in. Then I prompted a conversation with her neighbors who had a different perspective. After sharing that (and a few reasons why plus an anecdote about a particularly independent table member I'd had previously) the participant in question responded. She shared that I'd managed her very well, especially because she does not usually enjoy group work, and she hadn't even noticed what I'd done until I explained it.

It was this interaction in particular that struck me, and that continues to strike me (I've discussed this day with several people this summer so apparently it's really stuck with me). When teacher as facilitator works, it seems effortless for both the student and the teacher. Neither of us noticed that we were doing a particularly good job working together until someone else asked. (It might've been Bowen who facilitated this realization.) I've heard the claim that the only people who make more decisions per minute than teachers are air traffic controllers, but I've never considered how many of those decisions are subconscious. Or maybe more accurately, conscious but not noteworthy? Reflecting back on twenty minutes of teaching, I couldn't identify my best teacher moves. I can sometimes identify my worst ones, those moments where the class or the interaction is suddenly derailed. But most days I attribute successful classes to a good lesson plan, or students having a particularly good day. I never celebrate something I did during the time I was teaching. Do we even have the language to describe such things?

I am curious how I can have more of these realizations. How can I reflect on this aspect of my teaching? And I'm also concerned. If I never consciously think about where I give my attention, how can I eliminate bias in my teaching? Short of demanding Bowen observe my classes and ask insightful questions, what can I do?

Two possibilities come to mind:

  • Someone makes a list of things to be aware of, I pick one to focus on for the day or for the week. This could make an awesome blogging series if others joined in.
  • I record video and convince people to ask me questions. I don't think I can post it publicly though. And how would I know which chunk to share so that there's something interesting? Maybe that's exactly the point - I choose the most boring ten minutes I can and then others convince me I was still doing something worthwhile (or should've been).
This whole thing has me curious about teacher prep. Is this why people say that teacher prep is useless and you either can teach or you can't? It takes a trained eye to recognize key decisions, how do we train more eyes?

1 comment:

  1. If you looked at a recording of yourself, I bet you'd see some of this. But maybe others would see more. I love being observed by other teachers for just that reason. Looking forward to the discussions this raises.