There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a classroom. Students can cause issues for various reasons, the pedagogy just won’t work with a certain class, technology fails on us or we forget supplies we need. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed as I work with other teachers and reflect more deeply about my own practice is that a lot of issues within any classroom space can be resolved if you know where you’re going. By this I mean that, as a teacher, we need to know what it is that our students should achieve by the end of the lesson, unit and school year. We should fully understand the content and we should know why it’s important and relevant to the lives of our students. After all, if we don’t know these things, then how will our students learn them?
Knowing where you’re going is not a one-step process where you study something, understand it and then ensure your students get it. It includes constant reflection and monitoring to see what students understand and what they’ve missed. It needs to include constant research that can help us make our own understanding deeper than it was before. It is an ongoing, tough process filled with effort and dedication that can’t be done via an “easier” way.
Let me give you an example…
Two weeks ago, I walked into class with a lesson on the Rashidun Caliphate, or the first four caliphs of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The lesson was mainly using group reading as a pedagogy with some analysis (using flipchart and post-it notes) and reflection. It had taken me a long time to come up with this lesson, but even as I walked in I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.
It went badly.
The students were not engaged, they were not enjoying the long sections of reading and they were not able to internalize any of the material.
I changed up the lesson completely and retaught it the next week (it went better then), but I continued to reflect for a long time about why the lesson didn’t go the way I imagined it would. The first thing I recognized was that the pedagogy was not at the level that the students needed. The pedagogy, however, was not the only thing that wasn’t sitting well in my mind; there was definitely a different root cause for what had happened.
After lots of thinking and analyzing, I found that it was all about my own comfort and knowledge of the content. I didn’t really know where my students were going or where I was taking them; a classic situation of the blind leading the blind.
Once I went back to better understand the content and the big ideas underlying the content, I was much more prepared to be able to help my students get to where they needed to be and to understand the relevance of the Rashidun Caliphs in their identity and faith formation. I was definitely no longer blind and I was much better able to guide conversations and help students along to their destination.
Of course, once I was ready to teach the topic, we had another issue…
…we just didn’t have time to get through it all.