Leaving Space in Teaching

In my second year of teaching, I feel like I have more insights and suggestions to share with my students.  I’ve had a year’s worth of teaching experience in my own classroom and, over the course of that first year, I’ve honed many skills that have made me a significantly better educator.  I do believe that experience is one of the most effective ways to improve teacher effectiveness, but I have noticed one drawback to my increasing experience as a teacher…

This is now my second time teaching The House on Mango Street, and I now have a year’s worth of thoughts and reflections on the text to share with my students.  Having this experience with the text is a good thing; I’m more capable of responding to student questions and getting students to dig deeper into the text.  It opens up new discussions and new lessons that didn’t exist in my mind last year.  I have so much to share with my students this year that, sometimes, I end up talking WAYYYY more than I meant to.  Sometimes, while preparing students for independent work, I’ll string together what can only come across as a nonsensical swirl of random tips and suggestions for the work to come.  I mean well, but in those instances, I need to take a step back and consider what students really NEED to hear right now and what they can figure out along the way.

I always tell my students to be as concise as possible, that the less words we use,
the more powerful each word becomes.  As a second year teacher, I’m very excited to share everything I learned during my first year with my current students, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.  The key, I think, is to not overwhelm students with information, to let what we really want them to know sink in and not steal the power from our words.  Do I, for example, really need to give my students ten tips for completing one comprehension worksheet? Giving students this space allows them to not only become more focused, but also opens up the potential for those lightbulb moments that make school feel fulfilling.

During my graduate program at Villanova, we read Thinking by Robert Boostrom. In it, he speaks about thinking as a process of inquiry, of exploration.  If I’m giving my students ten tips for how to complete a worksheet, then what do they really have left to explore as they work independently?  Maybe it’s more effective to give students some focal points, a roadmap, for them to start a journey towards their own discoveries, their own “aha!” moments.  As a second year teacher, it’s hard to restrain myself when I have my list of a million tips to share with students, but it’s so important to give students the space and time to explore their questions and make discoveries.

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