Saturday, October 4, 2014

Be the Inspiration, Not the Information

"Why do we have to do this?" "What's the point?" "Do we have to?" These questions are all too familiar for teachers. Students protest new assignments and teachers use the old carrot and stick method to get them to do their work. The issue of student engagement with school assignments is constantly debated, particularly how to get students engaged with the material. I remember other students asking these questions in high school (and asked them myself). Now, as I stand in front of a class as a teaching intern I hear students asking me these questions and the issue of student engagement has suddenly become very real. 

Luckily, I am in an awesome program with some wonderful resources for me to utilize. Recently, a guest speaker, David Theune, gave a presentation during one of my classes. His experiences with motivating students to write showed me that there are various ways to engage students, but that perhaps the most important is purpose. When students ask "What's the point?" they are truly feeling the lack of purpose in their writing. David remedied this situation by introducing real audiences and purposes for his students' writing. He spoke of six new audiences for his students' writing: parents, the world, local non-profits, younger in-district students, peers, and allowing students to choose who their audience would be. 

The idea of allowing students to write for a real audience was a novelty for me. During my own high school career I wrote papers that were intended for specific audiences, but they were never shared. We were just told to write "as if" we were addressing a certain target audience. However, it makes logical sense that sharing your work with the intended audience would incite a sense of ownership in your work and thus a desire to do it well and take pride in it. It seems like such a simple change - have students actually share their work in order to get them engaged - and yet I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it hadn't occurred to me before David's talk. 

Though organizing these assignments and chances for students to share their work with audiences can be difficult, David understands that engagement is vital to students' success. In fact, he said "only engagement can produce mastery" and was willing to go to great lengths to insure that students had the opportunity to feel purposeful and thus engaged with their work. He invited parents to come into the classroom to read/hear students' work, set up live streaming in the classroom to share lessons with peers, and used writing for local non-profits as an opportunity for students to learn and get involved with the community. These types of experiences must be tough to organize, but incredibly rewarding for both students and teacher. He mentioned that, with his students doing more of the work in gauging their audience, perfecting tone and structure, he was no longer just a fountain of knowledge, pouring information into their brains. Rather, he was allowed to be "the inspiration" for students. I hope that I too will be able to use what I have learned to engage students and become "the inspiration, not the information." 

1 comment:

  1. Mantha, I really like your use of that quote in this post. I had forgotten about it, but I think it's a great and simple way to capture the essence of teaching. Sure, we provide information, but our most important role is in inspiring students to create their own knowledge. Theune was an excellent presenter and I presume he is an excellent teacher as well for this very reason. I really liked what he does in his classroom, and am shocked more teachers and schools don't employ the same techniques. One of the teachers I worked with in Detroit had a single assignment that was supposed to be addressed to a senator, but it was purely hypothetical. Students didn't see why it was worth doing. Audiences allow students to feel like what they are doing inherently matters. I have taken a lot away from Theune in this regard. Thanks for your thoughts on it as well!