There has always been too much for students to learn each year, but now there is too much for teachers to learn too. Too much learning? Is that possible? I revise that statement. There is much for students and teachers to learn and the only way that we can learn it all is to look for connections, study, try, fail, study, and try again. My new favorite word is iteration. Learning takes iterations. We have to be patient, but persistent and unrelenting in our pursuit of getting to where we want to be.
As for teachers… we have a lot of “new” on our plates: NGSS, ELD -integrated and designated, and continuing or learning with CCSS. Not only is there all this new content to teach, but we have new pedagogies too. The only way we are going to do it all is to integrate and understand how content relates. I love the idea, but to do it well, it takes time. Time to understand subject matter. Time to process and connect ideas. Time to develop lessons that are cohesive. Time to implement those lessons. It takes time. It takes iterations.
When you do make the time to see the connections in your curriculum and integrate subject areas, it makes a difference for student learning. This past month, we read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. While the reading level was on the easier side, the subject matter was not. The easier reading level really allowed us to focus in on some of the more complex literary standards, such as analyzing the craft of the author and the structure of the text, and developing an understanding of theme.
The content of the book connected both to our study of ancient Egypt/Nubia and to science and the cycling of Earth’s water. We started out the book by learning about the geography of that part of the world in ancient times and comparing it to the time period of the book and how it has changed over time.
As we finished the book and the students learned about the wells that Salva Dut was building, they began to inquire about water and how it ends up in the ground. I am counting that as a natural phenomenon and from their questioning we then started exploring the water cycle. Science teaching from phenomenon and student exploration…I’m exploring it, and not even close to doing it well, but after a few fails with ideas and activities trying to facilitate my students’ learning and my own in what they are suppose to do according to NGSS, I might actually be on the right track. More to come about this later.
But, what I want to share about is this notion of patience. Patience for ourselves as teachers and acceptance that as long as we are trying and moving forward, we will have a few fails here and there. But, also patience for our students. We all have a lot to learn, but we will learn with time.
I had taught my students when we were writing essays about teen activists that there are different types of leads and that an introductory paragraph needs a lead and a thesis statement. We worked on it and 1/2 the class created some decent introductions and the other 1/2… we won’t talk about it. Then last week I had them write introductions to an already written essay. As I read these introductions, I was so frustrated. Literally, there were only 3 that were decent. We then looked at the 3 examples that were well done and analyzed and critiqued them, noticing what made them strong. Then it was time to write essays about the themes of A Long Walk to Water. It took a full week for students to process and develop outlines, but their discussions were brilliant.
“We are working on the theme of persistence, but it seems to overlap with overcoming obstacles and survival. Is that ok?” They processed. “It is ok. It is with persistence that you overcome obstacles and it is will persistence that they were able to survive. Persistence helps to achieve goals and obstacles can get in the way.”
Time…if I had said, “hurry up write your outline. It is due today.” They wouldn’t have come to the understandings that they did. Ok…fine…I might have said hurry up a few times. But, I extended the time. I am thankful I did. We all need processing time. Time to think through ideas, talk about ideas, and make sense of complex ideas. We have to give our students time to think.
I reminded students of types of leads and we discussed which leads might be best for this type of essay. Appealing to universality was shared and possibly questioning and or an anecdote. They then wrote. This weekend I read through their essays to see where they were and was no longer frustrated The introductions were brilliant and especially for 1st drafts.
“Imagine walking through an African desert with thousands of people you are unfamiliar with. Hot and tired. Walking constantly. No stopping. Searching for food and water. Waiting to find your family who might have been killed. Running from the war. In the book, A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park, walking like this happened extremely frequently. This and many other examples add up to one trait, persistence. Persistence develops strength, it overcomes obstacles, and it completes goals. There is a notion of these ideas throughout the story.”
“Have you ever wondered how important kindness is, or what it can do? Thousands of people rely on other people’s kindness. In the book ,A Long Walk to Water, there are many examples of kindness. Kindness helps people to survive and improve living conditions. “
“Everyone has been there, when you or someone in your life are alone, confused, and helpless. That all changes the second you bring a leader into the picture. They could be a coach, a teacher, friend, or a parent. Maybe it’s even you. Whoever they are, they’re a leader. There are many demonstrations of leadership throughout the book, A Long Walk to Water. More importantly, it shows how leadership has the power to change. It can change people, the environment around people, and it can do this in positive or negative ways.”
Time. Patience. Persistance. Leadership. Lesson learned….pushing and expecting high level work is important and it will come in time. This goes for students and teachers. We need to expect high level work from our students and ourselves, but also patience and forgiveness when it is not there yet. With time, effort, a goal, and drive we can do anything. I will be able to be an amazing science teacher too…in time.