Think back to a time when you were a student in a classroom.
Yes, I know some of us, including myself, don’t want to think back that far, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s try it.
I remember, quite vividly, sitting at desks which were all neatly lined up in rows, with the teacher at the front of the room. I would stare at the back of someone’s head, with very little eye contact. And forget about communicating with my peers because that was a no-no during most of my years of schooling. The teacher would write letters, numbers, or facts on the chalkboard. I was expected to repeat and recite them. This “drill and kill” activity might have then been followed up with a task of copying these same facts onto a piece of paper. Later, I would take them home and memorize them for an upcoming test.
Occasionally my teacher would say, “ok we are going to play a game today.” I would get so excited because something different was going to happen. My teacher would pull out a set of flashcards, and hold up each one as we called out the correct answers. The child with the most flashcards at the end of the game was the “winner.”
This would take place week after week, in each of the subject areas, and we’d be tested on these same facts each Friday. If you, like myself, were really good at memorizing facts, you would ace the tests. You would then get your report card with all of those A’s, and everyone knew you were going to succeed at life because you were a good student. Sound familiar?
I think it’s safe to say this was probably a pretty common scenario for many of you. You, like many students across the U.S., would work your way through school, memorizing information in each grade level, but were you really learning it?
The answer is most likely no, or at least not in the way that would actually promote critical thinking and communication. This focus on memorization has obstructed true learning, where children learn to solve problems, to analyze, to reason and think, and then to apply this new-found knowledge to their everyday life. If information is applied or actually used to solve problems, students will leave school with a much richer education. This transfer of knowledge (rather than just memorization) is crucial to getting students ready to succeed in the modern world.
Have we moved entirely away from this traditional model of rote learning? From my experiences of being in the classroom as recently as two years ago, I can say that the answer is no. There has certainly been a great deal of progress and the shift has been made in many areas, but I don’t think we are entirely there. I have begun to see less rote learning and more of a focus on cooperative group learning where children are expected to solve problems, to design projects, and to use knowledge learned to deliver a presentation.
So the question is, where do we go from here? How can we make sure that we are doing more than rote “drill and kill” activities and encouraging our students to become critical thinkers?
Close-ended question: “What color is this?”
Open-ended question: “You used a lot of blue on your painting. What does it remind you of?”
Close-ended question: “How many teddy bears are on the block?”
Open-ended question: “What are those teddy bears thinking about?”
Close-ended question: “What’s your doll’s name?”
Open-ended question: “Your baby is so beautiful! Tell me about her.”
You can use this method to identify areas where your students need assistance and areas where they are doing well. Collaboration should be followed by a group discussion where students can converse about their perceptions and findings.
The more intentional we are about encouraging students to explain their thinking, to solve problems, to analyze situations, and to apply knowledge to their everyday life, the better off we will be at preparing our students to succeed in the modern world.
Shared physical presence is a large part of how we’re used to connecting with each other. Strong connections and relationships are important for children who may have recently experienced loss, high stress, or trauma. As teachers connect with children in a virtual setting, it can be more challenging to think about how to create a safe space for learning, sharing experiences, and taking risks.
As a CDA with CLASS facilitator, I now recognize that CLASS also helps us think about how we can be present and responsive in supporting the curiosity, engagement, and persistence of adult learners.
I am blessed to be able to support CDA learners, many of whom are returning to formal education for the first time in many years. Some of these learners come from previous educational experiences that were not supportive, that left them feeling that they weren’t good at school or weren’t competent students. But with the right support, these learners can grow their persistence as well as their sense of competence and confidence.
Data from the National Survey of Students’ Health (NSCH) indicates that almost half of the students in the United States have experienced one or more forms of serious trauma, such as poverty, homelessness, or abuse and neglect. This means that an estimated 35,000,00 students, from infancy through age 17 are at risk for not only school failure, but for a number of social-emotional and physical complications (e.g., PTSD, heart disease, etc.) that may have life-long consequences to their health and well-being. The effect of COVID-19 has surely increased the percentage of young people who are experiencing trauma. And while people of all races and socioeconomic statuses have been affected by COVID-19, poor communities of color have been disproportionately impacted, adding an additional level of trauma to a population already traumatized by systemic racism.
Calvary City Academy & Preschool closed on March 13, along with most programs in Florida. While closed, we had much to prepare for reopening. While children were home, we prepared packets to send home, met with children virtually, and even hosted things like field day, spirit week, and graduation virtually! Even with those successes, we were so happy to be able to return to being in-person when we reopened in June. Since June, we’ve learned a lot. Here’s what’s working for us: