A Day in the Life…

In one of my many hours perusing the web, I came across an article from the Washington Post from 2014. And it made me stop and think. Do we really know what students go through?

That was the point of this article, where a teacher (Alexis Wiggins) chose to walk in the shoes of a student for just one day. She had “waited 14 years to do something I should have done my first year of teaching”. Now I’m not saying that all you teachers out there need to do this, but I am suggesting that we pay attention to the lessons learned by this one teacher.

Learning #1: “Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

Students rise and shuffle their way to classes early in the morning, only to spend the next six hours sitting. Sure they get to change classes every hour or two, but for the most part, these growing and energetic bodies are idle. And being idle can be exhausting. Activity recharges the body’s energy and we strip that from students by making them sit for the majority of their day.

What she will do differently:
  • get them on their feet; halfway through class all students will stand and stretch
  • initiate play at the beginning and end of class – a basketball hoop on the back of the door, musical chairs, dance party – something that gets them moving for just a few minutes
  • create lessons that include a moving component recognizing that some content may be lost but the benefit is greater
Learning #2: “High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.

It was rare for students to speak during any of their classes. If the teacher wasn’t the one presenting, it was typically only one or two students who contributed to the class (doing a presenting, solving problems on the board, etc.). Students are constantly fed information without the opportunity to work with that information.

What she will do differently:
  • make use of a timer to limit the amount of time she is talking “to” her class; when it goes off, she is done and the “instruction” takes on a different style
  • start each class by talking about the last class; challenge the students to come prepared with bits they didn’t understand or want to investigate more and then discuss as a group
Learning #3: “You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

This one rings true. How often do we tell students to “be quiet, sit down, listen up, pay attention”? Too much. It is imperative that students don’t get the perception that the only goal is to get through the lesson. And when we repeat our teachings to make sure everyone (those who weren’t paying attention) get it, we approach with sarcasm and annoyance. No wonder students feel like a nuisance.

What she will do differently:
  • recognize that questions are opportunities and statements create barriers; probe for issues rather than direct behavior (all while using patience)
  • acknowledge her own struggle with sarcasm and include the students in making improvements (a money jar that is fed when sarcasm is present, ending up in a pizza party or some other treat at the end of the year)
  • restructure lectures so that concentrated discussion (no writing) is part of each learning; free-flowing talk to help understand the topic prior to being asked to do writings or activities

I think that Alexis took a risk in what she did and I think we can all benefit from what she came away with.

What would you take away if you spent a day in the shoes of a student?

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