Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's in an Aim? (Revisited)

I've heard from various and sundry administrators that there must be an aim for each and every lesson. I do write one, as supervisors are always fiitting in, out, and about, but I've never agreed that it was necessary. For one thing, I don't like to brag, but I'm a high school graduate. The fact is I never saw a single one when I was in school. When I taught college, where such things are not mandated, I never gave a second thought to bothering with one.

I've written before that an aim, if I didn't know what I was doing, would not clear it up for me. And if I do know what I'm doing, reducing it to an aim is unlikely to make it any clearer. I now have a co-teacher, and we have dueling approaches to what constitutes an aim. I'd say that neither of us is wrong, but of course, being me, I tend to favor my approach. I suppose I wouldn't have been using it otherwise.

I actually have multiple goals when I design a lesson. One goal, to be quite honest, is to trick the students into achieving said goal without having them realize what they're doing. That sounds a little complicated, but it really isn't. I'm a language teacher, and if you observe the best language learners, they happen to be babies and small children. They don't have any aim written on any board. They just soak up language like sponges, and they do it automatically without any prodding whatsoever.

I can't mirror that exactly, of course, and my students are teenagers. They haven't got the language learning capacity of small children, but they're still a lot closer to it than we plodding, miserable adults. I can speak Spanish fluently, having spent a few summers in Mexico, among other things, but I learned almost nothing in high school Spanish. I remember an entire year memorizing the preterite, and being completely unaware that it was past tense. The teacher never saw fit to mention that. Who says preterite for past tense?

I try to teach via usage. I ask questions. I make students question one another. I write and steal little stories. I have a picture story that teaches past progressive, e.g. I was driving to work yesterday. There's a story about a student who was thinking about difficult final exams and got into an accident because he wasn't focusing. So the aim I came up with was, "What were you doing?" As a DO NOW, another requirement for which I see little need, I ask, "This morning at 6 AM, I was driving to work. What about you?" This forces my students to use the structure, and also relates it to their lives.

My co-teacher, on the other hand, writes the aim, "How do we analyze a story?" Her argument is that this is the sort of language they might need to use in college. I suppose you might see things like these in Common Core Standards, tantamount to the Ten Commandments. You see, in the unit plans, another exercise without which I could teach just as well, you have to reference standards. Using her aim, we could reference high school standards. Using my actual goal, which happens to be correct language usage, we have to go all the way back to second grade standards.

There are a number of factors that make us think differently. I can see the validity in both arguments, but I also very much favor simplicity whenever it's possible. Just because my professional life is mucked up with frivolous and redundant complications, that's no reason to pass them down to my students. When rules are tossed in front of me, it's my inclination to find ways I can work with them, and that's what I do. I can freak out and jump up and down about some things, but not all of them.

I do not believe in concepts like rigor. I believe in joy, and finding what makes you happy. I have nothing against hard work, and I do plenty of it. But making things complicated or difficult for the sake of making things complicated or difficult, well, that's just stupid. As a rule, I oppose stupid. I don't think it's my job to prepare kids for lives of tedium and drudgery. I think it's my job to help them learn English, of course, make them love English, and also to try and awaken some spark that makes them love being who they are. I want them to do something that they love. What makes me a good role model, in my estimation, is that I've found something I love to do and so can they.

Now I'm sure I'd have no place in a Moskowitz Academy, where they test prep until they pee their pants. But hey, until Charlotte Danielson's insane rubric and the crazy tests on which I'm rated get me bounced from this job, I'm gonna keep doing it the best I can. I hope I help some kids along the way, because whatever we end up writing on the board, that's my real aim.
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