Thursday, September 29, 2011

What If We Taught for Tiffany?

That's the question that Robert Pondiscio asks in his most recent post at the Core Knowledge Blog. Tiffany Lopez is a former student of Robert's, a young woman who, despite the challenges she and her peers faced, is nevertheless bright, eager, and very capable. She sounds like the kind of young woman who we secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish constituted the entirety of our student bodies. Robert's point is that, far too often, we're not actually teaching Tiffany. Because of a (well-intentioned and much-needed, certainly) focus on the lowest achievers, we've forgotten that our schools are also hosting highly motivated students who are or would like to be high achievers.

After reading Robert's post, I wondered what my teaching would be like if I taught like every student in my class was Tiffany. Far too often, I plan lessons that assume my students are bored, disengaged, and minimally capable. I work to fill every available gap, thinking (granted, often correctly) that my students will give up and shut down/fool around at the first sign of difficulty. I bounce around the room, I monitor their work like a hawk, I urge and cajole and try desperately to almost trick my students into thinking they want to be in English class.

How would my teaching be different if I assumed that students wanted to be there and wanted to learn? How would my teaching be different if I sent the message, implicitly and explicitly, that sometimes learning is hard and there is no way around but through? What if I worked to not close the gap, but rather raise the floor?

Would my administrators get it and support it? Would I be criticized if my passing rates fell or if students complained in the short term? And what would my students think? Would they shut down, assuming I was no longer interested in the strugglers--or would they be inspired to work harder?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I feel like this long weekend is a good time to think about it.

Confidential to our Jewish readers: L'shanah tovah!

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