From time to time, as teachers, we question the efficacy of the skills we are mandated to teach.
The other day, I was teaching, modeling the multiplication of fractions. As I was teaching and noting how the lesson sinking like the Titanic, time stopped, and I developed a new level of Dante’s Inferno. The level where we teach the same difficult skill over and over for all of eternity. I did tell my class that at no point in time, in a job interview, would they be asked to do this. Some thought it was funny. Others told me they were not interviewing for a job. One or two asked me to explain it again.
Teachers do interesting things when a lesson is bombing. We speak louder, as if that will make it all better. We teach it slower and possibly become more animated. We find unconventional ways of showing the skill, like singing Ain’t no Mountain High Enough, or having them create human math formations on the floor. Sometimes, we stop, confer with the teacher next door. She isn’t there because she is checking with her teaching neighbor across the hall.
We search for the lone child, peeking from the rubble and haze, who understands. He gives us a thumbs up. The clouds part and we have a glimmer of hope and continue to teach.
Before math, we huddle in the hallway and high-five each other.
The teachers understand the skill. Now, let’s step into the shoes of a ten-year old. How will they understand the skill? We pull the squares apart and explain which direction the lines are going. We use colored pencils, transparencies, candy, dances, songs, juggling, bribery….
I have become an expert at this skill. If I had to solve one of these problems in order to save the world, we would be in good hands.
The thing is, I have the cutest, most hard-working class in the world. They try their hardest to understand. They attempt the problems with the great tenacity. I walk around and look at their papers. I see a distorted version of the skill I just taught. Some are close and others have created their own math.
Suddenly, I feel like the bad economics teacher from Ferris Bueler. The self depreciating voice begins. Maybe, all the kids in the other classes got the models right the first time. Now they have time to study the theory of relativity while their teacher sings, The Sound of Music, and sews them matching outfits.
Then I ponder the other things in my life that I wish I could do:
- fold a fitted sheet
- parallel park
- change the T.V. from Wii to DVD then back to cable
- give myself a pedicure and with it not looking like I was blind-folded
- use a glue gun properly
- cut paper ( or anything) evenly
- drive well
- make hand-crafted gifts
After my pity party, I re-group and realize that there are some skills need to be revisited. I learned this when I taught 3rd grade. I bless all of the 3rd grade teachers in the world. Not only because my 3rd grader has an AMAZING teacher, but also because it is rife with difficult skills to teach. Try teaching long division and elapsed time to a group of 3rd graders. These skills alone could make a teacher consider other job possibilities and scramble to refill much-needed prescriptions. My own child told me she doesn’t need to learn how to tell time because everyone tells her where she needs to be and at what time.
Since I am not the queen of the curriculum, I do my best to find ways to teach these types of skills with some effectiveness. I trust that there is some research out there that explains why children need to learn the skills we may deem…uh…well….strange, odd, or inappropriately difficult.
I haven’t changed much from my disgruntled teenage years. I questioned the curriculum then as I do now. How will this help me in my life?
Challenging skills make us work toward success. If it were all easy, we would be complacent in our lives. Or, we would be rolling under our desks and causing havoc every where we go.
This being said, I am teaching the modeling of the division of fractions next week. Friday, after school, I prepared and imagined how this will go:
“You have a chocolate bar. It is divided into 8 parts. You and three friends share it equally. What fraction of the candy does each of you get?”
“Does it matter? I would just eat the candy, besides we shouldn’t eat after each other.”
“Why can’t we just give the friends their own candy bars?”
“I remember a time when my friend wouldn’t share with me. We were playing video games and she wouldn’t let me take a turn.”
“I don’t like candy bars.”
“How big is the bar, because I may not want that much.”
“I’m allergic to chocolate.”
On my way to the store to buy a boatload of candy bars, my magical iPod shuffle played, I Will Survive.