SOMETHING I WANT TO TRY IN THE FALL



I just checked the statistics for this teaching blog.   Sometime over the next day or so, it will likely reach a total of 200,000 page views.   I am always amazed and pleased that so many teachers read these essays.   Since there is no publicity, the word only spreads because readers like you pass along the URL.   Thanks for doing that!!  Whenever you read an idea that you like, I hope you will share it with your colleagues, friends, neighbors, and even your enemies.   I love it when people send me teaching ideas.  Likewise, I appreciate your sharing my thoughts with others.  Teaching ideas should be shared and not hoarded.
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If you have read this blog for long, you know that I am always thinking of possible ways that I can improve my teaching.   I am a big believer that the more ideas you have then the more ideas you will have.  If you have one idea, a second idea may be difficult to produce.   But if you already have 10 or 20 ideas, the next bunch is likely to flow out of your brain at record speed.   Okay, some of those ideas might not be feasible but I guarantee that 10 ideas will produce more good ideas than one idea will.   I really believe that producing innovative ideas is a habit that teachers can stimulate within themselves.

I know that there are a lot of people who have just read the previous paragraph and are already shaking their heads and muttering, “No, Joe, you are wrong.  I never have any ideas.  I am always trying to borrow ideas from others.  If I don’t do that, I will continue to teach the way I have always taught.  I don’t have faith that my ideas are any good.”   Well, that is certainly a self-fulfilling prophesy if I have ever heard one.   Don’t be so down on yourself.   Don’t be so timid.   Break out of the rut a little bit.  

Here’s an experiment that you ought to try.   For the next 30 days, write down one teaching idea every day that you might be able to use during the upcoming fall semester.   Don’t try to judge whether any of the ideas are good or bad – just get them down on paper.   One idea a day for 30 days.

I think you will discover that two things will happen:

--First, as you eventually look back over your 30 ideas, you will realize that at least 2-5 of them are really good.   They are worth trying.   They can make your fall semester go better.   A lot of time it takes 30 ideas in order to produce 2-5 good ones.   So, you’ve got to get in the practice of producing those 30 ideas.  No one has 30 great ideas but everyone should be able to hit 10 to 20 percent batting average.

--Second, I think you will find that your ideas become easier to generate after the first couple of weeks.   Yes, for the initial 10-14 days, ideas will be difficult but you will get into the swing of it.   The brain cells begin to loosen up.   Eventually, your mind will simply be looking for more ideas throughout the day even when you are not trying.   It is like physical exercise.   It becomes easier with practice.

Try it – what do you have to lose?   30 ideas in 30 days.

So, what is my idea for today?   Here is one that I was pondering this afternoon.   In every class, it seems to me that students spend time doing two things.   One is thinking – trying to figure out how things work or why things work as they do.   They are trying to develop an understanding that will help them in solving future problems.   The rest of the time they are doing something other than thinking.   They are copying notes that they will later memorize.   Or, they are daydreaming or contemplating something that is not class related.  

No one can think about subject matter 100 percent of them time but I wonder how close students can get.

Next fall, as I leave each class, I am going to try to estimate what percentage of class time was spent in actual thinking.   Obviously, it will be a guess but I am betting that I can figure out which activities lead to thinking and which activities lead to note taking or some other type of nonthinking.  If I say, for example, that Boston is the capital of Massachusetts, then that is note taking.   No matter how interesting that might be, no thinking is required.  On the other hand, if I ask a student why Boston became the capital of Massachusetts, then—assuming they have some way of figuring out the answer—that should lead to thinking.   It is not thinking if the answer is a known fact.   It is thinking if the student must, in some way, try to figure out the answer based on the information they have.

I have never done this kind of measurement exercise before.   Can I get to 50 percent of class as thinking time or maybe even 75 percent of time?   That might well be a legitimate goal.   Or, will I be stuck at 10 percent?   That is certainly possible.    Just to make things more interesting, perhaps I could explain my definitions to the students and occasionally ask them to judge:   In class today, what percentage of our time was thinking time and what percentage of our time was something else?

Maybe I am wrong (I’ve not read any research on this) but I would suspect that the more time during class that is spent thinking, the better the learning results are for the students.   If that is true, then I should be able to improve the education level of my students by forcing/encouraging them to think more during class.   Not necessarily thinking deeper, merely thinking more.  That strikes me as an interesting possibility.  Maybe we worry about thinking deeper when we should be worrying about thinking more.

That’s my idea for today and one that I do plan to try out in the fall.


What’s your idea for today?

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