I learned early on what really stayed with me or turned me on were project-based activities. I can still remember having a great teacher in 5th grade, who asked us to draw the inner workings of a flower and label the parts, instead of just looking at a picture in a textbook. Teaching has always been a creative outlet for me and I carry that through in my approach to instruction. Technology has and will continue to be a primary motivation for children and therefore it is one of the most effective tools in today’s educational landscape.
And, it was the following year in sixth grade that I had another science teacher who worked strictly with the textbook. He would assign a chapter, we were supposed to read and answer the questions and hand it in. It didn’t take long for several us to figure out that if you wrote neatly you were give a √++. Fair handwriting got you a √ and if you were messy, you got a minus. We tested the waters and started copying the questions, really neatly, and we were given that same check √++! HE WAS NOT EVEN LOOKING AT OUR WORK! We were outraged! But, to make the class somewhat enjoyable we began by not just copying the questions, but asking him questions or rattling on about something the “Sugar Bear” had said (he was our imaginary mascot). Seriously, we continued in this vein for the duration of the year and our grade was based solely on our handwriting. We didn’t even get extra credit for our creativeness! Epic Fail…
Being a great teacher has little to do with curriculum, test scores, or the criteria for neat handwriting. Being a great teacher is about student driven learning, letting go of the lecturing and simply putting the student in the driver’s seat. Students learn best by experiencing learning that is physical, emotional, intellectual and of interest to them personally. Being a great teacher is about making connections directly with each student.
Long gone are the times when we teach content just in case a student might need it one day. A great teacher will devise a way to give the students the desire to learn skills or knowledge and then let them show they have learned it by what they do with it. This is called project-based learning, and this is exactly what turned me on as a student decades ago. A great teacher will keep the students wanting to come to school just to see what thought-provoking things they will explore and discover each day. The philosophy that supports such a great teacher is simple. Students learn best when they are in control of their learning. Students must be responsible for their own learning and the great teacher relinquishes the reins to their students. Real learning requires doing, not merely listening, or observing . Yet, what do we find in every public school across the nation? Teachers spend the majority of their time when with students talking, talking and talking some more, while for many students the option to tune out is much easier than the option to tune in. Great teachers provide ample opportunities for their students to have a reason to learn and in the process can’t help but learn mainly by teaching themselves. This is how new knowledge becomes owned and mastered and the neatness of a student’s handwriting is completely irrelevant….
10 Different Insights into What Makes a Great Teacher is a blog written by an ISTE13 inspiration, it contains 10 quotes from some of the leaders in education, and a video of Closing Keynote, Adam Bellow: You’re Invited to Change the World. It’s a long intro so you may want to fast forward to listen to just Adam.