WHAT'S THE POINT?
'What's the point?' he asked over and over while rocking
back and forth in his seat with his lunch box positioned on his head
like a hat. This was the query from one of my Special needs student
after I addressed the class that it was time to get out our problem
solving work for Math. This was when I began to really question my
approach to teaching. Were the points I was making during my instruction
clearly indicated? Did I know the point to what was going on in my
classroom, let alone the students? (MacLennan 1995)
This is where I started when I was searching for my inquiry.
What's the point in all I've researched and collected? What basis did
it have on my teaching? After many attempts at looking and riffling
through all the critical incidents I've collected over the last few
weeks, I made an important discovery...an underlying theme was emerging
and that was assumptions -- assumptions I had been making about my students
and their capabilities. I saw a neat little trend evolve from everyday
occurrences; occurrences which went unnoticed until I saw it here.
It was dinner so I ran to the staff room to quickly
grab something to eat. I had no time. I had to be back to the classroom
to instruct the Newspaper Committee, made up of my grade six students.
They had to be told what to do so we could get the newspaper out today.
I was scurrying up the hall, tea spilling as I tried to make my way
between the crush of students heading outside, and as I reached my
classroom I stopped short. There they were with an assembly line already
formed and well on their way with production, music playing, smiling
faces and everyone on task...they didn't need me after all. I sat
down next to them, sipping on my tea, and found myself asking if there
was anything I could do. (MacLennan 1998)
My students are constantly amazing me. Everyday, they
take on more...after doing this inquiry, I find myself wondering whether
or not I actually hold them back due to my inhibitions? Do I keep them
from flying on their own? It seems, lately, that my students are constantly
outwitting me. This held true when I asked my students to prepare their
Portfolios for viewing, making final selections for display and conferencing.
Upon passing in his perused Portfolio, I noticed that
Thomas' was still unusually thick -- papers and projects bursting
out its seams. Naturally, I assumed that he hadn't taken the necessary
time to go through his Portfolio properly and asked him if he'd like
to take a second look. Thomas simply replied, 'Not really, I'm done
Miss M.' I replied that it just seemed overly stocked. Thomas stood
in front of me with a little smirk on his face and twinkle in his
eye and asked, 'Miss M. did you read the Portfolio response I attached
to the front?' As I blushed, I answered, 'No, Thomas, I'm sorry, I
didn't.' I stepped back and opened the Portfolio. Neatly stapled to
his front cover was a very detailed response indicating a valid reason
for every choice he included in his portfolio. I was caught. (MacLennan
Every time I make these assumptions, I could kick myself.
At least I'm noticing myself do it now, but what about all those times
that it skipped right by me? I am really floored when it happens and
I even had the students help me 'catch' myself.
I was giving the students their Spelling Pretest for
the Mystery Unit we were involved in. I usually say the word, use
it in a sentence, then repeat the word. As I approached number fourteen,
before I said it, I commented how this next word was quite tricky...
Just as the words were coming out of my mouth, I not only caught myself
setting the students up for difficulty, but Whitney raise her hand
and said, 'Remember Miss M. don't assume that we are going to find
it hard, maybe we all know how it's spelled.' I shook my head in amazement...these
kids don't miss a thing! You know what is even better, not one had
the word misspelled on their test. (MacLennan 1998)
Frank Conroy 1speaks
about superficial judgments in his article 'Think About It'. I found
his discussion rather interesting. I've never realized that I've made
such assumptions before; at least not until I started noticing and recording
what was going on in my classroom. I guess I underestimate what my students
can actually accomplish. I thought I was trying to 'let go' of the reins
a little more each year, yet it appears to be something I need to continue
to work on. I found evidence of this while my students were working
on their Ethnic Groups project.
I asked the students to assemble in their Ethnic Groups
to continue working on their plans for their upcoming presentations.
(The project enabled them to sign up for a particular Ethnic Group
of their choice with a goal of preparing and teaching about it to
the rest of the class.) As they were meeting, I wandered about the
classroom making some anecdotal notes and trying to squeeze my way
into the groups. I found myself asking the students what they needed
ME to do...did they need help with extra resources, suggestions, etc.
All the while, they were doing quite fine on their own. Somehow, it's
still a little tough to let go completely. (MacLennan 1998)
Through this inquiry, I've really taken a look at myself
and my teaching and I've been rather surprised by what I've seen.
There's the question -- so what? What's the point? Well,
I think I can safely say that assumptions have been a big part of the
frustrations and obstacles I've faced in teaching thus far. Many times
I have been taken back or stumped by the actions of my students. I have
seen them challenge themselves and now realize that I have to let go
and allow them more freedom. They need to be able to make their mistakes
and I need to allow them to learn from those mistakes. I think the mothering
nature in me has to step back and allow for this natural process to
take its place. I am bothered by the fact that I may have been holding
them back due to my insecurities about them.
It's quite ironic, you look in a mirror everyday and think
you know who it is that you are seeing, but that image can really change
if you look at it long enough. From this experience with Action Research,
I hope to be looking in the mirror a lot more closely from now on.
Conroy, Frank 1991 Think About It. Harper's
Magazine. Nove,ber: 68-70. Return