Hello! If you haven’t yet removed me from your set of RSS feeds yet for my indolence over the past month, thank you!
I’ve got no terribly good excuse for my long silence aside from end-of-year exhaustion and a bathroom remodel (where I am learning that I tile very slowly).
Also, I recognize that there’s a lot of end-of-year reflection that I should be doing, but at present don’t really have the emotional or intellectual energy to grapple with. As an alternative I’ve decided to start looking forward and deal with some upcoming challenges for this summer and next year, which is probably a good modus operandi regardless of the circumstances.
For the third summer I’ll be working as a mentor teacher (though the terminology has now officially been changed to “Master Teacher” for reasons unbeknown to me) at the Fort Worth site of the Breakthrough Collaborative. Whereas in past summers I had served as the MT (I’ll stick with the abbreviation for simplicity’s sake) for both 9th grade English and Social Studies, this year I’ll just be working with Social Studies teachers; however, I’ll be working with the 7th-9th grade teachers.
As part of getting organized for this summer, I’m working to come up with a list of roughly 20 “Students Will Be Able To” (ergo, the “SWBAT” in the title) objectives that are reasonable to cover in one 45 minute class period. One of the major challenges of this program is the constrained time frame (~20 class days), which makes setting clear objectives and attainable goals very important for both the teachers and the students. In part, organizing the summer around SWBATs helps the teachers, who are high school and college students that might go into teaching, recognize that their job is to help convey skills about critical reading, thinking, and writing, rather than just convey factual knowledge. Additionally, this structure allows the teachers to frame their course around content that is interesting to them so long as they manage to convey these essential skills while dealing with their chosen subject matter. Moreover, having these clear-cut SWBATs helps force the teachers to overtly articulate these goals to their students, making clear that the learning that goes on will be used during the regular school year in all their classes.
So, I’m quite convinced by the importance of setting the summer up in this manner, and in fact last year I essentially approached the summer in the same way be compiling an exhaustive list of intellectual skills that were vital to the humanities. Now my challenge is to take much of that material and rework it into SWBAT-framed goals, such as “students will be able to develop an argumentative and structural thesis sentence that will develop three body paragraphs.”
Certainly, this task is somewhat Sisyphean as these SWBAT assertions are really skills that take years and years of development, practice, and refinement. Moreover, these skills build on and supplement one another, meaning that once one day’s SWBAT has come to a close it doesn’t mean that the students can simply jettison that skill as it is likely a vital component of another SWBAT. While I know that the students will not be able to fully appropriate and master these goals within the span of one day (or even one year, as I’ve discovered), I nevertheless see the value of developing these statements as an organizational framework for the curriculum that exists independently of any specific content. Undoubtedly the fact that these SWBATs won’t be mastered within the span of a 45 minute class period will likely frustrate teachers and students alike; however, that constant challenge is in part what makes the teaching profession so rewarding as it forces you to constantly reframe these vital skills so that students can become more adept at them over time.
So, if you were placed in a situation where you had to select and teach 20 essential skills in a constrained time period, what would they be? Also, in what order does it make the most sense to present and teach these skills? I’ve got my own thoughts on these questions, and I’ll post them here once done, but in the meantime if anyone out there has thoughts on this issue, I’d greatly appreciate hearing your input.