Sunday, January 3, 2016

Revisionary Teaching

“By nature, aren’t the people who are drawn to teaching attracted because they love to learn? Isn’t revision a natural process for such people?” (Paraphrased from memory)
I nodded along as Mary spoke, for I had engaged in similar discussions about teachers who continually learn, adapt, and grow versus those who seem to stagnate – teaching the same content the same way to different kids across different years – many times. This time, however, Mary’s use of the word “revision” caught my attention. I don’t think a more apt word exists to correlate what English teachers must believe about the writing process and what teachers must believe and apply to the teaching profession.
To revise means to look again. We beg our students to recognize the merits of taking another look at their writing and to tweak it where possible by adding or cutting information, finding what works and expanding upon it, and making mindful choices about language and structure. Does it not then logically follow that, as teachers of the craft, we should do the same with our lesson plans?
I know; to many of you, this is nothing new. I have worked with many wonderful colleagues who relish learning and continue to do so, not just to earn PD hours, but to find the joy that comes with expanding their worldview. Many of us are also reflective – constantly assessing how well different lessons or approaches work and then honing or abandoning them as necessary. The best of us are constantly critical of ourselves – in a good way – because we know that we owe it to our students to be so much better than good enough, and we push ourselves to learn from our mistakes and be just a bit better each day.
So what prompted another professional conversation about the relationship between revision and teaching, and why did it gnaw at me long enough to result in this blog post? Maybe it’s my background in psychology, but I have always tried to understand how people think – especially if they have different views than I do. I simply do not understand the occasional teacher who seems content to teach the same exact way, year after year. Before I muse further, let me assure my readers that this is, thankfully, not a particular issue at my school, but the stories are out there, and perhaps each of us knows a teacher who is comfortable with his or her method and thus never seems to question or alter it. Maybe I envy those teachers a bit; I don’t know.
My goal is not to judge, but to understand. If most teachers I have spoken with believe that revision is a necessary and effective part of life, then how do some seem so satisfied without it? Since it is my goal to understand, I will list other questions that come to mind in relation to this query. Please comment with your answers and observations.
·      Is it possible to teach the same curriculum each year to changing student bodies and still be effective?
·      When curriculum remains static, does it help maintain focus on the skills being taught, or does the focus shift to a survey course in which lessons are ticked off as on a checklist?
·      Can a teacher’s effectiveness remain at a high level, year after year, if few adjustments are made to his/her methods?
·      Should teachers rest on what constituted sound pedagogy 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or continue to implement the best practices through new trainings, workshops, and professional books? Good pedagogy never gets old, but how do we know if we’re using the best methods if we don’t continue trying new ones?
·      Do students change enough from one cohort or generation to the next that we need to take this into account when selecting texts for our courses, or should we just stick to the classics to ensure that everyone has read them?

          One last note – during my revision process for this piece, I noted my own bias in the way some of the questions are worded. I am leaving them just as they flowed from my mind, to my pen, and later through my clunking fingertips on the keyboard because I stated my bias from the start. I am a revisionist. I keep what works, while it works, and seek to make it work better; I fix what doesn’t work or abandon it for something that will. I love to learn, and to that end – please enlighten me if you have insight on revision in teaching.
          To Mary: thanks for being a fellow revisionist who I can talk shop with. We’ve come a long way since Mrs. Van’s class!