By Craig McKinney, AVID Elective Teacher and Staff Developer
At the end of the second of five class periods, the guest speaker turned to me with a look of exhaustion and asked, “How do you do this all day long?”
By the end of sixth period, she was, as they say, “phoning it in.” A glazed expression in her eyes, she continued to click through her PowerPoint slides and deliver the same art history lesson—with the same inflections, the same pauses, and the same practiced information. My students sat there dutifully taking notes, some of them occasionally jolting back to semi-alertness after nodding off momentarily.
Early in the day, the speaker told me that she didn't have much experience with high schoolers and that she aspired to teach college students so she could lecture and they could take notes.
Please note that I’m not trying to disparage this brave guest speaker who spent a long day sharing some valuable and interesting knowledge about the art of the Tang and Song Dynasties. Clearly, she knew her stuff and had prepared carefully for her day with my students.
But as I sat and watched her deliver the same lecture five times throughout the day, I had ample time to ponder her question: “How do you do this all day long?”
By the end of the day, the answer became clear. It’s not about the content; it’s about the students.
Though I like to fancy myself a pretty interesting public speaker who can deliver a 50-minute lecture with witty anecdotes, intriguing nuggets of trivia, abundant humor, and powerful visuals to accompany my ideas, the reality is that if I get too engrossed in my own knowledge-spewing, my students are passive and bored to tears.
The secret to surviving an entire day of teaching the same thing one period after another is to focus on the students. Involve them. Allow them to talk and question. Let them generate knowledge. Permit them to reflect and digest.
One of the many things I love about AVID is its instructional emphasis on WICOR: writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading. Even a “lecture day” provides the opportunity for at least three of these: writing, inquiry, and collaboration.
The average person (and teenagers sometimes don’t perform at average-person capacity) can only pay attention to a speaker for about 10 minutes. Most of us drift off more quickly than that and begin making mental shopping lists, thinking about relatives who deserve a call, or dreaming about things beyond the parameters of the lecture hall or classroom.
The easy fix for this is to follow the 10–2–2 model. Lecture for a maximum of 10 minutes; allow the students to write, revise, and reflect on their notes for two minutes; and ask the students to share their thoughts, questions, understandings, and reflections with a partner for two minutes. After that opportunity to interact on paper and with others, the students’ brains are recharged and ready for another 10 minutes of teacher talk.
An even better solution is to ask the students to do something creative with their learning (e.g., a quick presentation, a drawing, a bumper sticker slogan, a tiny poem, a monologue, a skit) and to share their products with the class. I assure you that what the students will have to say is a billion times more interesting and memorable than anything you’ve got stored up in your well-practiced lecture.
The added bonus of allowing this type of interaction is that each class period is different. Though the content remains the same, the student input keeps it fresh for the teacher. The day is a lot less repetitive when you, the teacher, get to hear from the authentic voices of students.
So, in answer to the guest speaker’s question, “How do you do this all day long?”, my response it that I do my best to focus on the students. I enjoy their unique personalities, laugh at their jokes, listen to their stories and personal connections, welcome their questions, clarify their confusion, and remember that they’re the ones who are supposed to be getting something from the time they spend in my classroom.
That’s how I've done it for 22 years, and I hope that’s how I continue to do it until they wheel me out of my classroom someday in the distant future.
Craig McKinney teaches Humanities at Shepton High School in Plano, Texas. A Dallas-area native, Craig attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he received degrees in English and Sociology. He earned his master’s degree at the University of North Texas. During his 22-year teaching career at Shepton, Craig has taught English, Humanities, Latin, and the AVID Elective. As part of his contribution to Shepton’s AVID site team, Craig spreads AVID strategies schoolwide through staff in-services and by writing a weekly Wednesday WICOR email. When he’s not teaching ninth and tenth graders, Craig works as an AVID staff developer. He also bakes a mean loaf of sourdough bread, serves as an officer of his university’s local alumni association, and loves herb gardening, attending cultural events, and playing board games.
For more on AVID, visit http://avid.org/what-is-avid.ashx.
Want to read more blogs from Craig? Check these out!
10 Painless Ways to Manage the Kinetic Energy in Your Classroom
10 Ways to Infuse Your Final Exam Reviews With WICOR
Do Your Students Know How To Ask Questions?
Your Teacher WICOR Summer Homework
A Brain-Based Paradigm Shift
In the Classroom: Setting House Rules
Giving Thanks: A Reminder