We have been going kind of slow these days in room 235D. Taking our time. Finding our groove, digging in, digging deeper. Talking more, asking more, and sometimes even relishing the calmer, quieter new us. Well, calm to an extent, this is after all 7th grade.
It’s not that our curriculum disappeared. It is not that our time expanded (still 45 minutes to teach everything!). It is not that I figured out how to cram more into the heads of the children I get to teach in the time we have. I didn’t flip, I didn’t give them more homework, I didn’t hand them all of the work to do on their own and then finally got to the point. No, the truth is much simpler; we have slowed down our learning.
We have cut out the extra.
We have cut down on the projects.
We have cut down on whole class instruction.
We have taken our time with a few things. We have taken extra days when we needed. We have taken detours when we needed. I have stopped and listened better to the students in front of me and then tried to adapt to their needs. It is a luxury, sure, but it is also making a difference.
Gone are all of the extra little projects that I would try to squeeze in just to make sure they understood. Gone are the small assignments where I check for understanding, replaced with conversations. Gone are the days where we seemingly jumped from one thing to another, hoping to find time for the bigger learning at some point.
The projects we do now count for more standards. Take longer with all the work-time built into our class time. I circle or pull small groups. The teachers that support our kids also work with small groups. Anyone can join us, no stigma attached.
And the kids? They are understanding more. They are calmer. They are grasping the importance of some of the work we do, and also finding it easier (hallelujah). They leave happier. They leave more invested.
And me? I feel like I am a better teacher. Like what we are doing is actually making a difference. That they are growing more as learners. That all of the knowledge I want them to explore and even be able to apply is within their grasp, if not already conquered.
We have realized that by doing less, we actually learn more.
So what can you do to join the slow learning movement?
Cut out the extra. What are the nonessentials crammed into your schedule? What are the things you value most? How can you find more time for the things that matter and give less time to the things that do not? I realized that while there were certain things that I would like to do, such as a quick write every day, that within our 45-minute framework they did not make sense. So I let them go; what can you let go?
Make a project count for more. We are standards-based and so it is common that our projects and explorations count for more than one standard at a time, but I have also been purposeful in planning this. So the projects we do now tend to count for three or even four standards, all graded separately. This way I do not need to create as many different opportunities for the students to show their understanding. This way students can focus on one longer project and go deeper with it.
Remember that when students speak, more learning happens. I have really been working on letting student conversations run their course rather than rushing them through it. This is where the connections are being made, this is where the understanding broadens. So before you ask the next question or move on to the next task; wait a moment and let them continue to speak. Listen in and even let silence fall for a few seconds, you may be surprised at what other thoughts are shared.
Keep the larger purpose in mind and front and center. All year I refer to the same goal that I have for our English class; for the students to become better human beings. This is something I refer to often and also tie in with our curriculum. So when we write, we do it to be able to be better storytellers who can influence others, when we speak it is to understand, when we listen it is to build connections with others. While the projects may change, everything we do is to be better than when we started, and that includes me.
Know your students. I teach 136 students, I think. It takes months to get to know the kids and, in fact, there are still kids I feel I barely know, but I am trying. So to know your students, you have to ask your students; what do you need from me (be prepared that sometimes they do not know), how can I support you, what will be helpful to you if we have to get to this point? By asking my students, I can read their moods and modes better. I can slow down further if needed, I can let them loose when needed. I can scaffold and cheerlead at the same time. And I can help them know themselves.
This year I swore it would be the year of less rush, of less get-it-done, of less “more, more, more.” And it has been, and it is working, and I can tell that my heart no longer pounds as quickly when the day gets started. We laugh more. We learn more. We are more because we do less. How can you find the time to slow down as well?
If you like what you read here, consider reading any of my books; the newest called Reimagining Literacy Through Global Collaboration, a how-to guide for those who would like infuse global collaboration into their curriculum, was just released. If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. I am currently working on a new literacy book, called Passionate Readers and it will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. I also have a new book coming out December, 2017 . Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.