Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Am I still teaching the thinking strategies with intention... or just coasting along?

Do you ever feel like you are just coasting? Like you've been driving for so long that you don't even know how you got to your current destination-home? It's almost as if you're on cruise control and the mile markers are passing you by-- right out your window... 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 Only those mile markers are just denoting the miles you've traveled, they're showing the standards and strategies you've taught. Schema... text-to-self connections, text-to-text connections, text-to-world connections...You feel like you've been doing it so long, surely they've got it; surely they understand as deeply as they are going to. Enough already, you think, I've got so much more to cover.

This is my 8th year teaching through the thinking strategies. There are times I look at lessons and think, Been there. Done that. I've got this one in the bag, and the kids do, too. It's all too sad when I realize that NO, they don't. I may have it, but they don't. Even after weeks in my class, or years of strategy instruction, many students don't really have an understanding like I think they do. What troubles me most is the same thing that troubled our dear mentor Ellin Keene- Do my students really, deeply, truly understand how to apply and transfer metacognition- in all content areas? or even in just reading? Do they really know when they make a text-to-self connection how it helps them understand that text? I dare say, "No."

All too often I hear students sharing a connection with no extension of how it helps them to understand the story, information, or poem they are reading. They simply stop at the connection. And maybe, just maybe, they can identify if it's deep or shallow, but the thought stops there.  My wonderings rush at me like the accelerator is stuck, Do they even know? Have I even taught them? Have I taken the time intentionally model and make certain that I modeled and modeled, gradually released- gradually enough- so that they could independently apply their understanding of that strategy? Did I make a poster using our wonderful technology and then let it disappear with the OFF button? What's left to remind them? What tracks did I leave for them to follow? What one thing did I teach them in our small group or conference? I dare say, "Oh, no." because whatever I did or didn't do, I didn't do it long enough, because they didn't get it.

Rather than waller in self-pity and beat myself up over the fact that I have digressed, I suppose the next right thing to do would be to make a change. Whether I am teaching in a kindergarten or fifth grade classroom, my thinking strategy and content planning has to intentional and focused enough that I am know exactly the outcome I want my students to reach. I have to believe that they can do this and scaffold the teaching enough that I allow them to show me- show themselves. My teaching has to be explicit and thoughtful enough that my students have opportunities to go deep with their thinking. They need to get here: "I have wanted to show off my new toy, just like Lilly with her purple plastic purse, so I know how she feels." (understanding the character) "I remember when I saw the movie, Aladdin, and how they had a market place. I can visualize the bazaar in Ms. DiCamillo's new book. (understanding setting) It's up to me to know it, model and name it, and understand it- myself! It's up to me to recognize and believe that my students can get there, too. It's up to me to realize that even if they've been taught strategy instruction for days, weeks, or years, they still have a deeper level to get to, and it's my responsibility to get them there in not just in reading, but in all content areas.
             Even when I'm closing in on a decade of doing it,
                               I can't just coast, I must drive home a deeper understanding of the thinking strategies.

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