Thursday, November 20, 2014

Standing Back

The majority of students in my Anatomy class are Seniors, and I've noticed that their motivation and patience has already started to wane, even though it's only halfway through the second quarter. Yesterday students completed a POGIL on sarcomere contraction (the functional unit of a muscle cell) and worked through the basics of the process. I could tell that it was challenging for them and a little frustrating. So today when they got to work on a structural and functional model for the sarcomere, tensions were already high.

All the groups were stumped or hit road blocks at one point, but there was one group in particular that had me concerned. I could hear their voices getting louder as they debated how to build their model. They struggled to solve the issue of making the sarcomere contract, and once they did come up with a solution, some members of the group felt it was too challenging of a solution, while the rest wanted to try it out. I encouraged them to keep moving forward, and they did, but with lots of complaints.

At the end of the period, all of the other groups had finished their model except for this one in particular. I told them they would have time to work tomorrow, but two students decided they'd rather stay and finish. They spent over 20 minutes of their study hall time finishing up their model. While they worked and I listened to their conversation, I could hear their mood lightening and the optimism returning. Maybe the model would work!

When they finished, they insisted that I come over to see how their model worked. They told me repeatedly, "You need to show this to all your classes!" Since we often share video products with another Anatomy class in Kentucky, they asked, "Are we making a video of this?" I told them yes, and they immediately asked, "Are we sharing it with the Kentucky class?" I said "yes" once again, and they actually cheered.

I learned something from my students today. I was reminded of how important it is to allow students to struggle. My first instinct is to step in when I sense confusion or frustration, especially within teams. However, had I attempted to make things easier for this group today, the sense of accomplishment and excitement that they experienced by the end of the class would have never happened. At one point while they were still in the weeds, the group called me over and asked if they should just drop their idea and try something easier. I encouraged them to see their more challenging design through to the end, and because they stuck with the challenge their accomplishment was all the sweeter.

While the traditional image of a teacher's place is at the front of the classroom, directing the show, I find myself "standing back" more and more to watch and probe as students grapple with tough questions and deeper learning.

The final model. It was all those little strings needing to be tied that almost put the group over the edge!

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