If anyone has ever watched the disturbing, but motivational and strangely moving video "Did You Know," then you may be like me at this tail end of the winter break: a bit scattered.
Two versions of Did You Know?
1. Version 1
2. Version 2
Mid-way through my fifth year of teaching, a lot of my practice has plateaued. I'm certainly not a master teacher yet, but I have excellent classroom management (despite class sizes averaging 35-37 sixth graders), I have adopted a fluid style that incorporates traditionally effective approaches (model, model, model ->guided practice -> independent practice -> extended learning), etc. and I am now facing down a new series of challenges.
Specifically, I am trying to move my English and History classes into a more cross-curricular direction on one front, while at the same time create overarching units of study that provide students the opportunity to self-select topics for study based on interest and pursue them deeply (my dream would be for students to create every writing product for their own topics: e.g. a student loves airplanes. They hit multiple English standards, all using airplanes as their filter: persuasive essay about airplanes, sonnet about airplanes, research paper about airplanes, biography of a famous aviator, compare and contrast essay about two airplanes, etc.).
Simultaneous to the new challenges, I am becoming more adept at using my SmartBoard and having students create iMovies and podcasts. But even these relatively straightforward uses of technology can be complicated with overcrowded classrooms. Our computer carts only have 20 laptops each. I only have one dedicated iMac in my classroom. Logistics confound.
So as next Monday looms, I sit at a big table full of ungraded essays and stare at a blank piece of paper. I sketch flow charts and idea webs for a unit I am planning: the students will be writing a research paper in English class in support of their Science Fair project, to be completed with my partner teacher. Next to my sloppy outlines and barely legible notes, I keep writing over and over, Independent Learning. I know what it feels like in my imagination. But I'm still trying to figure out what it will look like in the classroom. In my classroom. Perhaps, like much of teaching, it will only come from the doing. It will have to be messy and alive and get kicked around a bit. This is middle school, after all.