I think I’m a better teacher than I was a few years ago. I look pretty different on the surface. I’m more relaxed in the classroom, I speak more clearly and confidently, I can plan classes more quickly, and I’m generally less stressed about the day to day responsibilities of teaching.
But most of that is incremental and only tangentially connected to student learning. Here are some more substantive ways my teaching has changed that I think have actually made a difference.
I ask myself, pretty incessantly, what my goals are for a lesson and how an activity I have planned meets those goals. I don’t do activities that don’t meet my goals, and I’m likely to think in terms of these goals when I decide to allow more time for an activity or cut it short.
If students don’t know something, my old response would be to jump in, offer an explanation of what I thought they were missing, and try to push my knowledge into their brains on the spot. Now, I’m much more likely to step back and realize that the best response is often to circle back to that topic later in class, the next day, or the next week, once I’ve had time to think through student misconceptions and figure out next steps that are more likely to make a difference.
When I first started teaching, a lot of my goals were around getting students to say right answers. I spent class time asking questions that were implicitly seeking validation of my teaching by trying to lead students to say clever things. I’m much less interested in that now, in comparison with students thinking smart things. I’ve become much more comfortable with wait time, and I’m less concerned with that perfect series of leading questions to get kids to say some right answers than with a smaller number of questions that kids think about for more time, talk about in partners or groups, then share with the class. Maybe they don’t share that perfect answer. That’s fine. It’s about the thinking.
When I give a task, I almost always give students time, individually, in partners, or in small groups, to work through a problem or task. Then, I try to start any full-class sharing with a few students chosen in advance to move discourse toward my goals for the task. I still take hands, but far less of the time, and I always have a voice in the back of my head reminding me that when I take hands, I’m hearing from an unrepresentative subset of the class.