Friday, November 5, 2010

How can we do more with less?

In the last few workshops I’ve done with teachers, there has been an underlying theme of, “this is great, but my reality is…” And then they fill in the blank about their personal roadblocks or hurdles that must be overcome in order to do this or that to improve their professional practice.

I’m thinking about this more and more in terms of differentiated professional development. I want to have an impact on practice, I want teachers to see the application to their own work, and ultimately, I want the work I do to have an impact on children and their achievement.

All too often, though, conversations start with the “haves and have nots.” When those conversations start, it makes me wonder what the “haves” really have, and if the “have nots” have really considered the scope of what they DO have?

A lot of times, the “have nots” perspectives are situational and are more about a tool or a perceived deficit of resources than an instructional task.

So what do you do? How does a teacher do more with less? How do we design motivating and engaging learning events using the resources we have?
  • More students, less teachers? Start thinking about more group/peer opportunities. Perhaps you could apply the framework for Writer’s Workshop to other content areas, and have “workshop time” where you, as the teacher, are able to work with individuals and small groups while others work from a menu of options independently or in small groups.
  • Not enough materials for projects? Think of the mantra of the “Destination Imagination” program: How can we be creative and in what ways can we be creative? The emphasis for any project should be creating evidence that learning occurred. As the teacher—you don’t have to be the director of the creativity around this—the students would probably LOVE to be a part of this design conversation. Let them brainstorm resources and products and see what they come up with!
  • Don’t have a Flip Cam? Did you know that most digital cameras have a video setting? Record your video and edit in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. You can make quality videos with older technology that will look exactly like the videos made with newer technologies.
  • Limited space? Think of this in terms of what Heidi Hayes Jacobs calls “New Forms” in her book, Curriculum 21. The traditional classroom is not the ONLY place where students can learn. Anything you can do to change up the environment is good for learning. The brain tends to remember anytime there are differences in what it does. I would speculate, in fact, that staying in one classroom every single day is BAD for learning. What other spaces are available at school? Auditorium? Back Field? Hallway? Corner of the gym? Library? Separate spaces for different groups for different purposes? Move the desks and have kids sit together on floor? Perhaps talk with another teacher and change your groupings? Talk to admin/faculty about shifting schedules to maximize space and time! Be creative—your students will appreciate it!
  • Limited instructional time? Little time for tech integration? Think about shifting your mindset that teaching and learning has to occur just in within the scope of your classroom. You can extend your classroom online using blogs, wikis, or other social technologies. You could ask your students other ways they can engage, connect, and continue learning beyond your four walls—whether or not it involves technology. (Afterschool, Planning Time, “Working Lunches,” etc. Just remember to give yourself the time you need to prepare for all!)
  • Additionally, think of the resources you need in terms of whether or not those resources are necessary for a project or activity that is no longer relevant. Doing something for 10 years in a row isn’t the greatest justification for continuing to do it. If the activity is a good one and still has relevance, consider updating/upgrading it – especially in terms of current resources, both physical and virtual. If it’s just a comfort thing, and after critical reflection doesn’t really provide the evidence of learning that it should, cut it from your program and find alternative activities within the resources you have!

The point is to start shifting thinking around what you have to work with, and not worrying about what you don’t have. The creativity with which you approach instructional design is way more important than the resources and tools. Socrates didn’t have a Flip cam or iPad—and he did alright! Effective teachers are effective because they know their students, maximize the resources they have, and collaborate with their colleagues. All of these characteristics enable every teacher to do the best they can with what they’ve got!

Please feel free to add your own ideas. The best thing we can do as educators is to share. Our collective ideas help to level the playing field and flatten the world!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post, and one that I will share with my colleagues. I love the concise statement: "Effective teachers are effective because they know their students, maximize the resources they have, and collaborate with colleagues." You touched on it in your last bulleted point, but I would add that our most effective teachers are involved in ongoing reflection about their work. That reflection is personal as well as collaborative, it focuses on the present and the future, and it acts as a key element in the effective teacher's planning processes. In the teaching and learning process, I believe the most essential of reflective questions is: "How can I/we do this better?"