Tag Archives: teaching history

50%? That’s Enough

Over this summer, I’ve read several how to teach innovation books.  The best was Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators. Because of it, I’ve come to following conclusion:

I’m trying to teach too much content.

Or “I’m not pushing enough cognitive load out to my kids.”
IMG_0328So, I’m planning on 50% next year. From me – that is, I’m putting it out to the kids.  Looking like most other history courses in the universe, my 50% will comprise:

  • key-word outlines and write-ups from the readings,
  • lectures, discussion, simulations
  • review and assessments.

The other two 25% segments are going to come from

  • team-work (deliverables and peer-ratings) and
  • burning question (a historical question that you (the student) formulate and answer over the course of the quarter.

15166287248_67fa2983b3_kWhy my 50%? Because we – as a class – need a common story.  A backbone if you will.  In the 90’s (when I started), the constructivists told us to just release the hounds and that the academic fields would (magically) bloom with educational harvest.  That model sucked – still does.

Merrimack College student Kara Smith student teaching at the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, in Lawrence, MA on December 7, 2010.

However, we all have those rule-follower students (tell me what to do so I can get an A).  We want them to have to think for themselves.  More importantly, I want them to have to innovate and “do” history as opposed to listen to it.

So, if I want innovation, I have to be disciplined.  For me, discipline (in 2015-16) will look like:

  • Test-dates in concrete
  • 2 out of every 4 instructional days are 50% days (common-story/backbone days)
  • 1 day per week is a team-day (either simulation/discussion or team writing)
  • 1 day per week is for my kid’s Burning Question.  ** This doesn’t mean I’m not right next to them, checking on progress, asking questions, helping them refine.  It does mean that I’m killing something in my teaching schedule so they have time to do history.

Tony Wagner points out in his book, “Most of us don’t remember what was taught, but we remember how we learned.”

I’m trying for more ‘how’ and if that means less ‘what’, game on.