19 August 2015


   A post from last winter.... still thinking about how learning happens, and who is in charge of it?

Here goes part 2 of my reflections on learning on the internet--and in this post, I think it is me that needs the lesson. Maybe "lesson" is the wrong word. What seems so clear to me is not so clear to all my students. Sometimes I need to address intent, other times the result is the issue. Certainly this particular conundrum arose because I created a new approach to my unit. It takes years to get them perfect! Here is the problem...

    Last week, all three sections of my Brit Lit classes were performing and then addressing thematic and structural ideas in various acts of King Lear. So I had three groups, for instance, choosing one scene from a certain act, performing it, and then presenting to the class their reasons for choosing that scene as representative of the act. So most of the presos  (2-3 minutes) mentioned thematic ideas and then also discussed in greater depth an aspect of drama that was a major focus for that act. I had some expectations that groups for Act 3, for instance, would mention the drama created by the seesawing set changes, but if they chose another element and defended it well, I could blurb on about those setting changes myself in the discussion afterwards. But what happened totally surprised me, though it should not have. Two groups (in different sections) gave the same presentation, though they did not dramatize the same scene. These are junior AP-level students, so they did their research. That's a good thing. But what bothered their teacher was that the order of sentences and the wording the students used was identical.  Not a problem for the other students--it made them focus their attention on critical issues in our study of Lear, which is what I wanted. They were good presos.

   But what concerns me is that I don't know whether any critical thinking happened--unless you count choosing a good answer from your look at Shmoop or Shakespeare-Online as critical thinking.  Since the wording was identical, I am assuming that they copied it word for word--no thinking involved.
And then they shared it, probably, which one of the students had told me anyway--"oh, yeah, Healigan, we talked about it." Did anyone think about whether or not they agreed with the website? I do not think so. And I am pretty sure I am right, because any good teacher can tell the difference between student syntax and scholarly website diction. (They never believe me when I tell them this.)
So while this is not cheating, it is not learning either. They are good kids, working hard to learn and achieve at the same time. Why do I have to mention learning AND achievement as if they are different things? Because perhaps school is set up as if these two things are mutually exclusive. My kids know it.

   I am absolutely sure that these two groups deserve good grades for their work. But I still don't know if either group is ready to move with me to the next step. How am I supposed to know? A high grade doesn't tell me.  I do not have the time to reteach or recast the unit--it is taking too long already. I think that lesson design is a significant portion of the problem, but I am not sure if all this collaborative work we are creating will be manageable for this teacher. To be honest, I had a perfectly good approach to this that the students were engaged in, except that it was entirely teacher-centered. It is my third year doing Shakespeare at the AP level, so it was time to tip the scales. Now the scales are tipped and I think I fell off the scale and hurt myself!

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