The CONTENT should dictate our Teaching!

Why do we teach what we teach in the manner we teach it? Why do we teach this way?

Many times the answers to why we teach in the manner we teach is because of state or federal guidelines, curriculum, administrator expectations, district expectations, school culture, student personalities, availability of resources, our own opinion of how things should be done and so so much more. We have many theories about how we should teach...should students discover the information or should the information be explicitly explained, should students be given traditional tests or projects. We make so many decisions on how we explain what we explain for a plethora of reasons.

I have heard administrators say I know good teaching when I see it - and they probably do...but if you don't know how to complete a mole calculation can you really recognize if I as a teacher am teaching it the best way? I don't want to pick on administrators here, but I do want to make a point that CONTENT matters.

Education and I believe educational training has become very focused on methodology. We focus on how we teach, how we have students practice information, and how we test and why. All of which - in my personal opinion - are wrong. We should instead focus on WHAT we teach. WHAT we teach or rather the CONTENT itself is what should drive our decisions. In a way there is a time and place for all the educational methodologies, BUT there is not a time and place for these methodologies ALL the time or in all subjects. The right way should always be determined by the CONTENT.

I think the best way to demonstrate what I mean is through some examples.

One time a teacher shared with me a lab idea that was fun and produced cool colors, BUT I chose not to do it. Why? It was cool. It would have looked good to an administrator that came in the room. Students would have loved it. BUT It took 20-30 minutes of class time and really only emphasized maybe 1-2 basic lab principles. Ultimately, the lab was really at too low a level for my students. It was more fruitful for me to spend time in my classroom on a worksheet or in the lab with a basic (and honestly more boring) measurement activity. Both of these would produce in my students a greater understanding or knowledge of the content. (Now keep in mind...not all classes are the same this lab may have been ideal for the students in the other teachers class!). The goal of teaching should always be students gaining knowledge even if that means choosing the less colorful and exciting activity.

On another occasion, I was due to be evaluated at the end of one of our units. Based on where we were in the curriculum, my students needed not more teaching but just more practice opportunities with what they had learned. I had a choice...complete a basic paper pencil review OR some interactive review activities. Now, I want to stop here and say that both of these options are excellent, and I have used both on the unit since that time. Really and truly my students needed in this instance to first do the basic paper pencil review to help solidify in writing their knowledge and understanding before moving on to the activities. If I didn't have time to do both (which I didn't), the paper-pencil assignment was the better option. Mostly because the paper-pencil assignment looked more like the test (we might not like this but we have to be realistic!), and it really was more basic in content level knowledge. Students this particular year really needed some r time to work through on paper some of the basic content. HOWEVER, I was going to be evaluated and a WS just wasn't going to look exciting to my evaluator/adminstrator. So, I chose the activity which stretched my students beyond what they were ready to address. I regret this decision. It looked good. Students were up moving around the room, talking to each other, and doing chemistry. A chemistry teachers dream...right? Well, had I chosen the WS, my students would have better solidified their knowledge and made better test grades. The lesson know as an expert in your content field and an expert on your own students what is the best way to teach and have students learn material. Don't give in to the pressure to make things fun or look exciting. I guarantee you my students would probably have been less stressed with the WS because they would have felt more able to capably address and ask meaningful questions with that assignment.

On another minor notes, it may be great to always have a warm-up and an exit ticket, but it might be more beneficial to spend that 5-10 minutes building a relationship with your students or jumping right into the next topic.

Now please, please, don't take this to mean, that I am against in any way the fun, the exciting, and the creative options for your classroom. I just want you to make sure they fit the content and desired learning outcome. I could simply teach something like the charge of ions by group (ex. Na is in group 1 so it has a +1 charge). Here, it often makes since to teachers to just give a worksheet. This is a simple concept, easy for students. BUT it is so important. Students must know this. Here on the simple concept, I would choose to create or find an activity or project or something out of the ordinary with perhaps more flare to it. The goal being that I want to take extra time to make sure this simple topic sticks in the minds of my students. Here a more exciting method will serve my purpose of helping students learn. There are many more examples of an appropriate time and place for the more exciting assignments, but we tend I think as teachers to sometimes be better at the implementation (especially at evaluation time) of projects and exciting learning opportunities. Be careful not to make the mistake of assuming that exciting, fun, and creative will equal greater learning. This can be true but not always. Be warned of this potential pitfall.

These are the few examples, I have chosen to share here. I struggle with the idea that even these examples have helped to convey this concept. I have so so many more examples. Simply put...we should base all teaching choices on content and nothing else. Certain content leads us to paper pencil WS assignments. Other content dictates a project. And still other content an activity or lab assignment. But the CONTENT itself and our DESIRED LEARNING OUTCOME should dictate all these decisions. Now having said all of this the learning material available to you and your student's learning styles and such will effect your decisions...just make sure those decisions always go back to CONTENT and LEARNING OUTCOME!

Chemistry with Confidence

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Chemistry with Confidence

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