If there is one thing our educational system does very well it is teaching students how to jump through hoops. Sometimes I wonder if much of how and what we teach is really just a big hoopla and all our grandiose thoughts on reforming education just trains students how to jump through new hoops – only now with technology.  21st century hoop jumping!  This does have a certain sinister ring to it doesn’t it?  How do we ensure that learning doesn’t become busywork or a series of levels that have to be passed without ever really learning anything?  What are our students learning?  What should they learn?  How do we know learning is actually occurring?  Is what and how we teach actually resulting in learning or is it simply a hoop?

Although I’m questioning the system, the magnifying glass is mostly on me.  Over the past several months I’ve really begun to question the value of what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching English and have seen the transformative power it can have on a student’s life.  However, I have this niggling, unsettling feeling that something is off – like an itchy throat before a cold.  I question the types of assignments I’m giving and the value and meaning they hold for my students and their learning.  On the outside, there is nothing directly wrong with what I’m teaching – it fits well with what students expect, what the curriculum supports, and what many English teachers teach.  So why do I sometimes have the feeling that my students are jumping through hoops and that I’m the one leading the charge?

In an effort to de-hoopify how and what I teach, I’ve come to some conclusions that will hopefully help in this process:

  • Question everything.  Just because an assignment, project, or activity has been taught for the last x number of years or has been promoted by dozens of other teachers doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily worthwhile.  Honestly questioning the purpose of different assignments is valuable and is a great way to find hoop-jumping busywork.
  • Simplify.   De-clutter.  Many teachers that I talk to are stressed out by the sheer amount of what they have to teach.  This can’t be good because it leads to teaching a lot of stuff but not very well.  Instead of teaching so much content, perhaps we should focus more on the skills to properly deconstruct and understand the content, to think creatively, and to go deep.
  • And speaking of going deep – go deep(er).  Surface level thinking is easy – it’s deeper thought that’s difficult – but also more meaningful.  I don’t want my students to just know; I want them to know why.  I want students to understand themselves and how they interact with the world and their learning.
  • Learning for mastery.  Part of simplifying the curriculum means that students have the time to learn certain skills well because teachers have the time to teach them well.  Assessment for learning is a huge component of teaching/learning for mastery – but is the subject for another post. 

With these ideas guiding me, I’m excited to see the change this will have on both my students and I.  Am I on the right track here?