The Four Things I Learned this Year (pre-covid)

As teachers, we should be master learners. In an unprecedented year, I think I have learned more in a truncated schedule than I had learned in my previous 13 years. Here is what I learned this year:

  1. Listening and talking are opposites.

  2. You pay attention to what you look at.

  3. You are either trying to learn, or trying not to learn.

  4. If you make sense, I can handle a whole lot. If you don’t make sense, I struggle.

I learned these things this year, and I was very intentional about talking to my students about my learning. It changed the culture of my classroom in a way where these statements became montras. I actually heard students say these things to each other during independent practice and group work. I’m not saying they are novel statements or thoughts, they simply changed the dynamic of our learning space. So, if you are game, I’d like to provide a little explanation on what these learnings meant to me.

Listening and talking are opposites.

In today’s landscape, I believe that we can all agree that listening and talking are sometimes at odds. I see people on the news desperately trying to be heard, but fail to listen. I see people who don’t understand why what they are saying falls on deaf ears. It’s simply because listening and talking can’t happen at the same time. In my classroom, I saw students who would talk during instruction and then complain they didn’t know what they needed to do during individual and group practice time. So, I began to say, “Listening and talking are opposites.” That let them know I recognized they weren’t listening during the focus lesson, and provided guidance on how to correct the problem. The fact they weren’t listening also forced those students to look to peers for additional instruction. I would say, “You weren’t listening, so now you need to use your resources.” What I found is that by saying this simple phrase students began to listen during direct instruction, but also they identified those students they could use as that resource to be successful.

You pay attention to what you look at.

This second learning dovetailed seamlessly with the last learning. I learned that not only do you have to listen, it really helps if the class is all looking at the same thing. I know this is a groundbreaking and revolutionary thought, but it is something I learned that changed the dynamic and culture of my classroom.

I was really surprised at the number of students that wouldn’t look at what I was looking at when I was unpacking the lesson. So, I chose to stop instruction, and be very pointed on what everyone should be looking at (yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. It was intentional.)

I practiced teacher passivity while expecting student activity. You could label this as active listening, but I would categorize it as a two step process. You stop talking. You start listening. You look, and learning becomes much easier (That is obviously three steps (possibly four). Sometimes writing is an organic and nonsensical process.)

You are either trying to learn, or trying not to learn.

Um, you are either trying to learn, or you are trying not to learn. Both are intentional and require effort. It reminds me of Mr. Miyagi saying, “Either karate do ‘yes’, or karate do ‘no.’” Or, Yoda saying, “There is no try. Only do.” I’m not sure why my brain goes there but some of those 80’s cult classics had something going for them.

What I’m saying is that when I acknowledged that students were either giving effort to learn or not to learn, it was like the secret was out. Now, please hear clearly, my identification of the impetus of their effort did not always correct its path. But, the student knew that I was aware and would give additional attention to make sure their effort was headed in the right direction.

If you make sense, I can handle a whole lot.

I have a son who is on the doorstep of teenager-hood and has thus lost his grasp on sense or anything that could be identified as common. We see this in our students. We can ask, futily, when they choose a behavior, “Why did you do that?” They have no answer. They don’t know why they do stuff. Identifying this is crucial in your classroom. Pointing out the fact that small humans do weird stuff will not stop it from happening, but, if done consistently, it will make your kids more aware that what they're doing is not usual. It will also let them know when they do things that are out of the norm you are going to say something about it. It will also let them know if they make a mistake and can talk to you about their thought process they will be greeted by understanding and help.

As I said, these learnings are not groundbreaking, but they changed my room. A lot. Think about how these manifest themselves in your room. It changed mine.

Your thoughts are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner


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