Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Yesterday I felt a little more like a trainer than a teacher, but I didn’t mind the feeling at all. I gave the students a model paragraph that employed several special writing techniques, and I asked them to write their own paragraph in exact imitation of the model. I went over the model carefully, pointing out and explaining the various techniques I wanted them to focus on. Then I set them to work in the silent classroom while I went from student to student, observing and commenting. As the minutes passed and the students carefully labored on their assignments, I began to feel more like an instructor in a vocational-technical school than an English teacher – and it was actually a good feeling. I had shown the students how to do something, then I had asked them to do the exact same thing, and now they were doing it, and doing it fairly successfully. Something specific was being accomplished in my classroom. The students were performing an explicit, measurable task, and they seemed to be enjoying the process. I think they had the definite feeling of learning something. What’s interesting for me to realize is that my students often do not have that feeling. If someone asked my students, as they left my room on a given day, what exactly they had learned, I’m afraid they would often not be too clear about that. They could talk in generalities, but I’m not sure they could say specifically what particular skill they had learned. (In that sense, I guess I have to admit that there’s a considerable amount of vagueness in my teaching – a serious failing, in my view.) Yesterday the students did know precisely what they were learning, and that makes me feel successful as a teacher (though perhaps I was more of a trainer).

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