Saturday, October 30, 2010

Less talking, more doing!

Teacher musings:
Earlier this week one of my students (we'll call her "Y") was describing my class to a friend. I had asked her to describe "the good, the bad and the ugly" of English class. She mentioned some nice things about how it was "fun" (ugh, I never know what that means) and that she liked how I was enthusiastic (yea!) Then Y said "but no offense Ms., but when you talk, I start going to sleep. It is because your voice is so soothing!" Now, as the mother of an 8 month old, I can appreciate the importance of having a soothing voice that lulls someone to sleep. But, needless to say, I do not want my students dropping off to sleep in class (now that I think about it, they do seem to sleep better than the 8 month old sometimes . . . sigh).

This comment underscored something that I realized anew when we entered October of this school year. The honeymoon period is officially over and students will no longer would put up with my talking for any extended period of time (such as more than 3 minutes). I'm pretty sure I have to realize this again and again every year. I always think it will take me less time than it actually does to explain something, whether it is a vocabulary word, a new concept, directions for the next task, etc. And at this same point in the year I almost always realize that I have lost the students after talking a while and that all the valuable things I am saying aren't getting through to them anyways, so I should just stop. This year I have done that several times, with some interesting results. In my English class I scrapped a whole-class discussion plan (where I would have been up front and in charge) and threw them into small groups with sentences starters on index cards and told them to talk about story they read. Lo and behold, they did! In their discussions several students were bringing up interesting ideas or thoughtful questions. To be fair there were students who were tuned out, hadn't finished reading the story for homework, etc. However, I saw far fewer blank stares that I do when I'm in the front of the room.

In my writing class I made a similar leap after several boring (and failed) attempts to have them read and critique my writing. I gave students some rough guidelines for a feedback session, got a volunteer to type up their work on my computer and project it, and let them have an actual workshop for that student's work where they gave her feedback and suggestions, which the students in charge. Again, they amazed me with their ideas and insights, but I was especially impressed by how serious they were. They gave honest and thoughtful feedback and I agreed with it. And then the student who shared her writing followed it! I was so happy that day when actual learning took place in front of me, while I stood in the back and let the students run the session.

While not every student was engaged and thoughtful in these instances, I did see more students engaged and learning than I did in the times when I was in the front of the room talking more than 50% of the class. I know in my head that I should be giving direct instruction for no more than 20% of the time (sometimes less!) and then having students do the work and the learning for the rest. However, I seem to have a hard time letting go for a number of reasons. Sometimes when I check for understanding at the end of my talking time, I realize they don't really get what I am saying or what I am asking them to do. Sometimes I simply don't realize how long I have been droning on. Sometimes I have them get to work and walk around and realize that they don't get it. However, what I learned from the last few weeks where I decided to just let them go (whether they all "got it" or not) is that a lot of learning goes on in the space immediately after I finish talking, even this time sometimes seems dicey in terms of student comprehension. It is almost as if they need me to push them off the ledge sometimes, rather than rely on me to somehow guide them off it gently. In both situations I described earlier they seemed a bit lost at first. However, I gave them some basic tools (mostly sentence starters) and when they looked to me for direction, I told them that they were in charge. And it worked - not perfectly - but a hell of a lot better than me repeating myself for the fifth time up front while Y dozed off to the soothing sound of my melodious voice.

Yummy Stuff:
The G-man continues to be in charge of our meals, with wonderful results. However, I still like to keep my hand in, usually with brunch fare on the weekends. This also ties in with my new-found love of tempeh. A year ago the G-man and I weren't really tempeh fans. I had one recipe I liked for vegan sushi from The Post-Punk Kitchen, but other than that we didn't really know what to do with it. However, I have to say thanks to Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero for converting me with Veganomicon (what? You don't own "Veganomicon?" Quick - go buy it now!! ) What these lovely authors have taught me is a bit of tamari/soy sauce and some herbs and spices make tempeh a lovely, lovely thing to have at any meal. So, here is my very slightly modified version of their "Blue Flannel Hash" using tempeh and potatoes. It makes a great brunch alongside Lemon Poppyseed Muffins from Isa's other awesome book "Vegan Brunch." And, of course, mimosas. Trust me - when you are up with an 8 month old at 6 am on a Sunday, a mimosa makes it all better!

Brunch Potatoes and Tempeh
2-3 TB of olive oil
1 and 1/2 lbs of red or yukon gold or fingerling or blue potatoes, washed, and cut up into 1/2 inch pieces.
8 oz package of tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch squares
3/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1 medium onion cut into 1/2 dice
4 TB of tamari/soy sauce

  1. Heat a large pan with the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. When the pan is heated, add the potatoes and tempeh and mix. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring every 3-5 minutes to prevent sticking
  3. Add the red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and onion and mix. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring every 3-5 minutes to prevent sticking
  4. Add the tamari/soy sauce stir. Let it cook for another 3-5 minutes and serve!