On Wednesday this became incredibly apparent as I met my first class - a group of high achieving (academically) students (year 10) who are applying to start the Year 11 English six months before the rest of their peers. I wasn't really sure what to expect and I had no idea how to approach this kind of class. I had some vague notion that I didn't want to approach it "traditionally" but other than that (and a sketch of how their program would match and then diverge from their cohort's) I didn't have a clear vision. So we spent our lessons on Wednesday and Thursday discussing various poems (we're starting with a poetry study). So far (unlike other classes) they haven't written a great deal in their notebooks, we've discussed backgrounds to poems I would usually reserve for Year 12; poems from different cultures, time periods and with a variety of themes and messages. We've talked about how different readers will respond to the same text in different ways depending on their experiences and prior knowledge. We've shared our opinions and reasons behind those. At the end of our second lesson I walked away scared.
I'm not sure I can keep up with some of these kids!
They're on a whole new level and I spent much of Friday wondering how I was going to keep up with them intellectually and how I was going to have them do the assessment tasks I know are ahead of them without insulting their intelligence.
And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, late Friday night it struck me that I needed to step back and identify what was really bugging me - these guys don't need a teacher! Regardless of who was assigned as their "teacher" on the timetable, regardless of what was happening in the class around them, these students would learn. They don't NEED me to TEACH them. They need me to facilitate their education.
In accepting this as truth I've began to look at their program through completely different eyes - I'm looking for ways to personalise, to scaffold, to support and extend them. As an educator working within the boundaries of externally mandated requirements and expectations it's making me look for loopholes and opportunities - which can be challenging, sometimes it's just easier to "go with the flow". But in this case it would mean doing these learners a disservice.
So, what have I come up with so far?
Most importantly - THEY DON'T NEED ME.
But what do they need:
- Guidance in mastering what they seem to do naturally in terms of deconstructing and analysing texts
- Guidance in navigating the literary minefield to discover who they are as readers and authors, the texts they are comfortable with and expose them to texts which will challenge them
- Support in finding their voice as critical readers and authors and voicing their thoughts and opinions to a new audience
- Give them a broader scope in selecting the texts for analysis - for example I can't think of a single reason why they need to do the same text at the same time, not in the poetry, film or even the Shakespeare unit.
- Can I let them "pick their own adventure" in terms of sequence of units each semester? management wise it will get tough, but if three students were super keen to do a particular unit first (perhaps their weakest) why force them to do the same unit? Is it essential, or just easier for me?
- Focus more on teaching the theory of analysis and deconstruction rather than texts - if they can take "Australia" by Ania Walwicz, a poem my Year 12 class struggle with, and offer me a completely new insight into it I'm not sure I can "teach" them text
Regardless of that concern though, I don't think I'll survive this year if I don't remember Stager's quote "less us, more them" and offer them the chance to control their learning and acknowledge their ability.
Meeting these students has really been a kick in the behind for me - and one that has shaken me, scared me and excited me on a level I didn't get near in 2009!
2010 - Loving it already!