This post reflects the continuation of my interview with Sarah Borzo, a 6th-grade science teacher in Waukee, Iowa. As noted in my last post, I wanted to ask Sarah a few questions about her teaching background and classroom dynamics, mostly in part to learning so much about inquiry teaching and the nature of science in this science methods course. This practicum has been a very enjoyable and “assuring” experience for me; being able to observe firsthand a teacher relatively “new” to the profession embody what we have been learning.
I have noticed that instead of calling on students yourself after you have asked a question, you have students call on one another. What’s the purpose behind this? And also with asking students to “explain your thinking,” instead of just accepting yes/no answers? I let students call on each other because I like to give them as much ownership of the classroom as possible. It is also beneficial logistically so I can write answers on the board without having to scan the room for hands; we can move along more quickly this way. I ask students to explain their thinking any time they have answered a question with an interesting, confusing, insightful, or inaccurate answer so I can know where their thinking was coming from. This helps all students learn from the way one student was thinking and gives me valuable information about what is going on in the minds of the students. The students, for the most part, know better than to answer my questions with a yes or a no because they anticipate me asking for the thinking behind it. I told them many times at the beginning of the year "It isn't the answer that we learn from, but the rationale and thinking behind it". Unfortunately, this has also let me slip into ASKING those low-level yes/no questions because I know I'll still get an in-depth answer; I need to get back to phrasing questions in a high-order way or else next year it will be tricky for me to get out of the yes/no habit.
Have you “convinced” other teachers at your school to adopt teaching science in a “different” manner? (For example, how you told us that you explained to the other 6th grade teacher about reading the textbook after learning in class- concrete to abstract) My 6th grade science partner is a very forward-thinking educator. When we started planning together at the beginning of the year she had a more traditional approach but was very receptive and enthusiastic when I shared my approach. She still leans more toward the traditional style than I do, but she has also embraced a lot of what I do.
I love watching how your class works, but as a teacher I would be concerned about making sure students are prepared for standardized tests…how do you remedy this concern? Going along with that, what if you disagree with something that students have to learn for a test (i.e., the Scientific Method)? Preparing for standardized testing is something that happens in virtually every class and is something that students have been exposed to for years. I don't like using standardized methods in my own class because I don't learn much about student understanding from them, and students don't learn much from doing them. I do occasionally do some quick multiple choice response questions and discuss with students their strategies for answering them, and sometimes I'll give students a multiple choice test and an open-ended or authentic assessment designed to test the same understandings and ask them to compare the assessments themselves and their performance. That being said, I think that the way the class generally runs actually DOES help students prepare for standardized testing because the focus of the class is on thinking. Students are learning how to think and problem solve in a multitude of different situations, and they are so practiced at thinking that they can apply those skills to any type of assessment. Plus, the content has been deeply learned, so the presentation isn't terribly important.
I'll use your Scientific Method example to answer your question about teaching content I don't agree with. Scientific method is something students have to know and something that plays a part in standardized testing, so it is necessary that I teach it. I teach students the steps of the method and we discuss why each of those steps is important, then we follow those steps in an authentic way and I ask students how they feel about it. Inevitably, someone says something about how it didn't really work for them in a certain situation, and we talk about how it is A method, but not THE ONLY method. When it comes time for them to NEED to know the method, they do - they know the steps and the order and can identify what step an action would fall under, and that is all they need to know. The test won't ask them "is the scientific method the only method?" Generally, I tell students that everything we learn and do is just our best answer or best understanding of how something works; they need to be critical thinkers and challenge most understanding and look for answers that work, not look for a single right answer.