Sunday, July 31, 2016

Am I a Drill and Kill Teacher? Are you?

The makers of Prevnar 13 are asking:
What if one push-up could prevent heart disease?
What if one stalk of broccoli could protect you from cancer?

My adopted textbook company seems to be asking:
What if one long division problem could instill mastery?
What if one practice with the correct use of an apostrophe could instill mastery?

The answer to all the above questions is the same, "AWESOME!" But we all know that each of the scenarios is ridiculous, so what do we do?
The American Heart Association recommends that we get 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 times a week.
And, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we should consume between 5 and 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
But what about repetition in the classroom?

Our students  are in desperate need of repetition.  Repetition of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation rules, repetition of math facts and processes, scientific methods, and names and dates of historical events.  But, forcing our students to 'memorize' conjures up horribly negative memories for us all.  When I hear the phrase, 'Drill and Kill,' an image comes to mind of students struggling through pages and pages of math problems, students assigned to write spelling words until their little hands ache, and my own sixth grade memories of late night homework sessions making sure that my ruler lines were straight while diagramming enough sentences to rewrite Gone With the  Wind!

As educators, we are required to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all different learning styles in our classrooms.  We have students who will learn a new skill with minimal instruction and very few independent practices.  Our state and district adopted textbooks seem to cater to these particular learners.  Great!  A couple of guided instruction problems, a couple of independent practice problems, and a new skill is mastered.  Begin learning extensions!
But for the majority of my students, 4-5 repetitions of a new objective is a very long way from mastery.  Those problems are merely an introduction.  So, when my textbook leaps directly into extensions or inverted uses of the newly taught skill, and application level problem solving, my low to average ability students are definitely being 'left behind.'  Therefore, while the vigor is available to my gifted students, what has been left out is the number of repetitions needed for the rest of my students to successfully master their new skill.

So as a classroom teacher our quandary is this:  How do we get our students the repetition they need without the 'drill and kill' that squelches their desire to practice and learn?

Bruce Lee said,  "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times."

Just like the karate star, we would never hear a football coach after seeing one perfect pass from his quarterback to a wide receiver say, "Great!  We're ready for the big game!" Instead he would undoubtedly shout, "Great!  Do it again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And his players, whether they are pee-wee or professionals, would gladly practice their play until the quarterback's arm is too sore to throw another pass and the receiver is too tired to run down the field just one more time.
But if teaching long division and the correct use of apostrophes was approached in the same manner, students would refuse, parents would complain, administrators would question our techniques, and our jobs might be at stake.  Then how are we going to get our students enough repetition to master the academic objectives needed to advance to the next grade level?

This is where I believe that TeachersPayTeachers has the most powerful influence on our student population.  Teachers across the globe have developed an overwhelming abundance of teaching materials that allow students to see, use, practice, and play with their new objectives until they are successfully mastered in such a way that students don't even know how many long division problems they 'had' to complete!

This young girl thinks she is playing a game, while in fact she is reviewing what she's 
learned about numerators, denominators, parts of a whole, and parts of a group!

These teacher created materials are available to anyone and everyone at the click of a mouse.  Users search for their desired topic and thousands of entries appear.  Whether an educator is looking for a set of lesson plans, a worksheet or cut and paste activity for more repetitive practice, a project to further explore the topic, or a game to instill cooperative learning and application of a new skill, he/she will find it all and much more!

Remember:  Albert Einstein said, "Play is the highest form of Research."
So, let's let our students play!!

Area & Perimeter Bingo was the first powerpoint game that I created.  My students loved it and begged to play again!  But, they weren't just playing a game.  When I looked around at their desktops, I was amazed at the number of computations each one had completed in my 30 minute review session!  They had added sides of polygons to find perimeter, multiplied to find area, and divided and subtracted to find the lengths of missing sides - all while playing their favorite game!  It didn't take me too long to figure out that my students were actually looking forward to their test reviews when I made them into game format.  Hence, many other Bingo review games have followed!  

So whether we are all using materials found on TeachersPayTeachers, or creating our own, or finding them elsewhere, let's get our students all the repetitions they need to successfully master their assigned objectives.  And because learning should be fun - let's allow them to enjoy the process!

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