This is the time of year that my principal comes into my classroom to evaluate the effectiveness of my ability to teach students during that one, specific 45-minute window of this school year. He sits at the back of the room with a pad of paper and a pencil. The kids look at him, then turn to look at me. Everyone knows what is going on. I make eye contact with ‘that’ student, and microscopically shake my head “no” to him. A smile crookedly forms across his face as we both realize who has the power during this 45 minutes. I glance at the Scooby-Doo DVD stack hidden under the Marzano book on my desk and the student nods an affirmative.
While being evaluated, I want to make sure I am using the appropriate teaching buzzwords that have become accepted as best practices in the classroom. I may dedicate an entire blog to go through most of that junk, but not today. Today, I have to suck it up and preform for the evaluation process.
So I begin my lesson to the whole group while the principal scribbles something on his notepad. (Probably an admiring appraisal of my lumberjack attire.) I prattle on about fractions and how cool they are. I explain how much fun it is to make equivalent fractions and that the cool kids even do that on their free time. The whole time the kids are staring at those hidden Scooby-Doo videos. So far, so good. Then I set them free to learn in the centers set up in my class. At this time, my principal instigates some questions about these centers. He’s anticipating that I can name the buzzwords and explain how the kids are learning from these learning activities. So I oblige him with my knowledge:
Group projects- As you see, over here, these students are learning how fractions work by using models of fractions. That? (pointing at two children punching each other in the face) Oh, that is what we call ‘pair share’. They are sharing information with each other while learning from each other. And yes, that student did put a fraction wedge in his nose. (Principal scribbles feverishly on his pad of paper.)
Differentiated Instruction- Ok, so those students sitting over there are learning at their own level. That? Well, we don’t use the term ‘play dough’. We like to call it ‘learning dough’. And I think it’s obvious that he’s learning about fractions. As you see, the clumps are lined up in a special sequence that…. oh wait. Yes, now I see it. He just ate one. Ok, some kids learn better by using their sense of taste. By the looks of it, he learned he doesn’t like to taste of learning dough. I’ll clean that up. (Principal rolls his eyes, but I think it’s an eye roll of approval.)
Authentic Learning- At this table, students are using fractions as part of real life situations. These third graders are learning how authentically difficult fractions are to understand. They are trying to learn by using pizza slices. Well, we couldn’t afford to use actual pizza, so we made these and colored them in art class yesterday. Yes, I realize that they really don’t look like authentic pizza, but we are calling them Domino’s Pizzas. This way the kids are learning how an authentic Domino’s Pizza actually looks and tastes. (The principal gives me an approving look of disgust.)
With that, the principal left my room without a goodbye or a hug. I admit that the hug would have been awkward, but it would have made me feel better. The kids realize that the simulated lesson is over and they can go back to their desks. I thank them for their participation during another evaluation event. After I poke my head outside the classroom door to see that the principal is down the hall, I began the agreed upon video for the kids. I sit at the back of the classroom and self-reflect on my yearly performance.
(I realize that these scenarios are a bit exaggerated, but my goal was to maybe point out the ridiculousness of trying to keep up with the buzzwords and flavor-of-the-day teaching concepts that are being pushed on schools. I also understand that it is not an either/or decision. Centers are workable when done like all things, in moderation. (Except beer) Also, if my current principal is reading this, disregard. Of course I was talking about a different principal.)