Teach them HOW at the end of the year


Teaching | Thursday, May 18, 2017

Teach them HOW at the end of the year

At the end of the year, it's easy to put the focus on the "what" -- the content and what kids have learned. They're also watching our "how," though. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

At the end of the year, it’s easy to put the focus on the “what” — the content and what kids have learned. They’re also watching our “how,” though. (Public domain image via Pixabay.com)

Now’s the time of year when the “what” takes center stage in many schools.

Final exams — and the prep time that comes with them — ask students what they’ve learned.

End of the year projects let students demonstrate what they know.

The end of the school year is that cumulative, summative time of year when we want to use the measuring stick to see what students have learned for the year.

It means the beginning of summer, too. Pretty soon, we’ll have more opportunities to sleep late, stay in our pajamas and be outdoors in beautiful weather.

In light of all of that, it’s easy to keep our focus on the “what” and take our eyes off the “how.” I have fallen prey to this many times.

Several years ago, I was in charge of summer swim lessons for my school district. I had dozens of kids signing up. It was my big summer job, and I was excited about it.

I was making swim class rosters and communicating with parents and logging payments. This was all happening in the last few weeks of school.

At that time, my students were working on end-of-semester projects. And I took my eyes off the “how.”

It was too easy to sit at my desk and let them work on their projects. (And I use the word “work” there loosely … without clear goals and a course of action to reach them, those work days were not very productive.)

I was excited about teaching swim lessons. I got to run the show — set them up and teach them how I wanted. I took too much time thinking, “Oh, they’re fine. They’re working, and I really need to organize this swim lessons stuff.”

The problem? Students were showing me the “what” — what they had learned — through their projects. Teaching and learning of the “what” had already happened.

I wasn’t teaching them “how.”

  • How do you finish strong?
  • How do you show that you’re committed to learning until the final day?
  • How do you make each day count?
  • How do you bring out little learning opportunities, even when the message throughout the building is “It’s time to shut down for the year”?

how we do our jobs what we teachThis is a time of year when students are watching how we do our jobs as much as what we teach.

They know which teachers are checked out and have the beach or the lake — or, in my case, the swimming pool — on their mind.

You’ve probably heard this end-of-year mantra: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

Personally, I don’t care if you count down the days until school is out. In my house, with two educators and three elementary students, we always know how many days are left.

But definitely make those days count. If anything, at the end of the year, show your students “how.”

Because a shining example of how a life is well lived is something that may just stick with them and inspire them well into adulthood.

[reminder]What do you think … are they watching our ‘how’? How have you kept your focus on your ‘how’?[/reminder]

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  • My sixth graders and I are reading, watching, and listening to learn about Athens and Sparta. Next we compare and contrast the two ancient Greek city-states as we get ready to debate on Friday. We are having some great discussions using focus words and evidence to explain our beliefs. We debate on Friday, which will include mental and physical challenges as well as well written powerful claims. The room is abuzz with rhetoric!

  • Bonnie Campbell says:

    As important as the WHAT and HOW are, we cannot forget the WHY. More than ever, I realize that we must allow the students the time to question – why should I learn the formulas that tell me what elements fuse together; why should I learn grammar rules which are always in flux; why should I care if I know what dates are important in American History. If students learn to explore the WHYs of life, then they will realize that what they learn (facts, formulas) will focus their brain on the best way to learn and retain the material – the HOW. You are so right that the end of the year becomes a huge let down of focus until you begin to push yourself to wonder WHY, then WHAT is the question leading to HOW do I get to my latest goal. If explorers of our world and universe, had not asked WHY? The WHAT is over the hill, and HOW do I get there would never have happened. Why do the phases of orbits of the planets happen? What is the influence of the order of the planets on Earth? How can changes in these phases affect the other planets? Hopefully, as teachers focus on the WHAT and the HOW, they will help students to ask WHY. By allowing our children the opportunity to explore their own learning environment, we set an example that they can actively follow for the rest of their lives.

  • The concept of “How” do I …?” fill in the blank … “finish strong,” “reflect on the year,” “make a solid attempt at getting (insert goal or grade, etc.),” is absolutely an important skill and concept to model for students. I also think that the “How?” of learning is possibly one of the most important skills. With our help, students need to learn how to learn and develop metacognition. They need to develop perseverance, develop grit, work through the struggle and failures of learning. However, I believe we must start with “Why?” and finish with a reflection about their “Why?” This is probably the most important aspect to model and discuss with students. This year, students in all of our schools set goals, and the teachers and students are certainly reflecting on those goals (and possibly even setting new ones for the summer and for next school-year).
    I had my students do similar activities leading up to the last day of school. One that students seemed to love was writing all of their reflections, favorite lessons/activities, “tips for incoming 6th graders,” and other takeaways from the year on my bulletin board paper.
    Anyway, my two cents is to always start with “Why,” and then to keep coming back to that throughout the year. Plan – Do – Check – Act – it’s all a process, particularly learning.

  • Anna Porto says:

    I focus on creating portfolios of their past digital work. I ask students to reflect on what and why we did each project. Students like to see HOW MUCH they have learned and HOW MUCH digital content they created in foreign language (I teach high school Italian). I also ask to leave a positive message for my future students and create a word cloud for each class in tagul and post in their Google Classroom. My main focus is HOW MUCH they grew as learners:-)

  • Essie Heath says:

    My 8th graders are studying financial literacy or consumer math. This means that we are calculating tax, discount, sales tax and total cost. These are everyday math skills that the students may use with their family at home and on vacation. During these activities we are having math talks about how to calculate a tip or sales tax without a calculator. We are also preparing a math portfolio slide presentation of the math concepts and skills that the students have learned along the way, be it, 6th, 7th, or 8th grade. The students have enjoyed this project in the past because it allows them to be creative while reviewing previously learned concepts as well as previewing future concepts to be learned at high school. We are learning until the end.

  • […] Teach them HOW at the end of the year– “This is a time of year when students are watching how we do our jobs as much as what we teach.” […]

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