Teaching is like that, too. Every child who sits in our classrooms is there for only one year. It does not matter to the students in our class this year that we have already taught the same unit five, or ten, or fifteen times before. This is the one and only opportunity we have to make a difference in their writing lives. We need to make it feel like the first time we are teaching each and every lesson. And, if we do that, we will find our lessons constantly evolving into more thoughtful and responsive instruction. I am going to call this "Active Teaching" because it calls on us to be active - thinking, reflecting, listening, changing, reacting!
I had a reminder of the importance of active teaching this week. I am teaching the Graphic Narrative unit of study for the third and fourth times in our last two first grade classrooms. As I am moving through the lessons, I can feel myself already tempted to move too quickly. From my perspective, I feel more practiced in the instruction and want to go more quickly. That seems natural.
But, I can't forget that this is not the third and fourth time these students are writing graphic narratives. It is the first time, and they deserve the same thoughtful, measured instruction as the first group of students I taught.
And so, as I was showing the students how to build the context for their first story panels, I realized that many of the writers were having trouble deciding what verbs and adjectives were the beginning of their stories. Which were the middle? This part of the composition process was proving difficult for them.
And then it occurred to me. I was doing less modeling with these two classes than in the first two. After all, I already had my model to display my work. Couldn't I just show them the end result?
In a word. No. That is not active teaching.
So, I have done some thinking and have come up with two ideas. First, I am going to begin a new graphic narrative of my own and work through it right along with the students in these two classes. Just as I did with the first classes.
Second, I recreated the drafting pages for the story panels. Last month we had a professional cartoonist visit our writers, and he talked about "thumbnails", quick sketches artists make to capture an idea in a general way. So, I made a thumbnail template that is more student friendly for our graphic narrative writers. Now, each writer knows to list one verb and one adjective under each story panel. They will compose text for a speech bubble for each panel as well, one at a time. And they will continue that work across the six thumbnails. In this way, they will build their narratives and sketch their graphic storytelling panels in the same order of their word lists.
Whether doctoring or teaching, staying in the moment with those whose work or lives you are influencing is critical. Active teaching ensures that we approach each lesson with the same energy, attention, and reflection as if it were our first time teaching it. Our students deserve no less.
Have a great writing week!