If someone were to ask, “What do you teach?”, what would your response be? Would you respond with a grade level, a content area or perhaps with students? What’s the difference?
I was recently at a learning session where participants were asked to think about the ways one of their students experiences numbers and quantity in their classroom. Some responses included noticing empty seats when other students were absent, seeing numbers on the board, while others responded with lessons that they taught. For some of the educators in the room, thinking about what individual students were actually experiencing, regardless of what the activity on the lesson plan was, was quite difficult.
Imagine a teacher who believes in hands-on learning and that learning should be fun and based on student interest, so she decides to use blocks to teach quantity. In her activity, the goal is to roll a numeral die and build a tower with the corresponding number of blocks. Ariel is a student in this class and she can only recognize the numeral 1, so she just rolled the die and built towers of various random heights. Although engaged in the lesson, Ariel was not taught about numerals and their corresponding quantities, regardless of how fun and hands-on the activity on this subject was. If we spend all of our time planning lessons based on standards—maybe even the interests of our students—but never stop to notice what the children are experiencing, how the children are responding, and what each child is capable of doing, we are missing the point.
We teach students, individuals with varying levels of knowledge and diverse experiences. We have to know how high Bobby can count to effectively plan an activity for Bobby. It is not enough to provide opportunities for the class to count. We have to teach our students, each one of them, the content, not just teach the content. Essentially, this means utilizing formative assessments, observing our students, taking notes about their learning and differentiating our lessons accordingly. This is the difference between simply teaching a grade level/content and teaching students.
What do you teach?