There is an amazing discussion happening on THIS post (http://wessie.teachforus.org/2011/08/25/cool-it/ – WHY aren’t my hyperlinks working?), which reminded me that, if I’m going to keep my blog linked to the Whole Brain Teaching discussion forum, I should probably write a little about, you know, Whole Brain Teaching.
I began WBT with some trepidation but with more enthusiasm. I loved it, and still do. It’s FUN and it’s ME. I love culty lingo and huge nation-wide online teaching communities. ;)
Trepidation first, enthusiasm after. Since my rocky intro to WBT 13 weeks ago, how much is actually happening in my classroom?
WBT Things I Actually Do:
- Scoreboard. Scoreboard scoreboard scoreboard scoreboard scoreboard. I use it absolutely every day and I absolutely cannot survive without it. My worst days are when I forget to prepare homework and my scoreboard has no punch. My best days are when I start them with 5 problems (so they think they could win all 5 away) and give and take gobs of points.
- Class/Yes. I think waaaaay more of my management problems last year than I realized really stemmed from the fact that I had no real attention-getter.
WBT Things I Wish I Did/Will Do With A Passion After Thanksgiving:
- Teach/OK. I’m a baby Wibbeteer and it takes me forever to plan my lessons into T/OK chunks. Ummmm so basically I have no excuse.
- Rule Reminders. Despite all of my best intentions, my kids still tend to see me as a pushover—the “nice” teacher. This is an amazing tool to keep high behavioral expectations that I have NOT been using.
- Conceptual GESTURES that go with my Key Points. Also no excuse.
- Mind Soccer. Duh.
- Super-Speed Math—a version of it that only exists in my mind right now, that I’ll use for anything we have to memorize. Right now, I’m thinking definitely multiplication tables for my MMA kids, parent functions for Precal, Unit Circle and maybe eventually quick derivatives for my calc kids. No idea what to do for AQR. As usual.
WBT Things I Plan NOT To Do
- Rule Gestures. Kids hated them. There’s no point in doing them unless you think they’re fun.
- Mighty Groan/Oh Yeah. Kids hated these, too. I may think of something cooler/more subdued. Or I may not do anything at all.
These articles (http://www.jeananyon.com/Early_Articles_on_social_class.htm), cited by Sam in the discussion mentioned above, provide a really interesting exploration of the way the tasks, thinking, and control of student work in schools relates to the tasks, thinking, and control of work in society. If social class is defines as your relationship to these, then we can learn a lot by asking ourselves what type of work our classrooms are preparing kids to do.
Do I think WBT suppresses critical thinking? No. I think WBT is a lecture style. It really only dramatically changes the intro part of the lesson, the direct input of factual knowledge into students’ heads. The tasks you ask your kids to complete are still the same. If you do worksheets without WBT, you’ll probably do worksheets with WBT, too. You’ll still do projects, you’ll still ask them to do things that make them really push themselves. You can model with WBT, you can ask higher-order questions with WBT, you can do absolutely everything you did before—the way I see it, Whole Brain Teaching is just a method of delivery. Talk less, have students teach each other, use gestures, have fun. That’s it.
The merit of WBT, to me, is this: While you can do any high- or low-level activity with WBT that you can do without, Whole Brain Teaching makes fact-swallowing SO much faster. It makes rote practice MUCH easier to facilitate on a moment’s notice. What this does is free up oodles of time for you to do all the great higher-order tasks that you’re saving—those projects that have to wait until the point when the students have some lower-level knowledge and skills to support them. The time that before would have been spent on repeating and repeating and desperately trying to find a way to make my kids understand the basics can now be spent pushing them to do more than understand.
However, I do have some more thinking to do about the comments these two articles had about the control of student activity. The example I remember was about whether, when and how students were allowed to leave class: working class schools needed a signed and dated pass, middle class schools had a sign-out system, and the upper class schools allowed children to get up and go whenever. The extension of this idea, obviously, is whether, when and how the teacher controls students’ actions while inside the classroom. WBT commands your full attention and controls literally your every move while the teaching is happening. Of course this is nice for the teacher, but in the language of Jean Anyon, this looks a lot like life in the working class—where your work, your time, and your products are tightly controlled and you have little power over when, how, or whether you work.
I don’t think I’m fully convinced, though. I read a blog last year from a corps member who was so morally opposed to this level of control that they hesitated to enforce what they considered inhumane social controls in the classroom. While letting kids make all their own decisions and learn naturally from them is certainly well-intentioned, this corps member had horror story after horror story to tell of the craziness that ensued. The CM quit before long, supposedly from the weight of this moral conflict (but I’d wager students’ and teacher’s physical safety and mental health had more to do with it). Actually, that was the first TFA-quitter blog I’d ever read (I’ve become addicted to them. I search for them. I think I’ve found all the interwebs have to offer–but if you know of any, send them my way).
What I’m saying is that while higher-level thinking and creativity and answer-challenging are one thing, managing a room full of young people is another. I don’t think tight management suggests shallow teaching. And I’m not convinced that tight management is an insult to the human condition, either.
However, I do think WBT is FUN and it’s ME and it makes so much more sense than (*snoooore*) traditional instruction. :)