By Teachers, For Teachers
After teaching lessons around the theme of identity for two weeks in a row, I gave students an article from a local teenage publication entitled “Where My Identity Comes From.” When I asked my students why they thought I was giving them this to read, I was met by only blank stares. They neither told me it was because they were teens themselves nor because we had been discussing the idea of identity in art, poetry, short fiction and a novel for the past 10 days of school.
“Oh Lord (Byron),” I thought to myself, “they’re not connecting one day to the next.”
I began to ask my students if they remembered any of the other things we’d read about identity. Blank stares. “Any poems? Any stories?” Blank. Stares.
“Do you remember that story we read about the kid who couldn’t decide to live with his mom in New York or dad in San Francisco?”, I asked.
The flood gates opened.
“WE WROTE AN ESSAY ON IT.”
It wasn’t that they’d forgotten things they had learned; it was just that their connecting tools were terribly rusty. I realized that it was my and my colleagues’ job to shine them.
So much of critical thought, which we’re desperately trying to push as a teaching community, comes from the ability to apply one situation to another. To do that, students must be able to make connections. And not just your go to TEXT to SELF, TEXT to TEXT, TEXT to WORLD connections, but rather the type which ask them to draw on today’s, last week’s and last year’s acquired knowledge.
I heard similar stories from teachers in my school. We all acknowledged that we refer to both previous lessons and lessons to come in a daily instructional period, but we aren’t necessarily calling on students to think deeply about how today’s activities relate to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s. One teacher on my grade team suggested offering a bonus point in each day’s lesson summary for the student who can connect that day’s work to the day before’s, but we agreed that that question is too necessary to only attach “bonus” credit to it. It had to become an essential objective of the day, for everyone.
The team decided to implement a connection question in our exit slips and summary discussions, but it’s been slow going. Many students look back on their notes from the day before and give a surface-y response like, “Yesterday we learned about … and today we learned about…,” simply regurgitating the lessons’ topics.
As we work to figure out better ways of teaching connection skills and accurately assessing our student’s ability to use them, some of us have begun to realize that our lessons can sometimes come off as disconnected. Just because we see how they all go together, doesn’t mean our students do. As we all work on our own abilities to connect, I invite teachers to not only verbalize lesson connections for the students, but make sure they’re doing it too.