Faux Punk Fatigue
I’ve been teaching trades now for over nine years. I’ve got some pretty tried and true systems set up.
I keep all my worksheets, notes, video links, powerpoints, and lesson plans in Evernote (I’d be dead if Evernote just closed up shop and ran). My lesson plans are meticulous. I have the text references, notes, worksheets, etc. all planned out for each day of the unit. I’m careful not to be too rigid in my use of them, but I can walk into my class on any given day and know exactly what is going to happen. I know many teachers would be envious of my position. I was pretty proud of myself too.
Then I started my Masters of Arts in Learning and Technology, and it all went to hell.
It would be ridiculous for me to try to summarize in one blog post all that I have been learning. Suffice it to say that this course has challenged the way I look at and practice education. I have had my mind blown open by the works of Jesse Stommel, Rajiv Jhangiani, Sean Michael Morris, Clint Lalonde and Audrey Watters to mention a few.
I am starting to see what a subversive activity teaching can be.
I started looking at my practice through the eyes of my students and not just learning outcomes. I began to find myself resonating more and more with the punk sensibilities that a lot of these thinkers exude. Now I’m not saying I’m getting tattoos, piercings, and listening to social distortion (though I must admit that there are times that call for a little social distortion). What I am saying is that the current model of trades education needs to change.
It isn’t working anymore.
I’m not so sure that it ever did.
With a rebel yell
In this blog post, I want to share my little act of rebellion against the system (A system of my creation). The time that I got up the courage to walk into my office open my lesson plan for the day and hit delete.
It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I teach an electrical foundation class. The students range in age from 17-50 with the majority falling between 18-21. When the students first come to the course most of them have never even held a tool. In the 24 weeks that I get to instruct them, it is my job to teach them the basic theories about electricity as well as give them hands-on skills that they can use when they get hired by an electrical contractor.
Typically the schedule is; we have an in-class portion for two months, shop time for two months, and then an additional two months of class time. It is a great program, and the students leave knowing a lot more than when they came, many of them go on to successful careers in the trades.
Then I went ahead and broke it.
I started thinking about what the point of the class was for the students. Did I want them to memorize facts and then prove to me they knew these facts through tests? Did I want them to learn how to use tools and then have me evaluate them on their use?
It was all working, but something didn’t sit right.
When out working for a contractor will my students be expected to regurgitate info they learned in class, or would they be required to work hard, work in a team, and know how to ask the right questions when they didn’t know what to do?
Was I preparing them for a life in the trades?
So here is what I’ve done:
Half the day is spent learning the theory. I used to teach theory in a traditional lecture method. I’ve adopted more of a flipped learning method lately, which I will discuss in another post. I have the classroom split into pods of 4, and there is a lot of time for group interaction.
The other half of the day is spent in the shop. At the beginning of the course, I am very hands-on. Taking the time to show methods and discuss how things should be done. As the course progresses and their skills begin to increase, I step back and start encouraging peer mentoring.
How do I assess all this?
That’s one of the things I am most proud of right now.
I get the students to assess themselves and each other.
Every couple of weeks I have a group “Quiz” day. They have to perform a shop task, a lab exercise and a group theory quiz. At the end of the session, I release to the class a peer/ self-assessment form that I built in google forms. In the form, they are to assess themselves as well as the others in their team.
If anything the self-assessments came in lower than how I would have graded them. They also took the grading of their peers extremely seriously and gave great feedback. It proved to me what I had been hoping for, that students, when given a chance, will exceed your expectations.
The first time I did this I was worried. I worried that they would grade themselves too high and not take the other assessments seriously. The results blew me away.
There is so much value in learning how to assess. When you are looking at things critically (in the proper sense of the word), then you start noticing where you can improve in your work. As I watch my students now, in both the classroom and the shop, I see them interacting and engaging with each other. Whereas before they would be talking about the latest game or their favourite Migos song, now they are going to each other for help, assessing each other, sharing tips. They are learning that mistakes aren’t a failure, they are just learning opportunities.
Every good post ends with a strong conclusion and here’s mine.
The more I read about, practice, write about, and experience different methods of teaching, the more I am coming to embrace critical pedagogy.
Paulo Freire said,
If the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed
My previous methods, in my opinion, did not permit dialogue. They weren’t encouraging the right types of interaction and engagement.
So I broke them.
Have I found the perfect system? Heck no! There were, and are many hiccups. But like my students, I am learning that the hiccups aren’t failures but learning moments.
As a tradesperson, it is in my nature to fix things, but right now I am just having too much fun breaking stuff.