This series of posts are part of my professional development at Kamehameha. Itʻs important to reflect on oneʻs teaching practice in order to improve no matter how much one knows and how long one has been at it.
My students this year have so far been, well, (whatʻs the best way to put this?) subdued. It is as if they are watching a screen when I teach, and as much as I try to engage them, they tend to remain passive. This is not necessarily a criticism, just a description, but it is a challenge. This challenge has a silver lining, however: it makes me “up my game” in terms of presentation. If they’re going to be fairly passive, Iʻm less inhibited in being extremely animated, which is usually a weakness for me – I normally tend to let the ideas speak for themselves.
Time is another major issue. As a semester course, Hawaiian history teachers are always in a race to finish the content. We have a common final, so falling behind without catching up is not an option. This rushed environment lessens the chances of engaging in meaningful discussions on deep historical topics. Often, it’s difficult to get students to a point where they know enough to engage in such a discussion. I’m experimenting with “flipping” the classroom to free up time – more on that as the experiment progresses. Because retention is a serious issue (or the inability to retain, to be precise), much of class time is used for repetition. By the time a student takes the final exam, for example, it should be the seventh time theyʻre seeing the material: 1) the reading, 2) the quiz, 3) the notes, 4) review for the test, 5) the test, 6) review for the final, 7) the final.
Over the past year, our Hawaiian history team has has many serious discussions about exactly what it is we expect them to leave our classes knowing. We are at the point of not assuming that they will even remember taking the course at all (I have met graduates who don’t remember taking Hawaiian history – not my former students I might add). So the details of exactly how we present nuanced topics pale in comparison with the need to impart some basic understandings.
I have particular things I want students to leave with and retain: if you can only remember one date in Hawaiian history, for example, it’s Jan 17th, 1893, the date of the overthrow. If you can remember two, remember 1778, the year of Cook’s arrival. If you it’s three, remember 1843, the year of Hawaiʻi’s recognition in the Family of Nations. More is better, but I constantly reiterate these basic understandings. I’m not even sure if this is best practice, but students do seem to retain these dates throughout the duration of the course.
What are best practices when it comes to retention and balancing rote learning, skills and higher level thinking?
And how do these best practices change with student’s changing abilities (generational changes like “21st century learners” and “digital natives”)?