It is time to bring team-teaching back into existence, with a new definition. Why shouldn’t instructors use the knowledge each one has to give, to make the learning process more sensible to students, and designed to reinforce the learning from each course, year after year? Below is a tried-and-true plan that several of us designed and implemented for grades K-12. It took some time and thought to define what was needed, but it paid off in the long run.
Work together: define students’ needs
It is extremely important when preparing a curriculum for students that the long-term picture, as well as the short-term one, is considered. Students must have a base that can be built on; then the structure must be maintained. Rather than deciding the students will all learn a certain procedure, such as long division, this semester, it is important for the parents, administration, and instructors to determine if the foundation has already been built.
The traditional school generally has a 3-month summer break. It is important that students, parents and caregivers, and school employees are aware of what the student needs to kept current on, or learn, while school is not in session. This in no way references the infamous “What I did this summer” report often requested by instructors over many generations. Conversely, it is an itemized list of what is needed so that the student returns in the fall, ready to succeed at the next level. Independent reading programs, for instance, should be encouraged. The school administrator can contact the local library to find out what books and/or programs are available for the students’ use. A list of recommended reading, the library hours, address, and telephone number, and any special requirements, such as the need for a library card, should be sent home with the student, after explaining what is on the paper and why to the student. Going over the program at PTA meetings is another way to spread the word. Math instructors need to determine what they want students to remember over the summer, and give them the means to practice. Science and geography instructors are privileged to have the aspect of the Internet. There are enough events happening in enough places. The students can either get together to make a short report on who, what, when, where, and why of several situations, or do it as a family event, or by themselves. Reports can be mailed in over the summer, in which case the instructor should review and return to the student within a week. This is not an exam. This is a student, or group of students, increasing knowledge, language skills, writing, and studies. No As or Fs here; make a kind comment and record the assignment on a graph. If possible, include something thought provoking in the comment, creating a new item for the sender to research and prepare.
Honest assessment of standing
There comes a time when any one of us misses the Education bus. Perhaps it was a sick day, or a field trip, or the planned lesson did not happen because the substitute teacher decided to talk about the War against Terror rather than the American Revolution. We cannot effectively address students’ needs unless we know what is needed so that they can achieve the goals we have at the time. It involves quite a bit of time, but each of us can determine what is lacking, and how best to make it up. It does not matter how good of an instructor you are, if you want to teach long division and your students have not yet learned basic multiplication. Some basic tests need to be given, so you can plan remedial studies quickly. In addition, be sure the students can read before you determine what they do not know. They might have a speaking knowledge of many subjects, without having the reading skills to know the answer (s) you are seeking.
Arrange trades with other instructors. If each of you instruct a 15-minute-a-day refresher class in a subject you like, it won’t seem so bad. You might get 4 different grades of students for geography of the United States, while Harry down the hall teaches the times tables to another few grades; just a few students in each group, but able to share what they know with others who might help them learn, in kind. Please note that every student should have a class assigned to him or her for this fifteen-minute course. If you are lucky enough to have students who know everything the district has planned for them to learn, let them learn more. Students who pace themselves to keep even with the remainder of the class often end up uninspired and not ready for the time when they will actually have to crack a book and study, in order to pass a class.
Who should teach what?
As discussed earlier, a subject the instructor knows and enjoys should be ideal. The only time this does not work is when the instructor forgets the class is generally designed to bring the group up to par. Have some lesson plans ready, and focus on what needs to be learned. Relax; this has already been decided when defining students’ needs were addressed. I believe the hardest thing I ever had to teach one small group of students was the monetary difference between a dime and a nickel. It made no sense to them that something smaller and slimmer than a penny was actually ten times the value of a penny, and worth two of the larger, heavier nickel. They accepted that five pennies made a nickel, or five cents. They agreed about twenty-five pennies equaling the larger quarter. My solution? We arranged a field trip to the corner store, where I gave each student a dime for ten-cent candy. The first student was embarrassed to put out the dime, and could not believe it when he was able to purchase the candy with that scrawny little coin. The first group returned and shared their information in awe with the remainder of the students. I’m sure there were probably a few students who believed it was a trick, but they kept their doubts to themselves.
Make class coursework lap together. All subjects can be bound by common knowledge. The more a person hears something, the more likely it will be remembered. Learning that subjects can relate to others often sheds hope on the students who tend to see things in blocks of 50-minute courses. Accomplishing this will require working with other staff members. It is a win-win situation. Your students will learn more easily, and you will be able to achieve more in your learning goals.
If I start the day by discussing the climate of Wisconsin in my geography class, the math instructor can follow it by discussing temperature and the differentials in climate during seasons. History can encompass trade and natural resources in Wisconsin. Reading and spelling can entwine themselves around the previous lessons of the day. Reinforcing the most important knowledge can be done in each class.
Please, never keep the themes for class a secret. Share them with parents, caregivers, and the community. If your school does not have a community speaker program at work, this is a good time to start one. A Certified Public Accountant can certainly explain the need for knowledge of math and keeping accurate records with more conviction than you or I. A dietician is much more qualified to explain why nutritious meals are important. There are many assets in the community, regardless of its size. This is a good project for the administrator or the PTA. I can assure you that if your community is aware of the school’s sound educational plans, and the logical way is being achieved, you will have support that, up until now, you have missed.
At some point in time, one of your former students is going to hear something and remember you are the one who taught him or her that very thing. That is the biggest commendation you will ever receive, even if you are not aware it happened. The reality is that it will happen, making all the plans and actions listed above worth every year you spent getting your credentials.
The above is based on my own experience as an instructor in a creative environment, where learning has the main focus, with reinforcement a close second.