“The dumbest thing you can do as a teacher is to keep on doing something just because you already planned it.”
These wise words were spoken by one of my favourite professors at Meredith College, the small women’s college where I completed my MAT. Even though I graduated a few years ago, I find myself coming back to them more and more often.
Have you ever felt the urge to take a particular unit in another direction because your students weren’t interested? Or maybe you’ve experienced the flip side– they’re super interested in something else, something you’re not covering in your class. Well, everyone… here’s your permission: make the change.
I’m often hesitant to make these changes. “But Bethany, you put so much thought and consideration into this lesson! Were those thoughts wrong? Of course not! Just keep going! It’ll work out eventually” These thoughts ring in my head hour after hour as I agonise over the decision of whether I should pivot and change or stay the course. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a time where I was glad that I stayed the course or ignored the “urges” my kids have. And never have I regretted following them.
I saw this most recently in my class with our reading of The Lightning Thief, the read aloud I planned for Term 1. While it took us a little bit to get into the story, eventually we were having 15-30 minute discussions about Greek mythology following every read aloud session! My original intention was to use The Lightning Thief as a mentor text to model novel study roles and responsibilities, then teach key fiction comprehension skills. I had planned 8 weeks worth of content surrounding this novel and then linked it to what was happening in the novel the students were reading. We did the book tasting so that we’d be set up for novel studies. The kids had their books, they made book club treaties, and had even begun to read! However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe engagement would be higher if I followed their urge to learn Greek mythology and we abandoned our novel study. I felt like if I stuck with our novel study then I’d be wasting an opportunity. After all, how many times do we get literally our entire class engaged on a single topic or unit of study? Answer: Never.
I ended up handing the decision over to my students in a Google poll. They could vote to continue to do the novel study and learn Greek mythology concurrently, or to put off the novel study and do Greek mythology full time this term. Do you know what they voted?
Seriously– that’s their vote! Twenty four wanted to do Greek mythology and two wanted to continue with novel study. So… we made the switch!
The change in our literacy block has been pretty profound since we “abandoned” our novel study and followed where the students wanted to go. In the two weeks since we made the swap, I’ve rarely had a moment where students weren’t engaged. We’ve created profiles of various gods/goddesses, learned their histories, created plays about other greek myths (King Midas and the Golden Touch, Poseidon and Medusa, The Trojan Horse, just to name a few), and are moving into theme and character traits. We even linked this with narrative writing to create our own Greek god/goddess and tell of how they became heroes in Ancient Greece. I’ve even had parents emailing me saying that their students are asking to go to the public library to check out books on Greek mythology.
Am I a little bummed that we didn’t get to do our novel study? Of course. I can’t get back the hours I worked on that unit; however, it will have it’s time… it’s just not right now. And my future self will still be thankful.
Have you ever abandoned what you planned to follow a student urge or interest? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!