Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Clicking my Way through Intermittent Mediocrity

Okay, so I’m not the teacher I like to be every day. Some days I’d evaluate my own teaching as “eh.” Yesterday, my lesson ended 10 minutes early. Now, in my own defense, it’s an hour and forty minute class working on remedial grammar and writing skills in a course I’ve never taught before, but still, ten minutes is too long. To boot, I gave a quiz, and I didn’t notice a kid had his cell phone out until a colleague walked by my room. As we gave our little waves to each other, I saw her eye drawn to said student. I scurried over and took care of it, but my cheeks still burn to have been that teacher. Here’s the honest truth: Despite caring intensely and working hard, sometimes, I am that teacher.

I can’t put my finger on an exact pattern. I’m not that teacher too often because I hate the feeling of knowing my lessons have fallen short, so I step it up after a day like yesterday; however, I can’t say these days are totally rare either. Sustaining quality teaching isn’t easy, and there are days I struggle for the enthusiasm and attentiveness it takes to be more than a moderator of activities.

All this has been on my mind as I read a good piece in The New York Times about the use of clicker technology in the classroom. One of the teachers in the piece talks about the prep work involved in loading clicker technology with the questions needed for review. I use clickers in this oh-so-long-grammar-review-by-the-end-of-the-110 minutes-none-of-us-cares class. (Our school uses a technology called Turning Point.) It’s true that I have to load the questions into a PowerPoint-like format before getting to use it, which can be time consuming. Fifteen grammar questions take me about fifteen minutes to create. (I’m usually copying content off of handouts; I’m not originating the content.) However, now I have the questions made for each semester I teach the class, so that payoff is pretty big if the content stays static, like with grammar.

Why am I discussing clickers along with my own mediocrity? Because I think clicker technology unnecessarily intimidates teachers…My class yesterday? We did about twenty minutes in a clicker session, and it delivered me from total mediocrity to merely intermittent mediocrity. (Hey, some days I’ll take what I can get!) Even though I felt low energy, I could lean on the clicker technology to create momentum for my class. The deadly, “Let’s go over the homework” part of grammar practice becomes more dynamic when students click in their responses. I can see whether or not everyone has at least guessed at each question; whereas, when we check homework without clicker technology, I find it hard to engage more than the student I’m currently calling upon for the answer. Once I know everyone has responded, I push a button and a Who Wants to be a Millionaire-type bar graph shows the range of responses in the class. Students who don’t understand get to see they are not alone. We all get to see progress as more and more students get the answers right as we move through the review. That’s gold in a grammar review session; very rarely do students really feel like progress is being made.

Pretty much all this happens while I push a mouse. By investing fifteen to twenty minutes a day in preparation, I get to use this clicker lesson in every class of that prep I teach forevermore especially when it’s January, and I’m stumbling a little. In my humble opinion, teaching for twenty to thirty years is a marathon requiring patience, enthusiasm, faith, intelligence, integrity, forgiveness, and lots of energy. There will be days along the way when I’m not impressed with myself. Incorporating techniques like clicker technology can help me keep moving on days when I might otherwise stall. What other experiences do people have with clickers? What say the teaching masses?

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

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