Saturday, July 7, 2012

Should My Classroom Become "Jeopardy"?

In 1984, "Weird Al" Yankovic was at or near the top of his popularity.  Spoofs, such as "I Lost on Jeopardy," made him a part of American culture.  No one was safe from his "sarcastic wit."

But now, with various any number of tests being used to quantify my effectiveness as a teacher, I wonder if I am destined to become "Weird Al," because my students could lose on Jeopardy.

In Chapter 2 of Daniel Willingham's Why Don't Students Like School?, we are asked to focus on the statement "Factual knowledge must precede skill."  His premise is an interesting one, given that a simple search for "text of the Declaration of Independence" returned 17,400,000 suggestions in 0.26 seconds.  Willingham's thought is that without background knowledge of a topic gives of all of us a better understanding of what is being discussed and, thus, we can better manipulate that information because we understand it better.

My struggle is that, while I am well aware that there is factual information that I am supposed to teach (state and national standards dictate that I do), much of this information is readily available, in many cases on the phones that they carry with them.  Is it possible for me to include "fact finding" in with "skill development"?

The chapter has led me to shift my thinking slightly for my college prep (CP) students next year.  I have in the past, and will continue, to use a layered curriculum structure with my students.  But, instead of spacing out what I call "points only days," I will now start each unit with two days dedicated to helping students through the basic level of understanding, i.e. the "facts."  Maybe this "factual knowledge" will help the critical thinking activities that we do later on in each unit and will make those lessons more successful.  It will be an interesting experiment, one that I will certainly monitor closely.

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