Deciding What to Teach
Matthew Fredrickson is the 5th-7th grade teacher here at Living Wisdom School in Portland. Here he shares his inspiring planning process based on Education for Life.
In any modern school, certain academic skills must be taught. We know these skills as the three pillared core of education: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.
Education for Life teachers have incredible freedom to decide what to teach their students beyond basic literacy. There are guidelines (EFL curriculum areas, lists of practical and traditional topics for each grade, suggestions, years of teaching experience to draw upon), but no mandated curriculum. That’s great, and one of the distinct advantages of EFL, but it may at times leave even a seasoned teacher in bit of a quandary:
Hmmm, what shall I teach next?
I’ll admit to being recently perplexed while contemplating my classroom’s next history unit. Slavery/Civil War? No, covered for now. The Industrial Revolution? Probably not.Civil Rights, the 1960’s? Maybe later.Since I myself was schooled in a very traditional educational setting, the default question-What should the children be learning?-flashed urgently to mind. Default answer-They must memorize a list of ALL the dates and ALL the names from the history of…everything, if they are to succeed in this world. That’s rather a long list, friends. Thankfully, I smiled, took a breathe, and remembered three questions an EFL teacher must ask when deciding what to teach.
1. Who are my students?
Who are those bright-eyed little people gazing expectantly up at you? How old are they? What Stage of Maturity are they moving through? What do they already know? Answers to these basic questions alone should significantly narrow the field of possibilities. For example, a unit on Slavery and the US Civil War is fine, if handled with sensitivity, for children in the late Feeling Years (5th Grade and up). It is not fine for 1st Graders.
2. What are the needs and interests of my students?
Essentially, question number two is an extension of question number one. In connecting, understanding, and listening to your students, you will naturally acquire knowledge of their interests and needs; both general and immediate. If you can arouse the enthusiasm of your students, and especially the natural leaders, a successful unit is virtually assured.
3. What are my interests and areas of knowledge?
Yes, you, the teacher. What interests you? What lights you up? And more importantly, what would you be enthusiastic about teaching? If you’ve determined that your students simply must learn about the Industrial Revolution in order to grow up and live the American Dream, but that particular topic is Number 999 on your personal Top 1,000 List, and your students see disdain reflected in the torpid drudgery of your presentation-how interested do you think they will be? Conversely, if you are genuinely excited about something-whether it be The Industrial Revolution, Music, European history, or whatever-chances are, they will be excited.
There is oh-so-much to know, to learn, and to teach. The next time your feeling uncertain about what to teach your students, thoroughly answer these three questions and you’ll be on your way to a teaching experience that will be great fun not only for your students, but for you, too.