|Field trip to learn about fire safety.|
by Megan Creighton
Recognizing and Assessing New Opportunity in Businesses and in the Classroom
Although it is directed at entrepreneurs in the non-profit sector, chapter 3 of Enterprising Non-Profits (Wiley, 2001) by Jerry Kitzi provides invaluable pointers about taking advantage of opportunity in any situation, including the classroom. The chapter strives to explain the skill of recognizing good opportunities and explains that optimizing functionality and success in one's business is based on careful analysis, entrepreneurial instinct, and follow through. I would argue that such pointers are just as applicable to teachers in the classroom as well as they try to improve upon various teaching methods and enhance student achievement. The chapter offers four tips in seeking innovation which I have adapted for a classroom environment:
1) Look through a different lens: Kitzi encourages businesses to consider the service from the eyes for the user. In the same way, teachers must constantly be evaluating their lesson plans and considering how the students learn best. They must also make sure that the students have an accessible venue to give feedback to the teacher. This could mean filling out daily evaluation quizzes before the kids leave or regularly meeting with individuals, especially those that are falling behind. Many times the teacher, or the owner, simply cannot naturally understand the student's perspective, and its important to always keep them in mind.
2) Change the basic assumptions: Like successful entrepreneurship, successful teaching requires thinking outside the box and constantly reconsidering the way in which one runs a classroom. Are the routines in place effective for learning or have they become monotonous? Is repetition really an effective means of learning? Do the students feel comfortable when they are called upon randomly? These are all questions that teachers should be asking themselves to make sure their work is effective.
3) Brainstorm with colleagues/competition: Teachers' effectiveness varies greatly, even within schools and departments. However, rather than lamenting the charisma or success of a co-worker in their classroom, engaging in teamwork and collaboration with colleagues would improve teaching across the board. Perhaps one teacher has creative teaching methods but doesn't know how to discipline her class, and across the hall her colleague runs a very structured, well-behaved class but the routine becomes monotonous. They could work together to share strengths and improve upon weaknesses by participating in workshops within their department or even observing one another's class.
4) Brainstorm with the customer: It is important that teachers design lessons and assessments with students, rather than simply for students. It's important that the students work with the teacher to set reasonable yet challenging goals for themselves rather than having the teacher define the same expectations for everyone. If the students are individually empowered and motivated to learn, they will be much more successful in achieving the goals they have set.
In the classroom I work in, it is evident that the teacher actively does many of these activities. Especially in a bilingual classroom, it is important to constantly be aware of the students' perspectives to make sure that they are not falling behind their peers. Moreover, having students set their own goals to work to the best of their ability encourages students to motivate themselves and recognize their own successes. One particular task may be too daunting for one student and cause him to give up, while another student feels bored with too little of a challenge.
In our classroom for instance, students that finish their work quickly and efficiently are given either more work to do, or an assignment that is extra challenging. Students who are struggling with given assignments, however, are given more instruction and leniency, to make sure that they understand and are not discouraged.
Typically, I will work with students that are confused or working particularly slowly. I try to make sure that these students at least understand the concepts that have been taught. If the concept is not understood, I will try to explain it again. Some students are simply slower workers (this was me when I was in school!), so I remind them to try and work quickly, and sometimes show them techniques for writing or completing tasks more efficiently. Others, especially English-speakers, work slowly because they do not understand the directions that were given in Spanish. In this case, I will go over the directions again using some words in English, while showing them the first step in the assignment. It can also be helpful if another peer explains the assignment to them.
For all of these students, it is more important that they still feel encouraged to complete the assignment and learn the material despite obstacles.