Posted by: ketheredge | September 28, 2011

Time: What is it good for?

Time.  I hate to admit it, but time sometimes consumes me.

My goal in class?  To let the students set the pace for learning.  To NOT be a slave to the calendar and say, “I must cover this material by the end of the week.”  I hit the mark for the most part, but at other instances time consumes me.

Time is consuming me at the moment.  The epics unit – the study of ancient and then medieval epics – the unit that last year ended up eating away LOTS of time – the unit that the majority of students deemed their least favorite unit for the entire year.  When the year ended, I knew the structure of the unit needed to change.  I also knew I wanted to change the assessment.  Heck, what didn’t I want to change?

My revisions began.  First change – structure.  I decided we would read everything in class together.  “I know what happens,” I thought, “They get home with this difficult reading and they shut down.  We will read it together, talk about it as we read, and everyone will understand.”  It’s nontraditional, but I knew it would work.  I had evidence – I made the same change last year with the Dante’s Inferno unit.  Not only did everyone understand, but it was one of the favorite units of the year.  I knew it would work, but I also knew it would take TIME.

Second change – assessment.  After last year’s technical difficulties that turned the “epics unit” into the EPIC unit, I knew I needed to revisit the multimedia project for the unit as it was designed.  When I started examining the project, I thought, “Why does everyone have to do the same project?  Why not let them pick the method of delivery?  All that matters is that they demonstrate their understanding!”  All good thoughts, right?  Yep, I knew it, but I also knew it would take TIME.

As I redesigned the unit, I accepted the time commitment.  “No problem!”, I thought, “I will have plenty of time.”

Flash forward to today – a week and a half into the unit.  Time became a factor almost immediately.  A church service, a chapel service, and my complete confusion about it being a “G” day rather than a “B” day (which I have I never done in 12 years), shortened three classes.  Reading out loud takes time.  Time I lost because, I admit it, of my poor planning.  “At the rate we are going, it would take us three and a half weeks to read only in class,” I thought, “and then we still have the project!”  Now, no offense to the epics or anyone who loves them, but a month for the epics?  It would be a repeat of last year!  Instead of an appreciation for them, we would loathe them… it’s just the truth.

I had to reevaluate, and I had to reevaluate quickly.

In a moment, right before the bell rang, I said, “make a note of where we are and read the next 10 paragraphs in Book 1 of the Iliad tonight.”  I saw the faces; I could see the doubt; I knew what they were thinking, “this is going to be too hard; I have no idea what ‘beseemeth’ means!”

Despite their doubt, they tried; they are good kids – diligent – they tried, but they were also frustrated.  Pushing beyond their comfort level is part of learning; I am okay with that, but I am not okay with frustration. So, I reevaluated again.

“How can I guide their reading at home so it isn’t frustrating?” I wondered.  As if inspired by the gods of ancient times, the idea hit me like a flash – the comment function in Microsoft Word!

I opened Book 24 of the Iliad (I don’t have a textbook in my class), went through my notes, found the most important passages, highlighted them, clicked on “Comment” under the Review Ribbon, and typed in the question I wanted them to answer about the passage.  Voila!  Manageable, guided reading at home!

Here is a screen capture of a portion of what I did:

For homework that day, the students read only the highlighted portions of Book 24 and answered the questions related to the highlighted text.  The next day frustration was replaced with conversation, and we made great progress.  Are we on schedule?  Nope!  Will the epic unit become EPIC again?  Not sure.  I know more reevaluating must take place.  How many days will the project require?  Does this unit extend beyond 1st quarter?  But, at least, we are making positive progress.

In this instance, the illusive issue of time helped me reflect and reevaluate on a daily basis, requiring me to think critically about what is most important and what is superfluous in our studies of the epics.  Instead of fighting time, I’ve embraced it.  The result is unknown, but the journey will not be stressful.

I know, however, I have more to learn before I can say I have truly freed myself from my calendar enslavement.  Therefore, I ask:  How have you dealt with the time issue in your classroom?  What strategies do you employ to stop the cycle of coverage over content?

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