20 November 2007

Is Less More?

Many many moons ago, my dad and I went to a regional National Science Teachers' Association convention together. I was still very much a newbie at that point and it was fun to pal around with my dad doing grown-up teacher things. Mind you, he was a college prof, so we didn't attend a lot of the same sessions. It was at this convention that he was introduced to the concept of "Less is more." when it comes to teaching. I remember how he scoffed. I remember agreeing with him. There's so much to learn...why would you possibly leave anything out on purpose?

As I've moved into later stages of my career, I've started to find that maybe the whole "Less is more." idea has a lot going for it. I find myself honing in on what The Big Idea is for a unit and sticking with it. I am more willing to let go of the details in terms of what I expect kids to know...and less willing to allow kids to get away without constructing a few simple concepts around The Big Idea.

There are very few worksheets as compared to early in my career. Never do kids write out lists of definitions for each chapter. We do more thinking together as a group and then reflecting on our work in the notes. I am less about cramming as much information as possible into one class period and more about teaching one or two ideas as deeply as I can. I don't need to "baffle them with bullshit," as I often did early in the career---thinking that I was convincing them with my vast array of knowledge (rather than realizing I was just confusing the kids).

Even still, I feel like there is too much to teach. There are over 20 to help kids reach this year---and while previous teachers have definitely laid the groundwork, it is still my responsibility to lead them down the home stretch. Twenty standards in 36 weeks---standards which exclude a lot of what we old folks grew up with in biology (plants, animals, bacteria...). It's understandable that the more you know about your content area, the more you want to share it with others; but we have to remember that kids are just at the beginning of their learning. We don't need to overwhelm them. They have a lifetime to gain in knowledge, just as we have done. I can't help but think that even less would mean a lot more to our kids.

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