I had to “step back” today and go back to the beginning with my class around research. We have been doing inquiry projects all year, and they have done fairly well with many of them. However, this time around I made the questions a little more abstract, and the content a little more difficult to find. They struggled. Some students were simply typing their open-ended question into Google, and others were looking in the textbook for a section they were sure had to be there. Oh so young to be trained to look for a specific answer! So today we went back to basics and read two articles that were seemingly unrelated to the topic the students were studying. We broke it down and I gave them a three step process to figure out the meaning of the article, the connections to their work, and ways to possibly use their findings to guide where they looked next. Then we were back to that magical learning process, and they understood research again.
Had we talked about all of this before? yes. Had they heard it from me several ways before? yes. Did that matter? no.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if we have explained a concept 100 times in class; if students aren’t getting it, we need to take a step back. This goes for elementary social studies, high school english, or middle school science. We simply need to step back far enough every time so that the students are with us and can reach the concept we are putting out there. It’s what Vygotsky talks about as the zone of proximal development, and it is our responsibility to get them to where they have the ability to understand. Even if we just taught it to them yesterday.
I enjoy stepping back in my class, as it gives me pause to be creative and come at something in a new way. I relish those ‘aha’ moments as I know many teachers do. Sometimes it’s nice to “Step Back” and write a blog post about it too.