Notes are created, not given

Posted on 02.08.2012


There isn’t anything much more boring than putting a bunch of information on a board and watching students copy it down.  It’s boring to watch and I am sure it’s just as boring and tiresome to do.  I hear, and yeah, I even have said: “Lets take notes”, or “I gave them some notes on _____”.

Take and Give

Those two words say a lot about the kind of work that goes on in that class period. It’s easy, it’s simple and there isn’t much thought put into it.  There are some underlying assumptions here as well: first, everyone know’s where and when the class will end – when everyone is done copying the information.  Second, that there are certain things that students must know, and certain things they don’t need to know or even consider.

My favorite days as a teacher is when notes are created, the students tell me what is important and what they notice.  It’s so much fun to explore answers with them.  I learn, they learn and we all get super excited about what we will know at the end of the class.

This week is a perfect example: In world history we are examining economic systems throughout the world and over time.  Bartering economic systems are the first type we are looking at.  The current historical example is the bartering that went on between European empires, the Ottoman empire and Chinese Empires.   Class was divided into the 3 different empires and had to barter with each other under similar conditions back during this time period.  Each empire got a stack of cards that represented goods and services common to their region and also a set of things that each empire valued.

It is up to the students to make the bartering system work and throughout the simulation/project we would hit pause to share out what was going on and make adjustments.  Students would share out their ideas, observations and issues for me to write on the board.  It was really fun to explore what went on during this time period with them.  By the end of each class we would fill boards and boards full of information on how bartering worked back then.

They created these notes, not me.  I was proud to be part of their process.

A key for me is to remember that I am simply a guide and facilitator – I can refocus, I can ask questions, I can even direct their discussion to ideas that should be developed further; I fought to never write my own ideas on that board. It was hard sometimes; that’s fine, it should be hard.  They sometimes needed help organizing their thoughts, but it all came from them.  I am so damn proud of every single one of the students I work with because they learned all on their own.  Tomorrow we get to debrief with 4 simple questions:

What did it feel like to barter?
–What did each nation want and give away?
™How did you meet your values?
I am very excited to see what they have to say.  Class has been fun, class has been engaging and it’s because of what the students brought to the table, not me.  The coolest part is that I teach 3 different demographics of students: Magnet, IB and Neighborhood youngsters; they all did great, they all came up with phenomenal ideas.  They all made it work!