Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Diffendoofer Payoffs

While I was at home over the break, I read a book that my mom had sitting on one of many piles of books and magazines. It was called Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and was an unfinished Dr. Seuss manuscript published posthumously by his publisher, using a children's book author and illustrator she knew. I told my mom that I would love to have a copy of that book if she ever saw another copy, because it is a great book for teachers. Essentially the book is a celebration of people who teach creativity. In fact, one particular line of the book that I remember says, "you can pass this test, because we've taught you how to THINK!"

This is something that all teachers want desperately above all else. And it is the most difficult thing to do. How do you teach something so ephemeral? And is it even possible to teach this when there is no supporting cultural or home structure to build on?

Every year that I have been at this Urban Public High School, I think that I have moved a fraction closer to this goal. Every year Clark and I work hard to do things that require thinking. We have spent a lot of time this year focusing on opinion questions. Questions that ask "why" and "how," and we've put a lot of emphasis on the grade coming from explaining the thought process BEHIND the answer.

I think it might be starting to pay off.

This week we have been talking about why the Islamic Empire and China lost power in the 1800s while Japan (a country we have not previously talked about in this course) suddenly becomes very powerful. Without any previous explanations, we gave them a reading on Japan and some fairly difficult questions to answer, and not only did the kids do them, they did them without complaining and most of them got finished. This tells me that they understood these questions and were capable of synthesizing information from multiple sources to come up with a coherent answer and then explain that answer.

I know that this is the whole point of teaching. But sometimes, it's the little things, the things that don't jump out at you, the things you realize at the end of the day, that suddenly make you think that you might actually be making a little bit of a difference.

And THAT is why I teach.