Teaching Commentary and Personal Missions

In the Classroom

I recently read an excellent summary article, “Lesson Design for Deeper Learning”, on the blog site, “It’s A Halal Life”, derived from a presentation at a recent West Coast Education Forum. The main points listed brought back to mind the influence that Madeline Hunter has had upon our classroom activities, as they provided a well-planned approach to maximizing learning within the students; the article’s major focus aligns well and adds to Hunter’s organizational format.

One component that I think has been less emphasized among the others is the importance of the background the learner brings to the classroom; we have long recognized that students differ greatly regarding their ability and developmental levels yet too often these are ignored when the teacher forges ahead into the lesson. Certainly it’s convenient administratively to “standardize” the approach; we’ve done that for over a century with our “traditional” bell schedules packing everything into equitably-distributed minutes throughout the school day, whether it’s a block schedule or seven or eight periods. My point is, that for every new concept, there should be some “pre-teaching” to assure that each student has the tools (background) necessary to develop the topic under consideration; in other words, all are sharing a common background as it relates to the area of study.

Once this is done, it offers the instructor the opportunity to use what we used to refer to as “The Discovery Approach” in which students are led to solve a problem through answering a series of questions derived and developed from the common knowledge base shared among the students in the class. An example I often used in a General Science class was to ask the question, “Which is heavier, moist air or dry air”, and lead the students to the answer beginning with questions relative to molecular weights of the gaseous components of air, the average molecular weights of standard volumes of air, etc. The students at this point in the school year already had learned about molecular weights of elements and compounds, and were given this exercise as an opportunity to apply their knowledge. (By the way, since molecules of water vapor, H20, are replacing some of the N2, O2, and C02, it has the effect of lightening the weight; thus, dry air is heavier at the same temperature and elevation).

One comment that occurred to me as I read the blogger’s description of having been in classes where the teacher lectured to note-taking students, then asked them to regurgitate those notes back for test purposes and evaluation. I agree with her criticism of that approach, in general, but I had the good fortune of having had one of those teachers, one whom I consider to have been my best and most influential teacher. This was a high school Social Studies Teacher, and students throughout the school lived in fear that they would be assigned to his sections rather than one of the others available. His approach was to lecture daily, and have an essay test each six weeks. Two questions were offered but you were to choose only one of them, and woe betides’ the student who completed the question during the hour test session!

However, within his lectures were intense discussions of “The Why” of things, much as the blogger emphasizes in her article. I learned about comparative religions, pre-history, the development of civilization, American History and its meaning, etc. His classes were spiced with such cynical comments as “The more I see of people, the more I admire dogs, and you _______ are a mangy cur!” (this to someone who was distracting the class), or “The greatest general in all history was General Ignorance”. I had this teacher for both World and American History, and chose to audit World History again as a Senior, when I had a blank period in my schedule. His cynicism was balanced by the fact that in spite of being an agnostic, he had written numerous Christian hymns, some of which I’ve seen published in church hymnals.

Enough about that. I would also place increased emphasis on Checking for Understanding; too often students leave the “scene of the crime” with a confused perception of what they were supposed to have assimilated. Having them paraphrase back to the teacher is a good start on developing this approach.

 The Search for Relief

My time these days is focused on finding a provider that offers therapy to address my current health issues. Initially, I was told that I have chronic inflammatory demyelinizing polyneuropathy (CIDP), but learned last week that I actually have CIDP-like symptoms related to the diagnosis derived from a bone marrow biopsy, another one of those alphabetically-named maladies. This one, monoclonal gammopathy  of unknown significance (MGUS), is a protein-based condition that sometimes (5%) later develops into multiple myeloma, a form of cancer. However, it has treatments available, some of which are based on stem cells derived from the patient (autologous or Adult cells), and which offer the potential to halt the progress of my CIDP symptoms. Understandably, this was welcome news, as the “pure CIDP” has no cure and is progressive, and treatments provide only temporary relief. My doctors are referring me to the Mayo Clinic and the Billings, Montana Clinic, both of which may be able to offer me the therapy if I’m an acceptable candidate. I’ll have to make sure my personal hygiene is satisfactory.


I’m also setting up a workshop in my “new house”; I now have a drill press, table saw, band saw, and Rockwell combination. The first project is constructing a movable workbench for large materials. This is in an oversized, heated and insulated garage; one end is composed of old kitchen cabinets that provide countertop workspace and lots of storage. One side wall is all shelving, floor to ceiling. And there’s still plenty of room for a ping-pong or pool table, and my Total Gym! A veritable paradise!

A Good Choice to Make

Finally, the neurologist tells me that I should be quite ok to travel to Bahrain in April, to visit two schools associated with one of our Department of Defense military installations. Afterward, I’ll either do a bit of touring somewhere interesting on the way home, or I’ll come home immediately to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I’ve finally been accepted to work as a volunteer at the Wells Fargo Golf Championship. I have until February 20 to tell them “yes or no”, the problem being that there would not be enough time to do any touring between the school visit and the tournament.

Always Be Happy!     To Our Youth!

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