Keep It Simple, Stupid
This was an acronym that was introduced to me last year by one of my mentors. It rings true on many levels.
During my student teaching in Heidelberg, Germany, I was living and working on a U.S. military installation. The middle school I worked at was about 100 yards from the barrack-style apartment I lived in with the other interns stationed at the Heidelberg base. I spent many nights at the school. I would re-arrange the desks for an hour in preparation of a mass-production simulation or to create a stage in the classroom for skits the students would write and perform to make sure we could still fit the desks in the room. The lessons I created, individually decent (not an amazing curriculum overall, however- I'd never learned how to plan and entire curriculum), were well-received by the students, who, while opposed to working like any other batch of middle-schoolers, would eventually engage in the material and try their best. Some of these lessons were so complicated and involved that they would fly over the heads of several of my lower-end students, but I had no idea how to differentiate for that.
In the city such complicated, in-depth lessons can be really difficult to pull off. For the first half of last year I was fighting between trying to create such lessons and trying to simply get something into my students hands that they would attempt to complete. By the spring I was leaning toward the latter, realizing that no matter how amazing the lesson was, if the students did not do it they weren't going to get anything out of it. I didn't know how to push them in a way that would be well-received and they let me know that I didn't really understand that.
As painful as it might be, if your students are not completing or even attempting the great, in-depth, complicated lessons you are creating, you need to tone it down. Keep it simple. The strangest thing I encountered at the beginning of last year was when even my most difficult students would take up a pen and copy things projected onto the wall. The students will get silent. I was genuinely freaked out. They do it because it's straight-forward- Look at words. Write them down. I'm not saying at all that you should just have the students copy notes all period (that doesn't work either), but you do need to figure out what they are used to and build from there. If they've never been made to think critically and are used to copying notes then doing a reading and answer five question in a class period you need to start from there and build up. You may think that you're delivering very horrible instruction, but in the long run you and your students will benefit if you meet them where they are, keep it very simple at first, and then work toward more complicated, in-depth lessons.
Today's Wine: Gnarly Head Cabernet. I was very proud of myself in this one. The first thing I said I tasted when I started in on this one was a mouthful of cherries- exactly what the bottle describes. Now, I'm not saying this feat will be repeated, but it was nice to know that I could taste something some wine expert said they tasted. Cheers!