During the summer months of 2020, when teachers first learned the Academy would reopen for in-person learning, we had to decide whether our teaching would change, and if so, in what ways. At first, I considered making lesson plans that could easily transfer to an online format, since the threat of school closure loomed large. However, some reflection led me to realize I should actually do the opposite: I and my fellow teachers should do everything possible to make in-class time irreplaceable.
Through God's grace teachers and students have been brought to WCA to learn together. The possibility of a future school closure actually meant that I ought to be making the most of our in-class time. I began to look at class as not merely a group of individuals who happen to be present in one place at the same time, but as a unit, a unified whole, in which each of its members assists the other through the rigor of our education.
With that group-centered ideal as my guiding philosophy, I’ve since made these changes to how I conduct class:
Now, students regularly present their written work to one another. Turning in work anonymously demands much less of a student than does presenting it in front of one's peers. This time of sharing also provides a greater sense of accomplishment and completion, as it's almost like a ceremony to listen to everyone's essays.
I read books aloud more often. We follow along as a class, rather than reading individually. Consider the difference between watching a movie with friends or watching it on one's own; we join in a shared experience that cannot be replicated on one’s own. Further, in reading together I’m able to better teach students right away about parts that may be hard or complex.
I design more projects in which each person completes a portion of the assigned task, and then the outcome is the collection of everyone’s contributions. This not only encourages students to make sure their contributions are of quality, but also produces a group result that can only belong to the class at large. Such projects often go on the bulletin board in the hallway or are presented in our Chapel performances.
Skill-building work, like grammar, is now often done either in front of peers or alongside me individually. That approach provides instant feedback from the teacher, a proven means for advancing skills. It also takes advantage of the group; missteps can be corrected by me or by peers, and either way benefits the whole class, not just one individual.
Having lost my class for three months in 2020, I now look forward to seeing every seat filled. I know that our time together is a precious gift, and I want each class to be a unique and irreplaceable learning experience. When we gather together, it is just as Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”