Opportunity to Learn

By on May 10, 2016

I was watching the San Diego Padres baseball game last night and witnessed another painful loss. During his postgame interview, the Padres head coach, Andy Green, said, “I gave our players an opportunity to win.” As he said this, I immediately thought about my teaching and how I try every day to give my students “an opportunity to learn.” This is my job, after all, and I want them to have the tools and skills to be independent learners.

In our information age, memorizing facts is no longer useful. Yes, students need to know content, but the debate isn’t about if students should know content. It is about how they are learning it.

My argument: Students need to learn how to learn. If we give students facts to know, we are not giving them the opportunity to learn.

Let me give you an example. For the past few weeks, I have been eating differently. As I remove and add food from my diet, I want to know what to expect. I want to know the consequences of my food choices. One food I am trying to eliminate is bread (it’s not fun). As you can predict, there are competing views about what to substitute for white or highly processed flour. Some say almond flour is the way to go. Others argue coconut flour is the better choice.

Here is where knowing how to learn becomes important. While reading a very compelling “Top 5 Reasons” article on why people should avoid almond flour, I started to realize that the writer could be writing for an organization that supports the manufacturing of coconut flour. Instead of taking “her word for it,” I began to analyze her argument. I looked closely at her text structure, diction, and claims. At the end of her list, she began to push coconut flour. I then had to think about her rhetorical context. Who is this person? What is she wanting me to believe? Why does she want me to believe what she is saying? I am sure there are dangers to doing too much of anything, but I also had to question her motives for writing. I was thinking and learning by asking important questions about what I was reading. I didn’t consume the information like we too often teach our students to do. I was making meaning for myself.

Here is another example. For a while now, people on Facebook have criticized President Obama for allegedly flying the American flag at half-mast when Whitney Houston died. Although this would be an odd order for a U.S. President, the controversy is about his reported decision to lower the flag for Whitney Houston and not for Christopher Scott "Chris" Kyle--a United States Navy SEAL and top sniper--who was killed on U.S. soil. After reading what people were saying on Facebook about President Obama, I quickly did some research. I consulted two fact finding websites and looked at Whitehouse.gov. All three sources confirmed the same thing. The President of the United States did not order the American flag to be flown at half-mast for either Houston or Kyle. In fact, the President has only ordered the flag to be flown at half-mast eight times since Obama took office.

If I was a consumer of ideas, I would have believed all of the passionate people on Facebook. After all, they have a platform, thousands of people attest that this event happened, and the ideas are typed with images and therefore look authoritative.

I want to give my students an opportunity to learn every day in my class so that they develop the tools and skills to sift through the massive amounts of misinformation that is available online. I want to give my students an opportunity to learn so that they stay informed and know how to research and fact check information. I want my students to think about what they are reading and know how to respond appropriately to issues that they care about.

We must teach students to read, and think, and analyze, and question information that doesn't seem right.

At LiteracyTA, we have made teaching reading and writing skills our business because we know students need these skills in school and in life. All students need the opportunity to learn through reading and writing. Giving them facts to memorize isn’t enough. We don’t want to develop consumers. We want to teach students how to learn so that they can be informed and highly skilled citizens.

Last year over 100 schools across the United States signed up to be a LiteracyTA School. They saw the value in teaching students how to think and make meaning on their own.

If teaching skills as a way to learn content interests you, or if teaching students how to read critically aligns with your philosophy, contact us to learn how we do it. schoolwide@literacyta.com.

Come join us this summer for our third annual LiteracyTA University summer session. You will take away dozens of great ideas to help create opportunities to learn in your classroom.


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Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

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