Year 3- reflections

Tuesday was the last day of classes, so I’ve been spending the past two days just kind of recovering mentally, physically, and emotionally from this past year. It’s been a long and kind of exhausting year, but in looking back I can still say it’s been a good year, and I’m thankful to be able to say that still.

I started this year with a list of things I was going to try in my classroom and I was able to implement most things, though I’m already thinking of how to change things for next year.

Here’s how some of the structures I implemented this year in my classroom went:

  • Group roles were mostly successful first semester but definitely fell by the wayside by second semester. One student asked me the last few weeks of school why they didn’t have group roles anymore, and my reply was “because you don’t need them.” They acknowledged that, but one student also said “the only thing group roles did was let ___ boss us around”. So there’s that. It was the “Team Captain” role that students (mis)used to boss each other around… I’d like to keep with group roles, particularly for the start of the year, but it’s challenging when my groups have 4-5 students and I only have about 3 roles that I really find useful (facilitator, resource manager, and recorder/reporter). So I’m going to have to rethink this for next year.
  • Pseudo standards-based grading and spiraling quizzes were… honestly a lot of work. And I don’t know that their grades were that much different than if I had just averaged all of their quiz grades together because of all of the ups and downs. But, I did give each student an end-of-year printout with each standard listed and their quiz score on each standard. Most of them groaned when I passed this out, but I did hear some of them talking about how “ok, I need to focus on 5.4 and 4.1 for the final…” I think I’d like to bring them back to their quiz grades more often during the year (maybe before every unit exam? Although there was a brief discussion of not having unit exams at all next year if we continue to spiral quizzes). I did get my coworkers to spiral quizzes as well, and we agree that it’s nice to “force” students to revisit the content. (Some students disagreed and vocalized that on an end-of-year feedback form.) I will probably continue to grade quizzes by standard if possible next year, because it gives the opportunity for students to better assess their understanding of specific topics (if they’re given the opportunity/space to really look at their scores and interpret them).
  • Interactive(-ish) notebooks – need to structure this better. I think the end of class reflections I had students do was not useful because it was so rushed. I’m thinking of perhaps having them look at the list of learning objectives and figure out which one we’re one (which shouldn’t be hard because I go in order). I also need to rethink how to give students better access to work that is posted online but done in their notebooks, because I found some students didn’t ever do homework that had an online component.
  • Google Classroom Again, I found several students didn’t ever do their online homework, and the lack of turning in labs severely penalized them (not to mention that they also then didn’t get practice or feedback on their understanding, which led to low quiz/test scores as well). So I’m rethinking this. I’m thinking about having labs done in the notebooks only, but having students submit written lab application/extension questions in paragraph form. I got this idea from another colleague (join us in our Twitter/google doc conversation on chemistry stuff!). But Google Classroom integrates pretty seamlessly with Goobric and Doctopus and makes grading written work way faster, so I would like to keep this while still being mindful of making sure students have access (and not penalizing or embarrassing them in front of peers because they don’t).
  • POGILs– my colleagues and I worked to put a hands-on component to several POGIL activities (and I realize that whenever students have a hands-on portion, they think they’re doing a lab- are they wrong?), which lays a good foundation for next year and further modifications. I love POGIL but my students don’t, mostly because they struggle sometimes with seeing this as learning (I’m still getting the “please lecture more” and “please actually teach us” feedback at the end of the year…)
  • Whiteboards and class discussions- I still want to figure out better ways to run whiteboard discussions (and class discussions in general). I’m attending a conference by the Right Question Institute this summer so I’m hoping to come back with some good ideas of how to get students to generate the questions and lead the discussions.

There’s a lot of room for improvement for next year. And I was frustrated a lot this year- by my students, by my colleagues, by myself. It was exhausting working with the chemistry team to overhaul what I did last year to make it work better and for all of our different teaching styles. And it was strange to find myself in a leadership role among our co-planning team as a 3rd year teacher (our veteran chem teachers did not join us- one was only teaching AP chem so it didn’t apply and the other was focused on a new forensics course so didn’t have the time to co-plan, so I had the most years of experience among our group). I also started a 3 min observation club among my department, and we’re thinking of how to expand it to other departments (maybe math and engineering to start?), and it was again strange to be in a leadership/organizing role among more veteran teachers. I wanted to teach my students how to be self-competent, and I could have done a better job of this, both implicitly and explicitly this year. But a lot happened this year, and I believe despite the struggles, the frustrations, the venting sessions I had with friends to keep me sane, it was a good year. I want to keep all of these things in mind as I recharge this summer, so that I can start next year ready to change things up again to continue to improve.

And I will say (again) that the thing I love most about teaching is that it’s never the same. The students are certainly not the same, but I am also not the same teacher this year as I was last year, because I’m (hopefully) using these experiences to adjust my practice and grow. And growing (literally or figuratively) is a sometimes painful process, but so so worth it. So the exhaustion, the frustration is worth it (though I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my life so that maybe I’m just a little less tired and stressed during the school year…) I’ll just have to remember this post when I’m drowning in a sea of grading next fall…

Year 3- Tweaking

Classes start tomorrow, “officially” launching my third year teaching. While I find myself with some anxiety about tomorrow (did I plan everything? Do I have enough time for what I want to do? Or not enough time? Did I get all my materials? Did I forget to copy something? How do I pronounce their names?), overall I’m looking forward to this school year. This is the first year I’ve been able to focus on a course that I already taught once, so I get the chance to tweak things, which is exciting.

Some things that I’m trying/tweaking:

  • Group roles (again). I tried these last year with the suggested POGIL roles, didn’t really go over well. Possibly because I didn’t support/enforce roles as much as I should have. And then I tried again with some modified roles, and same thing. This time, I pulled the roles and descriptors from some of the mathematics Complex Instruction work (“Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics”) and am planning on taking some time during the first few days for students to look at their roles and examine what kind of leadership each role requires. Of course, it helps that this year I was able to think about roles and rework what I wanted to do with these before classes actually started…
  • Pseudo-standards based grading. My school is not an SBG school, though the entire junior biology team has gone SBG. But an idea I got from another teacher this summer was spiraling quizzes– where topics stay on the quiz for 3 weeks (they give a weekly Friday quiz) and this gives students a chance to show improvement/mastery. Going to try this with chemistry. I reworked our gigantic curriculum map so that each unit has 5-7 “big” standards with each objective on the curriculum map as a “sub” standard (really, is there better vocabulary for this? Because I haven’t figured it out.) And each “big” standard is hopefully going to be a focus on each quiz, with quizzes ranging from 5-15 points. Full discloser: this is totally experimental. But what I found in the past two years is that the students don’t really notice that I’m trying experimental things on them. Or if they do, they don’t find it unusual. Not sure if that’s a byproduct of the new initiative/testing environment that they’ve spend their entire school careers in, or if my student population gives teachers the benefit of the doubt, but I’ll take it.
  • Interactive(ish) notebooksI loved the idea of interactive science notebooks, but couldn’t really justify the “only write input on the right side page” part. And maybe the problem was I wasn’t giving students enough direction on how to process on the left side page. So I’m changing it to one left-side page for each day is devoted to some processing/reflection and the rest is for their daily work. (I stopped making individual copies of handouts and made them write everything in their notebook last year. Saved tons of paper, but perhaps not ideal in terms of giving students something to use in studying… Still thinking about how to help them with making their work/notes useful…)
  • Google classroom. Last year, I used Doctopus & Goobric to have students submit lab reports. And then my district rolled out Google classroom for everyone, so trying it out. I’m already seeing the “scroll of death” as one teacher called it, in the main page for each class (when there are only 3 announcements/assignments listed so far!) but my school’s homework site was also just a “scroll of death” with assignments, so I suppose it’s not that different.

And then, as last year, I’m incorporating POGILs (modified, sometimes taking out some of their paper-based models and replacing with a hands-on model) and Chemistry Modeling Instruction and other random things to get at content. (By the way, I’m really sad that chemthink.com seems to be down, possibly long-term. If anyone has another, similar resource, I’d love to hear about it.) This year I also want to see how the structures I put into place help students really interact with the content. How do I support groupwork to help their groups function well, and how do I help students see learning as a progression?

Hopefully I’ll remember to take the time during the year to actually reflect and post here about how things are going…