Thursday, May 24, 2018

One Year in AP: A Year of Blogging (Week thirty-seven)

By Mark Heintz

Context

I have two main focuses as I write this weekly blog. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is downright hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is to see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along on the journey.  You can read how last week went here.

What did I learn?

What did I learn from writing my reflection on the course each week? I set out to focus myself on two questions:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know? 
 

Involve the Students


I learned that I need to involve my students more in the planning, feedback, and grading policies of the class.  After writing this blog for about fifteen weeks, I found the process so rewarding; yet, I began to wonder about its purpose.  Why didn't I have the students contribute to the blog?  If the reflection was so great for me, wouldn't it be even more valuable if the students reflected?  They would be able to give me feedback and at the same time reflect on their own learning.

Having the students write the blog served as a medium to find the answer to the second question: How do I get them to know if they know?  From their reflection, I received so much insight on what they thought and knew about their learning.  They gave me suggestions that I would not have come up with on my own.

Also, I was able to get an insight into the differences with what I say and put into practice.  I have certain mantras and sayings.  I set up the course in a way that I felt was equitable.  Even though I said I wanted certain things, sometimes their reflection told me I valued different things.  For instance, I always wanted my class to be about the learning.  However, I valued the completion of the checklists over that for most of the year. The day I wrote the post, I had students give me feedback on things they felt I should keep and get rid of.  It is humbling to read that some of the mantras concerning grades did not resonate with them.

Keep it Simple

I learned that I overcomplicate things.  Sometimes I have a convoluted way of saying things, or I teach the highest level of writing or bring in the most complicated document.  The materials or samples would confuse students with what they should/could do. This can make the process so complicated the students would try to mimic the complicated writing and lose the things they could do in their writing.  Or the document was too difficult and they had no way of accessing it.



Making small gains each day is better than trying to hit a grand slam every time.  It is hard not to speed the process up too much and lose almost everyone.  It feels so much more "academic" and "rigorous" to speed things up.  Due to the blog, I would often have students essentially translate some of the things I say back to me, and I could see that the way I laid out some of the materials were too confusing.

Even the way I present the content has been simplified.  While there are many different parts and nuances in the French Revolution, I simplify it so the students don't get stuck on the details.  They lose the forest for the trees if I didn't.  Simplifying the revolution allows students to grasp the ideas of the revolution.  Once they have the concept, they can read documents to go find the nuances and different perspectives. 

Less is More

I learned that I attempt to do too much in one class.  I use to give five or six documents at a time.  I would rush through them so quickly the students had little to no time to work through them on their own.  Often I would just tell the students how to analyze the documents just to get through it.  After switching and doing fewer documents each day, the students own more of the process and actually understand it.  At the same time, I can give students feedback on their progress and get student feedback when there is less and I am not so concerned with "covering" information.

Writing

I learned that writing is the best way to have the students work through their understandings of history and make thinking visible.  Writing is hard, takes constant practice to get better, and is a window into their mind.  It forces students to make decisions to develop an argument.  Words matter and if they don't fully understand a concept, their writing will reflect that.  I can read exactly what they are able to come up with and work through.  I have fallen in love with the writing mainly because there is not a right answer or an exact way for them to do it.  Because of that fact, I am merely there to help them reflect on the process and be clearer in their explanation.


Despite all of the great things about writing, I need to stop interrupting them.  I am so quick to give feedback or show an example, I stop them from just being and doing.  That is a goal for me for next year.  Let them be.

Feedback

I learned students need to be more reflective. While I love to be a direct part of the feedback process, if the students can't recognize what is good or needs improvement, then they will consistently need me.  That is not the goal of the school.  School should help them become independent thinkers and learners.  One of the main goals of my class was for the students to be more autonomous, especially in recognizing what they know and can be able to do.  I felt that happened this year with the majority of my students.  They knew what they needed to work on and what their strengths were.  It took a lot of practice and me getting out of the way.  I felt at the end of the year they did not need my validation as much.  They had learned and grown.

I learned how to use Google Docs for portfolios.  Students created a document and shared it with me to organize their writing and receive feedback from peers and me.  It had the rubric on the document for the students and me to reference.  It was amazing and it is something I need to continue next year.

The Process

Weekly reflecting has been an incredible process, one I was not sure where it would have taken me or if I would have been able to keep up with.  I learned more about my values and what I hope for schools and my students. I have involved my students more than I ever have in the past.  I felt my students and I were learning together, instead of the normal hierarchy.  I felt that I know my students more than I ever have before. I made their thinking visible on a daily basis.

I hope to continue the reflection process, but more on a school-wide scale. I hope to have more teachers reflect so they can reflect on their practices and make the school a better place. As a final note, a question that really hit me while I was reading Building School 2.0 was, "what happens to your students next year?"


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