Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Learning Celebration Reflections: Part Deux (It's not just for AP!)

by Dan Saken

Last week I wrote a blog about how I've changed "test days" into "Learning Celebrations" and how I reflect on them with students, specifically in my AP Psychology classes.  I received a comment to my post asking if perhaps my experiences and results would be different in non-AP classes that might not be as cumulative or "academic."  Thankful for the feedback, I wrote the following reply about how I've implemented the same procedures and ideology in mainstream classes I teach as I have to my AP classes.  Similar to the AP classes, these mainstream classes have experienced positive outcomes in terms of assessment results and a change in overall classroom culture and student mindsets.

My Reply
Thanks for the questions! I also taught mainstream US History classes last year and now a Criminal Law class this year that are not AP level. I used the "Learning Celebration" concept with those classes as well with the same success in terms of developing a positive culture in the classroom and improved results on assessments from previous years. I take a day after the Learning Celebration to reflect in those classes too using team tests, individual test corrections, self-reflections, or other activities to be able to identify what they knew and what they didn't.  

The pictures below are of my most recent Learning Celebration Reflection Day in my Criminal Law classes where students worked to not just identify what questions they answer incorrectly, but why.  By doing this kind of reflection, students would better understand what they need to work on for the next Learning Celebration: Did they get the wrong answer because they misread the question? Didn't read all the answer choices? Didn't study that content? Etc.  I got this idea from a colleague (Mark Heintz, AP World History and Human Geo teacher) to get students to not just care about the score they received, but the thinking process involved in recalling information and answering those questions.

While those classes are not as cumulative as an AP class (though they will need to know the content for the Final Learning Celebration at the end of each semester), I still want to stress the importance of filling in the gaps of knowledge so they won't get wider over time. I always like to make connections to previously learned material as I go through the course, so if the students never learned that content in the first place and didn't get a chance to realize that through our reflection, then it hurts their ability to learn the new information later on as well.  

Finally, more than any other year I have taught before, I took a great deal of class time in the first week of school to hammer home the idea of the Growth Mindset with all of my classes, both AP and mainstream. I have a bunch of posters in my room dedicated to the idea that failure is not an end result, but rather every time you fail is simply an opportunity to learn. I refer to Thomas Edison "learning" 1000 different ways of how NOT to make a light bulb before his final success. I talk about the importance of simply trying your best, being willing to try and be wrong, and when all else fails, just keep trying. That an error does not become a mistake unless you refuse to correct it. That you never fail until you stop trying. That you shouldn't do something until you get it right, you should do something until you can't get it wrong (I use a basketball analogy for that one). That "whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." I refer to these concepts constantly throughout the year as reminders as we go.  It's not just a one-day, "rah-rah" kind of thing in our's about building a positive culture and mindset throughout the school year.

It definitely is difficult to convince teenagers to care more about and focus more on the process than the end result (grade), but just getting them to think a little bit differently about the importance of the process is extraordinarily helpful. I've seen a TED Talk about how the greatest predictor of success is Grit and read articles about how failure can be our best teacher. I communicate those ideas so that when students do hit a road block in their learning or don't do well on an assessment, they are ready, willing, and able to continue on and just keep trying.

I hope this helps you think about how it can apply to other classes. Obviously the "Statistics" part of the reflection I do with my AP Psych is more specific because it connects with content we learn, but I still look at the averages and most missed with my mainstream classes on our reflection days. Thanks again for your questions and good luck with your classes!

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