Starting a Journey

This summer I spent a good amount of time reflecting on my teaching practices and the results that I have seen and I was not happy. I asked myself the following questions and tried to make sense of it all.

  1. Do students seem to enjoy my class? Yes. The evidence gathered are the relationships formed with students, the “Thank you’s” and ” I want to take AP Chemistry so I can have your class another year even if I don’t like Chemistry.” (Those who have been teaching for a while, you know that student.)
  2. Am I seeing improvement in student performance? Yes, since implementing county Common Final Exams I have noted that my students’ performance is on par with many from around the district.
  3. Do I feel that as a teacher I am trying new things to benefit the struggling students in my class? And I noticed that over the past few years, the answer has been, “No.”

This is what bothered me. I found myself slipping into a mindset that sound cynical and detached while stating that I was trying “so hard” to help every student succeed at Chemistry. My evidence, I reviewed the scores of my struggling students that worked hard until the end. Now some may ask, “Was it a high number of students of something?” The answer to that is no but, over the years I have noticed that changing some of my habits may have provided a better chance for these students to reach higher level of performance. I wanted to share some of these habits as a way to remind myself to keep working to improve and encourage anyone else who may be like this.

Habit #1: Failure to Commit
I always tell my wife, “I think I am more of a perfectionist than I once thought.” I say this because it has always been hard for me to write-up the daily portion of my lesson plans. I used the excuse that I need to be free to change the plan based on the needs of the class. I felt safe in saying this because we always talk about the “different needs” of individual students. But the more I reflect on this the more I realize that I am missing opportunities build in resources that may make the learning process easier for those struggling students. Time is wasted while trying to adapt and plan on the fly. The room is NOT chaotic and there are students are learning, but is it the most efficient way to teach the information? Am I using the best strategy to help y students reach the desired effect? (A little Marzano, I know. )

Remedy: Over the summer I have taken the time to rework the curriculum to address this by choosing specific activities and strategies based on the depth and time for reflection for the student instead of the ease of implementation in a short time. This gives me a framework to build formative and summative assessments around. (Backwards planning advocates, Please don’t kill me, I am still on your team. The activities are aligned to the standards and target specific benchmarks)

Habit #2: Lack of Trust in my Students
This week, we took some time to review the school observation data. Anyone familiar with the Marzano Feedback model know the areas in “Domain 1” are really broken down into three main areas.

  • Classroom routines and Policies
  • Content based strategies
  • Classroom management and engagement

As I looked at the data, I noted that, as a group, we seemed to score very well in the first and last sections of the map. Which sounds like a good thing,right? We are doing a great job of establishing the tone of the classroom and keeping them compliant. Now for the most part compliance is important. If the students are bouncing off the walls, they can’t learn. But the data is showing that we are not performing well in certain areas like Math, Writing, and Reading; so even though they are quiet, are they learning? Compliance looks good from the outside, but the same misconceptions and incorrect logic remain because students have learned to “Play the Game” meaning stay quiet, complete the assignment, and you will get a good grade. Then on the Standardized test, they have low scores and then are confused and frustrated with school.

That middle section of the chart is all about the Content from the introduction of new content, to practice and application of the content. There seemed to be a few scores on the introductory elements, but then our scores became sparse in the practice and application sections of the map. While I cannot speak on behalf of other teachers, my reason is that I worry about my students abilities to work on their own when it comes to certain topics throughout the year. I don’t want an administrator to walk in during my unit on Stoichiometry (Reactions and math) and the students are struggling and not able to articulate the concepts they are learning. That would be a low score on my Classroom Practice score. That can impact my pay for the next year and other opportunities. So what do I do many times? Freak out!

I have the students work on the teacher directed activities where I am still the “Sage on the Stage” and I can put out any fires that may come up as they practice. And for some that are not in education this may not seem like a bad idea. I can ensure the students are on task and working, which is almost the very definition of compliance.

If most of my activities are teacher directed, I am not getting a clear picture of the student ability to perform the very tasks that they will be asked to complete on the standardized test. If they are always looking to me to confirm their work, even if they do know the process to correctly complete the questions, they will lack the confidence to do it in a testing situation. If the goal was to make dependent learners I would be getting a medal, but independence is the goal.

Remedy: This year I have committed myself to trying three new strategies and built-in time for reflection and practice. I have also spoken with my supervising administrator about arranging “Coaching Observations” on the days where I am trying these new strategies to get feedback on ways to improve so that my students can reach the desired effect of the strategy.

You see the fear in this is not really about the student’s ability to learn, but their ability to learn from ME! I ask myself questions that drive me crazy. “If they don’t perform well what does this say about me?” or “If I can’t help <insert student?> ,am I really doing a good job?” The problem is I am so focused on me that I am not thinking of ways to help <insert student?>. So good students continue to fall by the wayside, and continue to struggle. How do I change things?

My plan is to be intentional.

  • In my planning, I will build in supports to help them to do it on their own or receive minor support from classmates. This means that I need to use the data that I collect from assessments to guide my classroom grouping decisions and scaffolding activities to help students reach the learning goal. This may mean more quizzes (exit slips, MC quiz, on the spot Q &A) but also more lab opportunities to apply the ideas in real and meaningful way.
  • I want to be intentional about learning and growing as a professional. This means researching alberteinste.jpgstrategies and asking colleagues that may be using them for help with implementation or to observe their classroom to see it in action.
  • I want to be intentional in showing the students how to learn. It’s one thing to try to show a level of perfection and infallibility as a teacher, but we see more and more students having difficulty coping with mistakes because they have teachers and parents that do not allow mistakes. But remember it was Einstein that said, ” Anyone who has never made a mistake, has never tried anything new.” I want my students to be like him, I want to be like him.

So let’s get started.