Reflection on Questions for the School Year #1

Instead of writing about my goals on a bimonthly basis this year, I decided to track how my thinking about three different questions shifts as the year goes on.  I previously addressed these questions in my Hopes and Fears post.  This is my first check in.

How will I need to change the stance towards students and pedagogical practices I’ve developed the past years teaching upper classmen to be successful in teaching freshmen?

To the best of my knowledge, I think I made two significant changes to my pedagogy for teaching freshmen.  First, I grade way more often.  With Juniors and Seniors, I only gave formal written feedback on the projects and writings that culminated major units.  Now, I am giving  formal formative feedback multiple times each week, and focusing that feedback on smaller aspects of students’ practice.  For example, in my Looking for an Argument Government class, students write an essay every week.  My feedback for that class generally only focuses on one aspect of the essay, say Organization, which is the focus of instruction for the following week.  On the other hand, in my interdisciplinary English/History class, Build Your Own Civilization, students are spending much more of their time on smaller pieces of writing as opposed to full essays with specific attention to grammar and structure.

Second, I rarely plan activities that last longer than 15 minutes.  Freshmen have yet to build up their focus stamina, so I try to plan my class in smaller blocks of time, and have transitions that involve movement as much as possible.

How can I better focus on students’ thinking as opposed to the products of that thinking?

I’m glad I asked myself this question, as I need to get refocused on this.  The bottom line is I haven’t focused on this as much as I would like.  For Build Your Own Civilization, I need to re-browse Making Thinking Visible before planning my next unit to work in a couple of thinking routines.

In Looking for an Argument, we’ve talked a lot about writing structure as thinking structure, and have worked to break students free of the tyranny of the five paragraph essay to allow their writing to better reflect their thinking about complex arguments.  Most students have adopted a “Some people say this, others say that, but I say…” structure for their essays.  It’s now time to really push their thinking within their essays, particularly around how they differentiate between their overall claim, their reasons for holding that claim, and the specific evidence they have to support their reasoning.

How will I shift from not just developing teachers, but developing teacher-leaders for the future of our school?

Given the small nature of our staff right now with only ten teachers, I’m not sure I can write about this publicly in any meaningful way, so I’m going to hold off on answering for now.