If you asked me how long it’s been since the beginning of school, I couldn’t answer without reaching for a calendar; everything still feels new. I can read the eyes of my fellow teachers when they ask me–grinning–so…how’s it going? They want a story, an exciting rubbernecker they can chuckle at first and then offer me advice on how to overcome it with time. They’re consoling gestures are at the ready, locked and loaded. I’m not usually one to disappoint, but I’ve been returning a lot of grins lately.
It’s become a disciplined routine for me to write this blog each week, one I’ve come to look forward to rather than begrudge. The pouring out, reflection, metacognition, exfoliation–call it what you will–has been as cathartic as my marksmanship class was one semester during college. Shooting up small groups of thoughts each week has allowed me to track some subtle emotions about teaching that would have slipped by unnoticed otherwise.
This past week, I gave my first essay test over a novel. For my freshman, it was not their first exam or their first essay. Each week they spend time writing silently for short periods of time on a topic of their choice. They are provided with a list, which they staple into their journal covers, each quarter with plenty of starter ideas to choose from. I ask only that they write 100 words on the subject they choose; each quarter the word requirement increases and they–well, we–become more aware of their writing abilities.
This week was exciting for two reasons; first, because it focused on one of my favorite things: individual student writing conferences. Meeting one-on-one with students in a comfortable environment provides an open channel for learning like no other situation can. Conferencing gives me the chance to get in touch with the kids who are quiet and more reserved, but also to reinforce the positive behaviors I’m seeing from each student as an individual.
Reason number two: data trends! I’ve been polling my student population each week about three basic ideas which I believe are key to successful learning. They simply rate, on a scale of 1-10, how well they understood the weeks activities, how much they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) them, and what they would change. This is the third week I’ve been tracking during meaningful sessions and I can’t wait to crack the spine on some spreadsheet analysis (call me crazy, but I love graphs).
Along with reflecting through writing, I’ve been finding these weekly polls very helpful. Just judging by facial expressions, groans, and eye movements, it’s hard to say what students’ truly think. I make sure students respond anonymously and honestly. I tell them not to please me, I need to know what they think. Putting value in student voice is a practice I cherish as a teacher. So many students feel teachers and schools are against them, holding them down, and praying they fail. Any authentic inkling to the contrary gets students thinking…”wait, can I actually give my input on this assignment?”
I crave each student’s feedback and the challenges brought to me each week by them.