Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Semester Reflections

If I had to use one word to describe my teachings these days, it would be rapport. By now, I know my students really well. I know about their families, their likes and dislikes. I know what students can sit by what students. I know which students I can trust to sit by their friends and which ones need to be more isolated. I have developed that really lame term called "with-it-ness" which means you're with it or perhaps I should really call it "Got your shit togetherness." That term is less acceptable in educational fields though.

I don't think I've had to chew a student out for a while now. It took me a few months, but I eventually figured out that it just isn't productive. I've been tempted, but my patience has been increasing. At best chewing a student out will stop a certain behavior, but more often than not, it just shuts a student down. They are physically present, but no longer really there. Also they just resent you for the rest of the class/week/school year/life.

My threshold/tolerance for an acceptable noise level is fairly high during discussion. I try to curb it more when I'm lecturing or giving notes, but discussion time is more free flowing, though I still try to maintain some sort of control over who is talking. Sometimes it's still hard to distinguish between productive discussion and mindless chatter, though I think I'm getting better at it.

I've become much more extemporaneous as the semester has progressed. Sometimes my teacher sense tells that it's time for a change, so I'll halt what we're doing and switch gears. Last week during 7th hour we were reading a book and nobody was really paying attention. We finished the chapter and I said, "Ok, class lets go outside and build a snowman." Building a snowman turned into just having a snowball fight, but I let them throw snow on each other and burn some energy. It was harmless and I was able to see some of my students who aren't as socially adjusted smile and laugh. Afterwards, we went back inside and I tried to get them to write about the experience. Most of their hands were a little bit numb so it took a minute or two.

If something seems like a good idea, I'll most likely go for it. I've stopped class before so we can listen to a song on youtube or I'll find a news article that relates. I know we discussed reflection in action, and while I am doing that, a lot of times I'm just following my intuition as to what might be a good idea. I always have lesson plans, but every so often I'll toss them and try for something different. I suppose that's the beauty of teaching 6 different classes. I don't have to make them the exact same.

Towards the end of the semester I've also been differentiating my assessment for students. I've tried to give students the opportunity to choose their assignments. It's like a choose your own adventure story. Most of the time I'll give them the choice of doing just a pure writing assignment or one that is a bit more creative. The students who "know the game" often choose the writing assignment but the ones who are less confident in their ability to analyze and articulate their response in writing fair much better when there is an artistic element involved.

Next semester, I'd like to set up a few more systems for class management. I already have a homework file. I've found it's easiest to just write down an absent student's name on any worksheet, quiz, or test they miss and stick in in that folder. That way I know they have to make it up. I'm also going to create a bathroom sheet. Some of my students just go to the bathroom every single day. It's somewhat distracting when students are asking to go all the time. Three trips to the bathroom sound reasonable and after that, I'll make them color me a picture or something to get another pass.

There is a possibility that I could be getting a projector for my classroom which would be fantastic. I'm tired of having my students crowd around my computer for videos and music. I like incorporating various mediums into the day to day class so it's been a challenge figuring out how to do that in such a low budget classroom.

I'd also like to make my classrooms even more student directed. A lot of days I give them some sort of say over what kind of work and assessment we do, but sometimes it's just simpler to do it myself. The kids respond better though when they have something to do with it. Also, I am amazed at the amount of thought and effort some students will put into creative projects. Incorporating art and drawing has really helped pull some of my students into the classroom and I'd like to do that more. For me when I have to do a poster project, it's a chore, but some of my students really love it.

I've done an OK job of getting some of my less talkative students engaged in what is going on, but not the best. My system for calling on students is girl-boy-girl-boy when I can help it. At times it feels as though some of my students are being suppressed or ignored at the expense of my more talkative ones.

I'd like to crank up some of my classroom management as well. I've been getting slack with my creative writing class and I'm afraid they've been using that to their advantage and not really working. Creative writing has been my case study of when rapport can be used against you. I'm still the teacher, no matter how laid back the classroom may be.

All in all, it's been a fantastic semester. I've loved teaching these students and I'm looking forward to doing it again next semester. I'm considering where I want to teach next fall and I wouldn't mind sticking around for a few more years.

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