Reflecting on the Fly

J. Clark Evans posted a piece at her blog, My Continuing Education, today called “Worst Class…Best Class” in which she recounts a recent day where the discussion in her 10th grade British Literature class did not go as she wanted to.  We’ve all been there on that day where you’ve hatched out these ground-breaking discussion questions about the novel you are reading or the era you are studying, and then when you unleash them on your students in the hopes of them coming to a new great American understanding, they look back at you as if you weren’t even there.  What do you do then?  Well, Evans did this:

I literally threw my hands up in the air and ended the lesson. I asked students to reflect on their lack of participation and offer ideas for ways to improve in an email to me.

My best quality as a teacher is my desire and willingness to reflect. I spent the rest of the day reviewing their comments, taking to another grade level teacher, and agonizing over how I could help them to be more successful.

I learned a new word today via the Open Dictionary: Andragogy.  Andragogy means the practice of teaching adults with emphasis on participation of students in the planning and evaluation.  Due to the nature of the Open Dictionary, I can’t be 100% sure it’s an official word, but I like it’s meaning nonetheless.  Evan’s example of andragogy is on that I feel we are lacking more of.  While she is teaching “almost adults,” the point is the same.  Can we teach our students to be part of the planning process?  Look closely at the way in which she implemented it too:

My second class British literature class also has problems with participation during general class discussions. A couple of students will attempt answers only after awkward silences. But the majority of students won’t speak, maybe if called on, but it’s so painful for both them and me that I hate to do that and put someone on the spot.

I started class by asking if they wanted to go with “regularly scheduled programming” or try something radically different. I would give them a task and when they accomplished it they would be dismissed, even if that was in ten minutes. They were a little reluctant but then encouraged each other to give it a try. They encouraged each other to get energized about a challenge in English class.

My favorite part of this was the conclusion she came to from the morning’s failure.  It wasn’t to let the students design the learning completely on their own, but rather to design something teacher-driven, but aimed at the students’ expressed desires from the morning class.  We are really beginning to look at assessment-driven instruction–using what our students know and don’t know to drive what we teach–in our district, and I like this example.  Here is the comment I left for her:

Here’s where you had me, and them, I believe:
“My best quality as a teacher is my desire and willingness to reflect.”

If one thing came through for your students it was that you listened to them. You took a failure, a rather public one, and pivoted in front of them. The student quote at the end of the post demonstrates what several of them were most likely feeling, even if they didn’t intimate it the same way.

In a new way, you showed what the use of assessment should look like. It wasn’t a book test, an essay, or anything pscyhometric, but you used it to inform your instruction. This is what we need everyone to be doing: look at your practice, look at what the students “tell” you, and make adjustments. The added bonus for us is that you wrote about it here and we can share it with more people.

And I hear you about the grading of papers. Feedback on graded material was always my downfall.

Using assessment doesn’t mean that you give pre-tests or previous examination grades; it can mean that you make an informed decision based on information you gathered through observation, much like Evans did.  This, I feel, is sometimes lost when we talk about using assessment to drive instruction.


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2 thoughts on “Reflecting on the Fly

  1. Patrick wrote:
    Using assessment doesn’t mean that you give pre-tests or previous examination grades; it can mean that you make an informed decision based on information you gathered through observation, much like Evans did. This, I feel, is sometimes lost when we talk about using assessment to drive instruction.

    This is a great point, Patrick—and one that I struggle with times ten. I just don’t feel comfortable with my own informal observations as a form of “assessment,” and that drives me nuts.

    After all, I’m an accomplished teacher that has been recognized in almost every way imaginable. I’ve been a school, district and regional teacher of the year, I’ve earned a master’s degree and certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching standards—twice. I’ve had parent praise for as long as I can remember.

    But I still don’t believe that my observations are a meaningful form of assessment. To me, “assessments” remain standardized or teacher developed tests. They’re complicated projects that require hours work of careful grading and sophisticated feedback in order to be effective.

    Maybe that’s why I hate assessments—they take too much stinking time!

    But drifting away from this view of “assessment” is going to take something more than a shift in my own thinking. It’s going to take the permission of my school leaders, don’t you think? After all, if I move away from more traditional forms of evaluating my work and the work of my students, my classroom is going to look different.

    And until someone tells me that it’s okay for my room to look different, I’m going to worry about getting in trouble!

    Interesting, huh?

    How can we get to the point in our profession where thinking and revising on the fly is respected when we live in an era where everything has to seem so darn scientific and sophisticated in order to be embraced?

    You’ve got me thinking this morning,
    Bill

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