It’s about a week into classes for the new school year and my mind is racing. Every day (really every hour), I have new ideas for lessons, discussion, and improvements. It’s that crucial part of the beginning when we’re all trying to find balance, set expectations, and go from learning all the names to guiding students on adventures in English.
And my mind won’t stop racing. So I decided to embrace it, and to focus on a collection of shorter reflections here with a stream of consciousness approach. I like the authenticity and the change from my typical longer and focused pieces. Let’s see how it goes.
Like many teachers, I love post its. We use both literal post its and digital equivalents as formative assessment, check ins, and exit tickets all the time. Last week, students posted “what stuck” on our door at the end of class reflecting on #BreakoutEDU. Today, I’ll write about what has stuck for me so far this school year.
The Freshmen Adjustment
The last class of freshmen I taught in English are now seniors in college. This year, though, I asked to move back to freshman to change things up and push myself. I like the idea of being the students’ introduction to high school and of helping to facilitate the tremendous growth that happens during freshman year. But what I didn’t realize was this: I’m teaching freshman!
My freshman are fun, sweet, and energetic. But boy are they energetic! They can’t really focus for long, need constant reminders and clarification, and are bouncing with energy. I forgot what this was like and need to adjust accordingly. This month, I need to remember what it’s like to teach freshman and work on focusing their energy for learning. The energy is positive but nervous, and it’s filled with potential.
My Sophomores completed Time Warp in #BreakoutEDU in record time last Friday. With little explanation, all eighteen students searched for clues, discussed the locks, and worked together to break out. It was the best any Breakout game has ever gone in my class, and these students were so full of curiosity and a passion for inquiry. In the end, a student accidentally stumbled on the code for the last lock and popped it open, but they still wanted to go back and solve the puzzles.
I’ve taught tenth grade for a really, really long time, and decided to bring some new ideas into the course this year. This experience makes me excited for the challenges ahead and to push my students in new directions.
Names and Relationships
Like I’ve written about previously (see Starting the New School Year by Putting Relationships First), I’m really focused on building strong relationships this year. From learning names and student interests to critical thinking and collaboration challenges, I’m trying it all. It’s been a lot of fun and I think has already helped establish culture and climate. I’m eager to see how this translates to improved learning outcomes and long-term relationships. Tomorrow, I’m having my sophomores evaluate and reflect on their progress so far, and I’m curious to see how they view the balance of traditional and new approaches.
The ideas above will stick with me as successes and some challenges. But here are the things that I’m stuck on so far, and need to put more thought into.
#BreakoutEDU Trial and Error
As great as #BreakoutEDU was with my sophomores, it didn’t go so great with the freshman. Part of that is because of the energy I described above: I need to work on helping them focus and apply themselves. Jumping right into a challenging game with autonomy was difficult for them. We need to work on persistence, critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving.
But I also need to work on beta testing new games. We created a custom game for the freshman and it was a challenge. Parts of it were great, but I realize now how hard this kind of creation really is. I got lucky last year, when my creation was pretty successful. I need a better system of beta testing and improving it for next time. For me, and for my students, it’s about the learning process, so we all have room to grow.
PBL and Grading
When I wrote about 5 Shifts for My Classroom in 2016, I discussed rethinking grades and project-based learning. I simply haven’t made enough progress here. I love the work I’ve done with my students and planned so far, but I again want to write about these plans here as a sort of contract with my readers and myself. I’m moving towards self-assessment and reflection with my tenth graders, but I need a better understanding of the PBL to make more meaningful change to my teaching. That’s one of the big goals I’ll keep coming back to.
My hope is to return to the #WhatStuck and #StuckOn approach every few weeks and to watch my ideas shift and evolve. Let’s see how it goes.
#WhatStuck for you to start the school year? And what are you #StuckOn? Share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.
cross posted at www.aschoenbart.com
Adam Schoenbart is a high school English teacher, Google Education Trainer, and EdD candidate in Educational Leadership. He teaches grades 10-12 in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom at Ossining High School in Westchester County, NY and received the 2014 LHRIC Teacher Pioneer Award for innovative uses of technology that change teaching and learning. Read more at The SchoenBlog and connect on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.