In the last few years, I have really struggled with the fact that my students endure a lot on block schedule - and by a lot, I mean time and sitting still. While I love having 96 minutes for each class, I wonder if I am using the time effectively and if my students are engaged. In conducting some research about classroom environment, mastery grading, and flipped classrooms, I asked myself: Would I want to be a student in my own class? This question also has to do a lot with the content. I primarily teach United States history and I know how many students say they hate history. And I actually like that - it gives me an extra challenge.
My passion for critical pedagogy and the writing of Paolo Freire encourage me to constantly reflect on my teaching, what I say in class, and how the instructional strategies I choose have an impact on students. I am not talking about the purely academic effect. Instead, does my pedagogy align with a critical stance on education where learning occurs through reciprocity between teacher and student. Do I value my students perspectives and challenge traditional classroom structures that give the teacher complete power over knowledge dissemination. Do I provide students with the opportunity to engage their own backgrounds and experiences to make learning more about the exploration of self and not just content? Are my beliefs about the power of education apparent or am I a little delusional in the sense that there is a disconnect between what I want to have happen in class and what is really occurring?
So again, would I want to be a student in my class?
Next semester I want to conduct my own mini-research study. I want to video record my lesson plans and spend some reflecting on what really happens in 96 minutes:
This deeper analysis of my teaching might lead me to find better ways of aligning my philosophy of education with my practice. Some of my colleagues get annoyed when I talk about education theory because they struggle with getting stuck in the world of ideas and what ifs. However, I would argue that all of our teaching is grounded is some theory. We just might not be aware of what ideas and beliefs we reinforce or replicate.
I have appreciated so many of the great discussions on Twitter and blog posts about the renewal educators get after winter break. Two weeks is just enough time to refresh our thinking and get excited about returning to the work we do with our students. They probably need the break too, not gonna lie.
But in the last two weeks, as I have continued to pursue my own personalized PD, I realize that this is something very few of the teachers on my campus embrace. As I go back to school tomorrow, many of my goals for 2016 focus on building stronger relationships with my colleagues and sharing what I have learned by being a connected educator.
Here are a few of my ideas & goals:
1. Make the walls invisible.
So many teachers, especially at the high school level, work in isolation. Three of the four subjects I teach are only taught by me, which means looking for a community of learners is necessary. But even in course alike team, high school education has been so compartmentalized that teachers operate in their own worlds. As the Teacher Technology Leader and AVID Coordinator at my site, I need to seek more ways to work with teachers on a regular basis.
Teachers attend so many meetings where nothing gets accomplished - hopefully the last two I mentioned don't end up that way. But what I can do is encourage teachers to share information through digital tools we can available.
3. Host a Twitter Challenge
Twitter has honestly changed my world as a teacher. The ability to connect with educators across the world for questions and lesson plan ideas I'd like to share the uses of Twitter by teaching about how to communicate with students and how to participate in #chats.
4. Branch out.
In addition to being connected through social media, I have found the support of professional organizations to also be helpful. Some teachers do not enjoy face-to-face conferences, usually because they are forced to attend. However, the conferences I love to attend are hosted by organizations that I value. I also find that presenting at these conference are the most rewarding. The feedback from teachers who love teaching and who choose to attend conference is amazing. I am going to continue presenting at conference and writing for academic journals. Here are a few organizations of which I am a part:
These are just a few of my ideas, but I am sure they will grow more complex as I get inspired by continuing my own pursuit of being a connected educator. I hope that other teachers start to build networks that support their own professional development in order to improve teaching and learning.
It's been two weeks of winter break and as I head back to class in a few days, I started to stress a little about the DBQ my students were supposed to write during vacation. I know, never a good idea. It's not really due until later next week, and honestly "due" is a relative term. I am not too strict on due dates because some students just take longer to get formal writing done.
As soon as we get back, I am going to spend the last couple of week before the end of the Fall semester reviewing some of the essential argumentative skills we have been practicing. In this post I want to highlight one of the strategies I have used to help students construct organized argumentative thesis statements/essay responses. And the new APUSH writing rubric give up to two points for quality/complex thesis statements.
The first is the CPR Thesis Statement. In the past I have used the Sheridan Baker Thesis Machine but found that the steps confused most of my students. They understood the concept, but somehow the directions were never quite clear enough. The procedural development of thesis statements made some students uneasy. As I have learned in the process of doing group writing and individual responses in class - writing is messy. Teaching on-demand time writing in my AP United States history class is tough because it is a skill that is rarely practiced in any other context (nor do I think it will be used much in the future - but that's a whole different discussion). Even my own writing getting to the central argument takes time and work piecing the right words together.
So rather than teach the process in steps, I created a chart that focuses on the product. The CPR Thesis, seen below, is very similar to the Thesis Machine. I should thank one of my colleagues, Sara, for developing the idea and sharing it. The chart has made thesis writing more about the parts of argumentation. However, this type of thesis doesn't work well with all prompts so I always tell students that the "counterargument" could look different. The frames are there as examples. When practicing thesis writing in class, my students often use alternate sentence constructions, which is great! These are just a starting point.
Below the CPR Chart is a Google Slides presentation I used to introduce the process to my students. There is a sample we wrote using an article about the effects of the Columbian Exchange.
As a school site, we developed a writing handbook to help students in our History/Social-Science classes. This is definitely one page that students use often.