My notes from this semester

22nd February 2019

I have spent most of my time and thinking this year on how to teach students more effectively in the classroom (https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Clark.pdf and https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/Rosenshine.pdf), actually retain what they’re supposed to be learning (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/researchers-find-that-frequent-tests-can-boost-learning/) and be able to consolidate their learning.

In particular, I have become more intentional about guided instruction whenever they are encountering something new and directly telling them what they need to know in order to be successful, rather than letting students work cooperatively in inquiry groups that may be simply the blind leading the blind. English literature isn’t just about learning literacy skills; its content is the exploration of human condition—the struggle to live within our limitations and whatever meaning can be achieved within our lives. Following the principle of interleaving content, the first week of Lit 11 named those struggles and each text has revisited those themes. When teachers lament how students can’t seem to think, it’s more often that students often don’t have ideas to think with. So it’s been important this year to give them things to think about, rather than hoping they’ll just magically come up with deeper ideas on their own, when they’re inexperienced with and ignorant about what we’re asking them to analyze.

 

23rdFebruary 2019

Classes sometimes begin with quick retrieval exercises to help students remember key content that needs to be automatic in order to free up cognitive capacity for students to be able to focus on higher-order thinking and problem-solving. For example, asking English 9 students to list as many literary features as they can in 5 minutes or Lang&Lit 12 students to write 3 distinct traits for each major character in Great Gatsby or Lit 12 students to name the order of deaths in Hamlet. I think I need to sit down over the summer and think about what the essential terms, facts, and content are for each course I teach and make sure that students acquire fluency and automaticity in those. I also want to figure out how to get students to handwrite the things that are important and help them distinguish between laptop work and pen/paper work: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/.

 

13thApril 2019

As my IBDP English 12 courses head into review for the next couple of weeks, the comparative T-charts and class activities have all been designed to help them consolidate their own interpretations of the novels that they will write on for their Paper 2 final exam on May 16th. The Lit 11 class has begun their study of our final World Lit text: Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, in which their interactive oral activities are going to do the intellectual heavy lifting, not my teacher lectures and guided discussions. I did enough modeling with Grendel and the magic realist novellas last fall; we shared the load in the Kafka unit. This is going to show whether the scaffolding and conceptual frameworks of this past year will actually allow them to approach a challenging novel on their own. I will be looking at the quality of their interpretations, the sensitivity of their close reading of extracts, and their ability to create and pursue independent topics for their World Lit essay drafts.

 

24thApril 2019

My Lit 11 class is going to take the follow-up survey this week and I’m interested to see whether there will be a significant change in the results because I have focused more on consolidating learning in a longer-term sense than on a daily basis (mainly because of: https://learningspy.co.uk/featured/what-might-be-a-good-proxy-for-learning/). I have been more conscious of leaving at least 5 (ideally 10) minutes of class left for closing the lesson, mainly because I want to make sure that they know what the homework is and can ask questions (rather than shouting “Check DX for homework!” as they’re packing up and leaving) and they know what the plan for the next class or the coming week is. I have also been much better about beginning each lesson with a quick recap of what happened in the last class and what they should have learned (ref: Rosenshine’s “Principles of Instruction”).

Once I have this second round of survey results, I want to reflect on what ISB students need from our English curriculum and maybe continue working on the English handbook that I think I’d like to trial next year with the new IBDP English courses.

14th November 2018

The results of my most recent TRIPOD survey echo the main areas I have been reflecting on:

I am fine with this result for 5.

To address 2. (not just for each class but ongoing learning), I have tried a couple of things to help my seniors to consolidate their learnings, in anticipation of their IOCs next month: the IOC poem study template for synthesis/review and retrieval practice for Gatsby, A Streetcar Named Desire and Hamlet for schema/automaticity.

4th November 2018

I’m feeling burned out by all the college recommendations I wrote in the last couple of weeks for my students going early action/early decision (about 9000 words!!!), so even though I’ve been thinking about these 7C’s since my TTT workshop on September 21st, it’s taken until now to write up where I think I stand on each of them:

From 2014-2016, I participated in a professional growth initiative where all my students had the opportunity to take the MET Tripod survey in first semester and again in second semester of each year, so I have some idea of my 7C’s teacher profile and my responses below take into account the areas where I know I need to pay more attention:

Care and Confer:  My scores in these categories will probably be high because I am interested in the individual development and potential of each student I teach and they can see that I will take the time and effort to know them as learners and human beings. My classroom is discussion-based (sometimes too much so?). English as a subject tends to invite personal engagement as students are actively encouraged to respond and make meaningful connections to what they read—and language is a way of knowing so what they say and write both allows them to make sense of the world and for the world to make sense of them. The one survey item that scored lower than the others when I last had TRIPOD feedback was: “Students get to decide how activities are done in this class.” When I reflected on this statement, I realized that I don’t believe that students should decide. While I regularly ask them what learning experiences they believe to be the most valuable and I take into account their feedback during and after each class, I am the teacher and I ultimately decide and assume responsibility for how time and resources are used in my classroom.

Captivate and Challenge:  These were some of the highest scores from my previous survey results. The teaching persona I have adopted in the classroom is intellectually rigorous and engaging because I try to speak to students’ lived experiences through the characterizations and themes within the literature we study. I want to take them beyond the Sparknotes-level experience and give them opportunities to struggle with complexity and subtlety in texts, thus I usually begin each text by modeling deep reading of the words and images on the page. It is very important to intrigue students and show them how much they have missed on their first reading—and how much more they can bring to their interpretation if they open their minds to the possibility of more. The one survey item that scored lower than the others when I last had TRIPOD feedback was: “In this class, my teacher accepts nothing less than our full effort.” I am hoping that this will again be among the lowest of my TRIPOD scores. I have always believed that students have a right to consciously choose to prioritize their time and effort. Sometimes, English should and will be the most important thing in their day or week or even month, but I do not want to foster unhealthy perfectionism in my students. Balance is important and homework should not dominate their internal life. The students I have in my classes are more likely to try too hard and waste their precious limited time and energy on formative work that is frankly not that importantin light of other things that might be going on in their lives at that moment.

Clarify and Consolidate: This is the area that I think I want to address, given my own self-awareness as a teacher, my previous round of survey results, and what I think my students here at ISB need. I have been doing a great deal of reading about the value of feedback (as well as its limitations), automaticity, and cognitive load theory. In the past few years, I have gotten better about providing exemplars and breaking down rubrics so that students understand expectations. I am very good about clear and specific objectives for each lesson and connecting ideas, as well as individualized and constructive student feedback, but not as good about formative strategies during class that ascertain what all students have learned. I especially want to be more intentional about the way I end each class period so that they have to summarize and synthesize their learnings and questions. Students here will nod and posture as if they understand but it is often just regurgitation of what the text or I have said, rather than their own independent thoughts. They are intellectually risk-averse and conform to authority too readily.

Classroom Management:  Fundamentally, this is about respect in my classroom—for me, for the work we are doing in the subject, for classmates, and for the academic discipline itself. It means taking what we do seriously at an intellectual level (even when we’re having fun or enjoying a moment of spontaneous laughter or community). Because I believe in student autonomy and responsibility, I monitor but I don’t believe in control, so like my contrarian stance about expecting a student’s full effort all the time, I want students to engage as a conscious choice. If a student does not do what I want them to, I’ll talk to them about it, but I am not necessarily going to require that they do what everyone else is doing. The mantra is: self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-advocacy. One student may have another priority at that moment and I respect their right to choose, as long as I know why and they don’t disrupt what the rest of us are doing. On the other hand, I have a number of students with generalized anxiety and socioemotional needs, so it’s important that they are self-aware and choosing to practice the mental and emotional self-discipline to focus and engage when they don’t necessarily want to. I believe my role in those situations is to prompt and support but not to insist.

20th October 2018

I am not sure whether I want my blog to be public. I think that I would like to have a space where I can think clearly and honestly about what I do and who I am as a teacher. I ascribe to Parker J. Palmer’s statement that “we teach who we are” and most of my philosophical work in my masters program centered on the question of teacher identity and integrity: how that influences the way we approach curriculum, pedagogy, content, colleagues, and students. If teaching is a way of being in the world, standing in front of students is emotional labour (ref. Arlie Hochschild and Nel Noddings) and means personal vulnerability, at least at the level of impromptu performance in front of a critical captive audience.

In the process of teaching subjects . . . teachers at all levels also teach, through example and through shared forms of social exchange, the virtues of diligence and persistence, of commitment to truth, of listening to and caring for the contributions of others . . . we put our best foot forward in the classroom. We project to our students not who we are but the kind of person we would like to be or what we would like others to think of us as being . . . . After years of such trying, we often wind up better than we were at the start, which is surely one of the great rewards of teaching. (Philip W. Jackson 1992)

The very nature of authentic reflection requires us to look honestly at ourselves—and the “re-” in “reflection” requires that wethen keep looking again and again.

Writing this blog will give me the motivation and space to dig into how I teach and why. Because I am a teacher at ISB, I cannot help but be affected by the educational ideologies and pedagogies here, as well as the community I serve, so some of what I want to carefully consider will perhaps entail questioning things that colleagues, administrators, and parents believe in deeply—which may not be true.

I have no desire to offend anyone; I just want the space and freedom to think and research, experiment and write, without fear. This ISB blog may not be the right place for that.

 

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