We’re finishing the first quarter of the school year this week.
I’ll be having students complete anonymous evaluations of each class (see Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers)), and post those results and my reactions to them.
Today, though, I thought it would be a useful exercise for me – and, perhaps, readers – if I took some time to do my own assessment of the year so far.
So, here goes:
What I Think Is Working
1.Peer tutors working in my ELL classes (see ARE SCHOOLS OVERLOOKING AN OBVIOUS STRATEGY THEY CAN IMPLEMENT IMMEDIATELY TO ACCELERATE LEARNING? PEER TUTORS!). I’ve always had one-or-two, but having six-to-ten changes the whole ballgame, and is a very realistic way to accelerate learning (see The Best Resources About Accelerated Learning). In fact, it’s been so effective that our school has already decided to continue it next year and open it up to potential volunteers from the entire student body (right now, tutors are only advanced ELLs from my previous classes, and my previous IB Theory of Knowledge students).
2. Peer mentors assisting ninth-graders. Every year students from my IB Theory of Knowledge class act as mentors to classes of ninth-graders (see Being A Mentor At Our School May Have Resulted In Improved Grades For The…Mentors). Last year, of course, we weren’t able to do it. We began it earlier this month, and it seems to be going very well.
3. The websites and materials I’m using in classes. I think I’ve made good choices for them (see THESE ARE THE PRIMARY TEXTS, ONLINE SITES & OTHER RESOURCES I’M USING IN MY CLASSES THIS YEAR).
4. Weekly student check-ins via Google Forms. During remote teaching, I had students complete simple weekly forms letting me know how they were doing, and found the information was invaluable. I’ve continued the practice with similar results.
5. My overall teaching and the level of emotional support I’ve been providing to students. I usually am a very active teacher in the classroom, and generally work hard at being personally supportive of students. I have doing the same this year, and have also, I think, been successful at hiding the exhaustion doing these two things well have contributed to…Unfortunately, I’m not sure how sustainable this is for the rest of the year (see the “What’s Not Working &/Or What Needs To Change”).
6. I’m pleased with the generally positive student attitude, including compliance with the mask mandate. Students seem genuinely happy to be back, and I have less-than-a-handful of students who I have to regularly remind to keep their noses covered. Students know they have permission to step outside of the classroom at any time if they feel like they want to move it off their nose for a moment, but practically no one has done so – knowing they can, though, I believe makes a big difference. Our district has a student vaccination mandate going into effect on November 30th, but I doubt that will impact the mask mandate because I believe it will be relatively easy to get personal exemptions (though that means those students will have to get regularly tested).
What’s Not Working &/Or What Needs To Change
1. My typical level of very active teaching and being very present to support students’ emotional needs is probably not sustainable. I typically – and voluntarily – teach many different classes during a school year, and pandemic exhaustion and my age is probably catching up to me. Having the large number of peer tutors in each class is a tremendous asset to students, but I underestimated the additional time and effort it would take for me to plan for – and support – them. My ELL students do a fair number of presentations, and I think I need to intentionally build in a day each week when they spend the bulk of a period preparing one, with peer tutors having the primary responsibility to support them while I can spend time planning and assessing student work, along with assisting last year’s TOK students with their IB Essays, at my desk (in past years, we’d get subs to give me time for that last task, but they’re not available this year). I just can’t continue to spend so much of my time at home doing class work. Fortunately, beginning this week and then every two months afterwards, I should be able to have a week in my IB Theory of Knowledge classes where I can do planning while students are preparing their “TOK Exhibitions” – initially practice ones, leading up to the official assessment.
Over the longer-term, I have informed our school leadership that beginning next year the number of different classes that I can teach must approach a more “normal” load. Again, there has never been any pressure on me to teach as many different classes as I do – it’s always been voluntary on my part.
2. Nearly twenty percent of my students seem to have a substantial self-control problem related to cellphone use. There have always be some students with cellphone issues, but it seems like the pandemic has increased their number and the level of their “addiction” to it. I don’t have a blanket “no cellphone policy” – if there is a family or work issue, or if they are using it for class, it’s fine, and eighty percent of students respect that rule. After gradually increasing consequences, last week I announced that I would take cellphones the first time I saw them and return them at the end of class. I will reiterate that new rule and consequence, but also teach about The Marshmallow Test and the value of self control. I’ve written many posts over the years about how I have helped students (sometimes) develop greater self-control. The first one was titled “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” and you can see all the rest at The Best Posts About Helping Students Develop Their Capacity For Self-Control. They all have varying degrees of success, but it’s worth a shot.
3. I need to institute Student Leadership Teams in each class very soon. I’ve written about the Student Leadership Teams I created in all my classes last year. I have been meaning to do the same this year, but have found the required time and energy has been “a bridge too far.” I just haven’t had “mental bandwidth” to work on it. This week, however, I’m starting to create them in my TOK classes and they will gradually expand to my ELL classes. They should make the classes go more smoothly, and make me a better teacher.