Around this time last year, I wrote a series of posts reflecting on how the school year went (see My 8 End-Of-School-Year Reflection Posts – All In One Place).
I doubt that I’ll write that many posts about this school year, but I figured I’d at least do one reflecting on what things went well and not so well – and another one on what all this means for my classes next year.
I’ll briefly describe “implications for next year” after each good and not-so-good point, and hope to elaborate on them all in a future post.
So, here goes:
Things That Went Well
1.In general, all of my classes went fairly well (see What Happens In A Typical Day During My ELL Newcomers Class and What Happens In A Typical Day During My ELL U.S. History Class – though I don’t have a post like that for my IB Theory of Knowledge classes, this one gives you a sample of what we do: STUDENT EXAMPLE OF TEACHING A COMPLEX TOPIC “TO A FIVE YEAR OLD.”
Implications for next year: I won’t be teaching an ELL History class next year – for the first time in at least ten years, and probably longer. Instead, I’ll be teaching a double-period of my Newcomers class, along with my usual three periods of TOK. I’m excited about it!
2. Peer tutors (see THE BEST RESOURCES ON PEER TUTORS) working in my ELL classes generally worked quite well though, unfortunately, district staff didn’t follow-up on their commitment to help us do a formal evaluation of it (as they previously did for our Long-Term ELL project), so we may not have data to demonstrate its success. However, it’s very clear to us that students progressed much more rapidly with our one-to-two/three tutor-to-student ratio.
Implications for next year: Though peer tutors worked well, I will need to figure out some better training systems to maximize their use. I also need to reflect on if there is any may to mitigate the “senioritis” that has affected many of them in the final two-or-three months of school.
3. Using “True Stories” books in small groups as the warm-up activity in my ELL Newcomers class was, if I say so myself, an excellent move (see THE “TRUE STORIES” BOOK SERIES IS AN EXTRAORDINARY MATCH FOR MY ELL NEWCOMERS CLASSROOM – DO YOU KNOW OF OTHER SIMILAR TITLES?). I had the idea of having small leveled groups working with peer tutors mid-year, and it has gone really well. Students progress from book-to-book, and also used mini-whiteboards for related dictation activities. They typically spend about the first ten-minutes of the class working in the book, followed by five-minutes using the mini-whiteboards.
Implications for next year: Though it’s gone very well, again, I will need to do more specific training for the tutors on how to make it more effective. I also plan on “mixing it up” with different “workbooks,” in addition to “True Stories.”
4. Incorporating Artificial Intelligence into classes. I think I was able to effectively navigate and integrate the AI that has burst into the world since December, through utilizing text-to-image tools (see How I’m Using AI Art Generation To Teach English To Newcomers), taking advantage of sites that provide automatic pronunciation feedback (see “READM” LOOKS LIKE A GREAT NEW & FREE AI-POWERED SITE FOR ELLS and “SPEAKABLE” IS GOING TO BECOME A VERY POPULAR ONLINE TOOL FOR ELLS – IF IT ISN’T ALREADY), and providing guidance to TOK students about using ChatGPT (see HERE’S THE GUIDANCE I GAVE TO STUDENTS ABOUT USING CHATGPT – HELP ME MAKE IT BETTER).
Implications for next year: Who knows what new AI developments there will be in the coming months? And, what does it mean for the ELL classroom? Encouraging Newcomers to use Google Translate only for writing “words, not sentences” is always an uphill battle (see THE BEST IDEAS FOR USING GOOGLE TRANSLATE IN THE ELL CLASSROOM – PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN!) – now I’ve got to get a handle on how to talk with them about ChatGPT!
5. Supporting Students. I feel I did a good job in building relationships and supporting students. Having a weekly Google Form check-in helped a lot (Tracking How My Students Have Been Feeling Throughout This School Year – note that since that post was written, I added a final question asking students to share anything else they think would be good for me to know). With increasing student mental health needs (see Six Changes I THINK I See In Students Since The Pandemic Began – What About You?), being able to refer students to our great counselors and our newer Community Schools initiative offering additional support was a huge help. And our student mentoring program also was an asset (The Best Resources On The Value & Practice Of Having Older Students Mentoring Younger Ones).
Implications for next year: I sure hope the stress our students feel doesn’t get any worse next year and, instead, gets less. It’s also a lot for teachers to juggle, in addition to everything else we have on our plate.
Things That Could Have Gone Better
1.Not very successful at getting my ELL Newcomers to do much intentional work outside of the classroom to study English. Though I did make a valiant effort (see THE “STUDENT PERSONAL REPORTS” I’M CO-CREATING WITH MY ELL NEWCOMER STUDENTS & WHAT WE’RE DOING WITH THEM), I just didn’t have the energy to keep it going. Of course, just because they are not officially “studying” English doesn’t mean they aren’t still learning more (through watching movies and listening to music, and through just operating day-to-day here in the U.S.).
Implications for next year: The most successful effort in this area that I’ve ever had has been when I asked a few students individually to work on a workbook at home, and gave them special time in class to review it together separately. Slowly, but surely, most students in the class wanted to be part of this “special group.” It would be easy to incorporate peer tutors into this kind of activity, so I’ll probably give it a try.
2. Sort of “rested on my laurels” in both my Newcomer and US History class by using my tried-and-true lessons and materials, and didn’t try to “up my game” by incorporating even more higher-order thinking skills. Though I’m proud of the academic rigor of my ELL classes, there is always room for improvement, and I just didn’t prioritize creating new scaffolds to enhance it even more (like I did in my Theory of Knowledge class – see THIS IS THE “GUIDE” I GAVE MY THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE STUDENTS TO HELP THEM WRITE THEIR ESSAYS).
Implications for next year: Especially since I’ll have Newcomers for two periods next year, I will spend time this summer reflecting on, and creating, ways to highlight higher order thinking skills in lessons – even more than I do now.
3. Didn’t do a very good job at helping my US History students understand the importance of studying history. My Intermediate students were pretty engaged in the class, anyway, since most of what we covered was brand-new to them. But I think enthusiasm would have been even higher if we had done more work on its relevance, as I’ve done in previous classes (The Best Videos For Learning Why It’s Important To Study History). Instead, I made the mistake so many of us make – emphasizing “coverage” of content, particularly since my class was going to be the only class they had in their K-12 career on U.S. History.
Implications for next year: I won’t be teaching social studies next year, so there’s no anything I can do about this then. However, I think a similar critique can be made about my Theory of Knowledge class, so I need to figure out a plan to help students see its relevance – and how I can make it more relevant.
4. Student Cellphone Use. Eighty-five percent of students seem to have a good handle on their cellphone use but, boy, that remaining fifteen percent! Asking students to not have their cellphones on their desk seemed to help, but it continued to be a problem for a handful of students in each class (The Best Posts On Student Cellphone Use In Class — Please Contribute More).
Implications for next year: I know our administrators are putting a lot of effort into coming up with a plan for next year (that will not include having students put their cellphones in pouches in the front of the room). I also need to put more thought into this issue.
5. Stuck to the same old routines in both my Newcomer and ELL History Class for too long. This one is somewhat related to the earlier “rested on my laurels” discussion. I was getting pretty tired as the school year went on, and had less-and-less energy for creativity. Though the usual routines were engaging, I did get a “second wind” in late April and began to do a number of different activities in both classes. They were big hits, and student enthusiasm increased.
Implications for next year: As part of my regular routines next year, I need to make sure I include some activities to “mix it up.” In other words, I need to make it part of my routine to get out of my routine.
So, those are my reflections so far. I’m sure more will come to mind – especially in where things could have gone better category.
But it’s a start.
Feel free to share your year-end reflections in the comments…..
After I published this post, I thought of two other areas that kind of fit in the middle of “going well” and “could have been better.”
One is playing online games at the end of most class periods to review class material (In TOK, students also create online games for their classmates to play after each presentation). Playing these games have been extremely successful for both retrieval practice (see The Best Resources For Learning About Retrieval Practice) and for the value of “good endings” (see The Importance Of Good Endings). However, lately I’ve been mixing the online games up with “analog” ones using mini-whiteboards, and they’ve been greeted with great enthusiasm. In retrospect, I should have done that much earlier, and will do so next year.
The second area is formative assessment. I feel I’ve done an excellent job developing and implementing multiple formative assessments (games, conversations, peer tutor reports, mini-whiteboards, classroom observations, etc.) in all my classes. What I haven’t done an excellent job in is digesting all that data and acting on it. Of course, formative assessments are also supposed to be used by students to recognize where they’re at and what they need to do, and I think many of my most motivated students have done so. I think that others probably haven’t. I’ve been able to act on a fair amount of the assessments, but no where near as effectively as I should. One more thing to reflect on over the summer.
A couple of days after originally publishing this post, I thought of another area where I’ve had mixed success, and that is creating opportunities for students to revisit previously taught material and not just teach in a “one-and-done” manner. I did a great job of that in my Theory of Knowledge class, an okay job of it in my History class, and a pretty bad job of it in the class that probably needed it the most – my Newcomers. That has got to change next year!