So my midyear report card results are in. As always, they’re a mixed bag. Here are a few comments directly from the kiddos. First, the good:
- I like the amount of time we have to explore math in the class. It’s not just sitting down listening to a teacher all period.
- I like how resourceful we are and a teacher isn’t always 100% necessary.
- I like how we get to put up the problems on the board and are allowed to go to other tables to compare answers or to ask help.
- The way we learn from each other’s work.
- I like how the students have a right in their teaching in a way.
- I have the freedom to walk around and don’t have to be confined to my desk.
- I like the freedom in the class and learning from the problems rather than cumbersome units.
- Nobody judges others on their work.
- We focus on different types of problems that all connect to each other.
And the not-so-good:
- It can be improved by actually teaching a lesson so that the lesson can be more clear.
- I think there should be more traditional teaching.
- You can try to lead the class a bit more rather than the students teaching it.
- More lessons and notes rather than just problems.
- Topics can be gathered into categories by Mr. Palacios so we know what we’re dealing with.
- You should talk more.
- Our class should try to identify problems or topics we are confused on therefore allowing you to step in and teach the topic.
- I would really want for you to take charge of the class instead of the students.
- Teaching in front of the board like once a week.
Notice a theme?
Based on the comments, it’s clear to me that my students are uncomfortable with the high levels of autonomy that I have afforded them. Well, let’s talk about the structure. It doesn’t happen everyday, but usually I assign 5 problems for homework (designed as learning experiences, not traditional practice). I expect them to come in the next day, put their work to the problems up on the whiteboards and thoroughly discuss the solutions they found in small groups. While this is happening, I assess their thinking and step into their group’s conversations to help drive the learning. For the most part, they can move freely about the room, but at times I will strategically move kids to different groups, a.k.a. visible random grouping. Afterwards, I sequence the presenters for the 5 problems and a whole class discussion around the solutions to the problems closes things out.
Through this structure, I have tried to minimize the amount of direct instruction that I do all the while interleaving mathematical ideas through problems. I’ve wanted student discussion to completely direct the learning and the problems to be the vehicle that makes that happen. Damn, that sounds so good in theory. I know in September it did.
Admittedly, I probably went a little too gung-ho about the student-driven, discussion-based learning. It was just so tasty. But I could have taken baby steps. I could have tried it out for a few lessons, learned its flaws and iterated on a smaller scale. But, no, I had to go all in. And I’m drowning because of it.
But all is not lost. The kids really love working on the whiteboards and freely getting help from others in the class. This is liberating for them. They aren’t confined to their seat and they appreciate this. The whiteboards give them an outlet to collaborate, which they have been eating up. If nothing else, at least they are engaged. They just need more guidance from me. And the problem-based learning has enabled the content to be interleaved and naturally spiraled, which has been so worthwhile for long-term learning. For the most part, the kids have gotten over not having discrete units.
So where do I go from here? Well, after seeking therapy from my colleagues all day, I think I’m going to begin incorporating “anchor” problems throughout the problem sets I give students. These should take a full class period to solve and I will help guide students through them with direct instruction. I hope that they will serve as a shared experience that future problems will connect to and provide them with a basic understanding of a concept.
In addition, I want to do some problem strings with them as a whole class. Again, this will serve as another shared problem-solving experience that can allow for in-depth exploration of future problems…and more direct involvement of myself.
Every few days at the start of class, I plan on giving 5-10 minute, unannounced “checkpoints” to check for understanding on what we’ve been learning. A huge weakness of semester one was not giving the kids opportunities to validate their learning. This resulted in them feeling confused and thinking they weren’t learning. Plus, I didn’t measure where they were in their understanding of key ideas until an exam. Not good. The checkpoints will inherently result, again, in more direct intervention by me and will help me adjust how we move forward.
Lastly, we just need to have more fun in class. Things got somewhat tight and tense near the end. I hated it.
I’m going to start day 1 of semester two sharing all this with my students. I want them to hold me accountable. I’ll share my reflections and ask them to reflect on what they can do to make the second half of the year better than the first. They will write a few paragraphs and submit them to me as I’m going to hold them accountable, too. Many of them don’t do the assigned homework each night because I don’t give points for it, so I hope to pull this out of them.