Monday, June 11, 2012

Reflections on Year 4: Problems

As I said in the previous post, some things worked well in my second two-year loop with students: Humanities assignments challenged all students, the increased use of technology engaged some students, allowing freedom for students to differentiate their products of assigned projects produced positive results, and students left my class feeling more confident attacking and digesting text. However, there were struggles. One struggle stood out about all others as THE thing that needs to get fixed in my classroom next year.

The biggest area I struggled with was with a malaise that seemed to overcome my students: there were very few students who were willing to put in the time and effort to do their best. I understand that it involves taking a pretty big risk to go into a school and try your hardest – if you try your best and fail at the goal you set, there is a blow to your psyche involved. However, that fear is not one to be universalized and regardless shouldn’t preclude a student from really trying – or working more to reach their full potential – in a classroom. To digress briefly, this gets into the intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation of students, which is a topic for another day. But, this lack of a desire by my students to really try and challenge themselves was frustrating, for it ran from kids who should be in the upper tier of students to mid-skill level students to low-skilled students.

So… Reaction to problems like this can go several ways: blame the kids – it is their fault. They should work harder – I work hard and try my best and take pride in my work. Why can’t they do the same? Or blame the reality students exist in: kids are dealing with so many things – family issues, friend issues, poverty, drugs – how can they be expected to show up at school and engage the materials their teachers have created on any given day? This type of discourse – labeled type I discourse and written very eloquently about by Eubanks, Parish, and Smith here – isn’t productive for it removes any onus from a teacher to reflect on their teaching and improve their craft. Nor is it entirely productive to stand and say I did a bad job – if I could have reached and engaged more students then kids would have been more willing to try their best.

As with most of life, the desire to make this a black and white issue – it is entirely my students’ fault OR entirely society’s fault OR it is entirely my fault – just doesn’t work. However, I strongly believe that I could do a better job of creating motivation within students – and maybe even move some of this extrinsic motivation into more intrinsic areas. And if motivation starts to tick up, and students feel empowered and successful, well, then some things can happen.

Because things need to change. It can be frustrating coming to work, putting in the time that teachers put in, and knowing that way too many of your students aren’t interested in working up to their potential on a consistent basis. Let’s just say that I’ve got some thinking to do this summer.

And though I’ve got ideas for next year, I’d love thoughts on how you try to challenge your students to do their best on a regular basis.