I am incredibly lucky – I work at a school I love with an incredibly passionate and dedicated group of teachers who routinely go above and beyond in supporting their students. Additionally, I believe that the smaller learning community (SLC) structure that my school uses creates opportunities for more students to succeed than in a normal comprehensive high school. I am blessed with a supportive administrator who believes in me and supports my teaching. I was lucky enough to get hired four years ago onto the same SLC team as two good friends from my graduate school class. But. You knew that was coming. But…
I just completed my second two-year loop with students – my sophomores are moving on and I get a new group of freshmen in the fall. And, despite the efforts of myself and my team, things did not go well. Did things go horribly with no success? Absolutely not. Some things worked well.
The Humanities projects my students do – I teach in close collaboration with the English teacher who shares students with me – continued to challenge all students. Since the grading of these projects is split between my English colleague and I, the time that we can spend tailoring our feedback and challenging all students regardless of the place they are at worked well.
I also spent this past year at Foothill College participating in the Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology (MERIT) program, which pushed my thinking and teaching in several positive ways. First, more projects that I assigned had a technology component embedded in them. Students enjoyed experimenting with the various technology tools and many used them in projects later in the year. Though I only have anecdotal proof, the number of students submitting projects with a technology component increased a bit over other, more straightforward writing assignments.
A second positive that came out of the MERIT program was student choice in the product they created in various projects. Instead of providing guidelines for the product of a given project, I provided students with a rubric and told them to show me they learned or knew something in any format they desired so long as the rubric criteria were fulfilled. And while some wrote letters or created Google presentations, others created beautiful art pieces or three-dimensional models. This creativity was highlighted by a project on our Israel/Palestine unit where a student created a paper version of a Facebook page with “Like my status (LMS) for a truth is” page: she was able to creatively express deep knowledge of Ariel Sharon, the Second Intifada, and Palestinian hunger strikers (among other things) and do it in a way that I couldn’t have even begun to imagine. Differentiating around product was very successful, with students showing creativity and intelligences that they don’t (unfortunately) usually get to show in a typical classroom. Additionally, this was more successful than explicitly integrating a technology component into a project in terms of submission of completed projects. Unfortunately, again I have only anecdotal evidence of this, not hard numbers.
The final positive came out of exit interviews with my students and dealt with literacy. Two summers ago I was able to participate in a professional development series put on by WestEd around Reading Apprenticeship. This PD emphasized talking to the text and making the processes that advanced readers use to deconstruct and create meaning from text explicit. Students had good things to say about how their textual literacy skills improved and how they felt more capable and confident attacking text.
My struggles? They’re coming up next…