Thursday, September 5, 2013

Unit Structure: Reflection on Last Year’s Shortcomings

Which were numerous. And led to this year’s changes - more on that later. The best part of those failures? I loop with my students - the ninth graders I had last year are the same kids I have this year as tenth graders. On day one of this year, I got to own those failures and explain how I was going to fail forward and make this year better; I got to explain my plan for fixing last year’s mistakes but not to worry - that new mistakes would be made this year.

So what didn’t I like about last year? Thanks for asking. Running a self-paced, mastery-based world history class was a blast - I got to walk around and talk to students all period. But. But. There were things that needed changing. My class was too prescriptive. Do this, then this, then this (here’s a unit plan to check out). This is your test - short answer questions, same for everyone. Revealed at the beginning of the unit. Completed when the unit work was finished. Transparent? Yes. Self-paced? Yes. Waaaaaay too prescriptive? Yes. Too much ‘everyone does the same thing’? Yes. Absolutely yes. There was nowhere near enough room for student choice within the structure of my class last year.

And what about when students work at their own pace? It was freeing for them. But when students are wrestling with primary source documents, there is some power in the shared experience of that discovery together. I still kept a couple weeks at the end of each unit for synchronous, whole class historical thinking activities like structured academic controversies and Socratic seminars. However, that aspect of richness that was present in those synchronous historical thinking activities was lost in the self-paced sections of my class because everyone wasn’t always wrestling with the same documents.

Were there more failures last year? Most certainly. But these were the two biggest ones that needed fixing over the summer. My solutions will be up here soon.