Friday, June 5, 2015

#youredustory, Week 22: Year End Reflection

Prompt: Most of us are somewhere near the end point of the school year. Reflect on the 2014-15 school year. What went well? What didn't go as well? What changes are you going to make for the 2015-16 school year?

The start of summer looked pretty tasty from the John Muir
Trail in Yosemite!
Given that my last day with students was last Thursday, this is a timely prompt. I've been turning these questions over in my head for a while - it'll be good to get something coherent out.

Also, this turned into kind of a mammoth post.  #SorryNotSorry

What Went Well
A couple things come immediately to mind. First, I spent the last two years really banging around trying to figure out how to do history class better. Two years ago I ran a self-paced, mastery based class. While some good things came out of this, I felt like my class lost the richness of common experiences around rich document sets and big ideas. So, out with that.

Last year I was 1:1 for the first time and tried to create time and space for kids to work on areas of history they were interested in. Aspects of this went well, but I often sent kids out to do the thinking in areas of history that interested them without enough context to really understand what they were looking into.

So, the circuitous answer that I'll finally arrive at: I think that my students were more prepared this year to look into areas of history that interested them. They had the context they needed to make meaning of their individual or small group explorations that they did together.

Additionally, I added a section to the end of these individual or small group explorations where we came back together as a class and looked at the work of our peers and answered some synthesis questions to try to tie the disparate content they had learned back up. The peer audience helped, and the synthesis part got kids to make connections between very different content.

Other things that went well, but more briefly:
- Socratic seminars continue to rock my world. I love getting to sit back and listen to kids play with ideas and hear them think, build on the ideas of others, and disagree in an academic way.
- The emphasis on social justice and issues of inequality in America was good. I'm glad I'm not scared to teach hard topics anymore. I'm glad we spent three weeks early in the year talk in about Ferguson - it was a touchstone that my kids came back to often throughout the year.
- 20time continued to be fun. It was neat to watch kids work on things they were passionate about. And kids made some mind-blowingly cool things.
- The 'final exam' my kids do at the end of their freshman year is a mock trial of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission cases from post-apartheid South Africa. This is the fifth time I've done these trials and both the content kids mastered and their oral presentation skills were on the whole better than what I've seen from students in the past.
- I finally integrated some design thinking into my classroom! And while there were a things I need to tweak, the thinking and quality of conversation I saw from students was exceptional. Additionally, they listened to peer feedback and acted on it in a way I've not ever seen kids do before.
- Without being all "look at me", I was honored to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy in Austin in December and was humbled to get to do a TEDx talk in January as well. Both of those were neat experiences, but for very different reasons.

What Didn't Go Well
- The short answer? I'm proud to say there is no achievement gap by race in my classroom. However, there is a huge achievement gap by gender. Guys do worse in my classroom than females do: 11% of males in my class got a D, 4% got an F. By comparison, only 2% of females got a D and none failed my class. And while I know that this generally reflects realities in education across schools and ages, it is something that definitely I need to think on and try to solve next year.
- Third period didn't go well. Too much not caring about producing quality work. Too much caring about what other people thought of you and saw you doing. Ugh. There will be some cleanup that needs to be done around classroom culture there next year.
- To be honest, I need to look at the student feedback I got as well. I'm going to let the school year breathe before I take a look at that. Ask me at the end of June :)

Changes For 2016-17
Honestly, I don't know that I have wholesale changes that I plan on making. I need to take a look at the student feedback and see what my kids had to say. I need to decide if I am going to do 20time in the second year of a loop with students or if I'll have them do passion-based blogging on Fridays. I've got student feedback to look on that topic as well.

I've mentioned a couple times already in this post that I teach a two year loop with kids. This means that I'll be tweaking material from two years ago for next year. I'm looking forward to the changes that I'll make around curriculum: more North Korea, less totalitarian USSR; less Cold War and a genocide unit in its place; who the heck knows what I'll be teaching at the end of next year (we've got a lot of choice in what we cover second semester sophomore year).

So there you have it. Year 7 (or 8, or 12 depending on if you count student teaching and teaching in the Peace Corps and environmental education) is in the books.

Onward and upward. But first, breathe this summer.

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