Saturday, November 5, 2011

Reflections on Transition

This year I left my very small tightly knit but struggling community for a mega-sized comprehensive high school.  In many ways it's like a different planet - one on which I only know a few people - but there are some constants.  In my three term ['remedial'] Algebra classes, I recognize many of the same types of students I taught before - students who have struggled for years with math, never really understanding what was going on in the classroom, who have continued, for years, to try to understand, and who cling to rules, procedures, and acronyms that they can memorize in the hopes of performing well on assessments.

Moving through the beginning of the curriculum, my lessons were clear, a little on the traditional side (I figured the structure would be good for both me and my adjusting 9th graders), but still engaging through creative use of the SmartBoard, and well executed.  Feedback, attendance and homework completion were all positive.  But when my test results came back poorly, I began to second guess myself and started to go down that rabbit hole - what if I try this method, what if I group them this way, what if we use maniupulatives, on line quizzes (if there were enough technology, that is), am I differentiating enough, am I setting individual learning goals (for my 150 students).... and I find that the structure I set up is loosening.  My lessons are taking longer; I am allowing additional practice time, and extending homework due dates to accommodate the students' learning curve.  But I am not sure that their comprehension is any better, so, as usual, I am doing the mirror thing - reflecting.

I was observed by my principal this week (first time since I started that an administrator has checked out what I am actually doing in my classroom) and got specific, helpful and glowing feedback - which I was thrilled to receive, and did feel what was justified for the lesson he saw.  We were using individual whiteboards, which the kids and the principal loved.  But if I am to get credit for this wonderful moment, I also must take responsibility for the moments that don't go well, and I do.  So I wonder, how can I create these exciting moments more often - often enough that the students are willing to work through the less exciting ones?  He asked me if I used the whiteboards every day, but I know that familiarity breeds contempt, and boredom, and would rather keep the boards as a few times per week treat.   I endeavor always to make my lessons engaging, but do I need bells and whistles every day in order to get better test results?  (An aside - the kids did me proud when we were observed, but the following day I had about 1/3 of the class absent, and the day after that had to stop the class because of the foolishness in the room.)

I don't know if anyone is reading my blog, but I have posed the question, and would love some feedback.