Monday, 13 June 2011

Positive Reflections: 5 things I’ve done better this year

Yesterday’s post focused on one class I’ve struggled with this academic year and not had much success with so I thought I’d take a more positive stance in today’s post and respond to a challenge set by Mary Beth Hertz to end the year on a positive note. She suggested that teachers list and reflect on (is that a subjunctive? Smile with tongue out) 5 things they had done better in class this year and so here is my list:

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Image by Dricker94

1. More flexibility

I was much more willing to go with the flow of lessons this year, often diverging from the plan to respond to input or suggestions from the students. If I planned an pair work activity but they asked to do it individually, I said ‘sure, why not?’ or if they wanted to collaborate on something I had envisioned as a solo task, I said the same whereas in past year, I would have insisted on them doing it my way.

Likewise, when it came to the content of the lessons, I was constantly trying to create opportunities for students to generate their own input and ideas and make the lesson more personal for them. I also took advantage of unexpected events like kids showing me their collections or medals they had won or sharing some exciting news to completely abandon the lesson plan and see where we ended up - must be the budding dogmeist in me!

2. More variety

In a way, this is linked to the above point about being more flexible but I definitely made an effort to do different things in the classroom this year. Not just moving away from the coursebook whenever possible but also exploring things I hadn’t really tried before like drama activities, drawing activities, collaborative group projects and so on. I also included more challenging activities such as dictogloss on a regular basis and generally tried to make sure a we used a variety of tasks to offer the kids something different.

3. More patience

The classes I teach are large and very much mixed-ability and it can be frustrating when one or two kids are behind the rest of the class, either dragging their feet hoping they can stay lost in the crowd or struggling to do even the basic stuff or both. I have been guilty in the past of rushing these kids or putting pressure on them to catch up with the threat speaking to the class teacher or calling their parents if they don’t get the work done. I’ve made an effort over the last couple of years to be more accommodating of these kids and try to get to the root of why they are not doing their work or doing it very slowly. I give them more time, go over task instructions with them 1 to 1 after everyone else has started, pair them up with the helpful students in the class and avoid showing any frustration.

Has this resulted in them staying on task and getting more work done? Not always Smile - nevertheless, it has made the lessons a lot less stressful both for them and for me. Several of the ‘weak’ students also started to show more of a willingness to participate, especially in speaking activities, which I hope will continue for them next year.

4. More mileage

As one of the tasks I was given this year was to improve students’ writing skills, I decided to take a quality over quantity approach. Rather than covering a high number of different writing tasks, we focused on a few but extended them so that the students could get more out of the process. This involved spending more time in the pre-task phase identifying the language they would need to complete the task, giving choices in exactly what they would write and establishing a system of peer checking and commenting. Our writing tasks did not end there: I also made sure my feedback was content-based encouraging them to develop their ideas and add more and I set up a regular system of using their language errors to make up a collaborative error correction task before directing them back to their own work to find their own mistakes. That whole series of activities often meant 4 class periods were devoted to working on one piece of writing but I found that to be more effective than rushing through 4 different tasks in the same amount of lesson time. I even delivered a workshop on it!

5. More sharing

This has been one of the best parts of the year for me: sharing ideas and collaborating with other teachers, both in my own school and through my virtual PLN. I’ve exchanged a lot of great ideas with my two colleagues in 4th Grade and we had a really good group dynamic. Through this blog and the blogs of others, I’ve been inspired to try out different things, reflect on my teaching practice and discuss ideas about education with great educators around the world. Time and distance are no longer barriers to professional development and that is one of the great wonders of the 21st Century!

That’s my list. What’s yours?

7 comments:

  1. Don't think I'm taking the easy route out of this by saying that my list largely echoes yours. That is interesting in itself when you consider our different teaching contexts.

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  2. Yeah, context is overrated. ;)

    Perhaps there is one best method after all! :p

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  3. Love it David! I especially empathize with your attempts to work with students who work more slowly than their peers. With one to two 45 minute periods a week to work with my students I was often guilty of pressuring students to finish or to let the really struglgling students to leave work unfinished. This year I took pains to ensure that all students finished their work, even if it meant me giving up extra time during the day or using some of the techniques you describe.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Very inspiring!
    I bet items 1 and 2 were related to number 5 - sharing! Has this sort of circular effect.

    I find your error analysis really interesting and hope to try your "more mileage" approach with writing next year. Really a troublesome area...

    Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Hi Mary Beth,

    Thanks for the comments and for the initial inspiration to do the post. I've seen each student for 3 hours per week this year, considerably less than the 12 hours a week I had with each class last year and adapting to that has been a challenge. As you say, making the time for these students is a crucial part of our job.

    Naomi - You are spot on. Each point is very much connected to the others and in particular number 5. Indeed, my ideas on feedback developed further after reading a post by Cecilia (her guest post on Ken Wilson's blog if you want to check it out) so you could say 1, 2 and 4 were all aided by 5 as well!

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  6. What a great reflective and positive post! Big fan of the more mileage aspect. Even getting the most out of one activity, writing or not, models critical thinking to students and saves teachers time. I like your mileage too though.

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  7. Tyson - thanks for the feedback. :) More mileage in all aspects of my teaching is definitely a major goal for next year. Perhaps this is where some of those dogme ideas could come into play...

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