Last year in my New Year’s post, I reflected on some areas in which I needed to improve as a teacher. Just to review, I mentioned I “need to do a better job of providing my students with clear learning targets so they have an increased understanding of where they’re going before they get there. This should result in my students’ reflections being more authentic which, in turn, should increase their retention of the material.”
Unfortunately, this New Year’s resolution is not one that I have kept. I am still in too much of a hurry to cover the content that my students need to learn. In order for my gradeless classroom to work properly, my students need to reflect upon their work versus what the English standards say they should be able to do. This feels like an unnatural process for my students because a large majority of the time they haven’t a clue which course standards they’re working on mastering on any given day. It’s also a bit awkward for me to forcibly stop students from moving on to the next learning opportunity so that I can teach them how to reflect over the standards. WIth that said, it’s also completely worthwhile and I need to remind myself to do this. A book that I read last year, Visible Learning for Literacy: Accelerating the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning (which I highly recommend to any K-12 literacy teacher), mentioned that students’ reflection over their work is the number one most effective learning strategy. According to research, there is literally nothing that helps students grow as learners more than their own meta-cognition. This makes sense, when you think about how people learn any type of new skill. When kids learn how to ride a bicycle, swim, play a musical instrument, or even how to master a video game, the desire to improve coupled with reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and why, is when true learning occurs. This is an area in which I still need to improve.
The topic of homework has always been a thorn in my side. I am always asking myself the same questions: Should I assign homework? If so, how much? Should there be a difference in the type/amount of homework between my honors and non-honors classes? How can I make the homework worthwhile enough for my students to actually want to do it? Last year, I made the reflection to “continuing to assign homework during the second semester, but I need to change nature of the work, make it more time-efficient for them to complete, and help them understand how completing the homework will make them better students and better people.” I successfully kept this resolution from last year and it worked fairly well, but assigning homework still doesn’t sit very well with me. Part of that comes from being a father of two girls who are in school--one of which in the seventh grade. More often than not, she comes home with several hours worth of homework to do each night--and it’s not even worthwhile work; it’s a barrage of worksheets. I resent the fact that my oldest daughter can’t do more fun things and enjoy being a kid because she has so much homework to do.
Looking ahead in my own classroom, I plan on assigning less homework. Many of my students have jobs after school, and are already pressed for time when they don’t get off from work until ten o’clock, or even midnight! When I do assign homework, it will still have a specific purpose and will take them 30 minutes or fewer to complete.
In addition to having my students reflect more frequently over their own work and tweaking what I do with homework, my other resolution for this coming semester is to be less business-like in the classroom and show my students more of my human side. I am naturally laid-back, upbeat, and fairly high-energy in the classroom, but, honestly, my students don’t know much about me because I am also naturally an introvert. It’s not that I necessarily mind sharing information about myself, but my shyness causes me to be reluctant to do so. I understand that if I want to build the classroom culture where students will work as hard as they can and grow as learners as much as possible, then I need to bring this element into the classroom more consistently.