I have been waiting for this week to arrive. I wasn't sure when it would arrive, but I was confident that it would, and at long last it is here.
I have mentioned before that I have the kids turn in a journal each week. So far the journals have been pretty straight-forward, telling me about the material we covered, the successes and struggles they are having with the material, and how the groups they are in are working...the usual stuff that I have requested from the students for years. However, this week the kids in my "part A" class (the first half of the two-trimester honors pre-calculus class) took their first test. And while there is plenty of room for improvement as far as the grades are concerned, there were two very positive occurrences. First, the vast majority of the mistakes were either simple arithmetic or not answering the question (i.e., not reading the directions), so from a content standpoint the class is in great shape. Second, and this is the "event" I have been waiting for, the journals contained passages such as the following:
"This week, the advantages of using the Harkness method became evident for me, especially for our first test. Instead of having to go back and study things that we learned two weeks ago and never talked about again, we built on those things to the point where we were still incorporating some of our preliminary topics into tougher problems. It really benefited me during the test because I didn’t have to go back in my mind to a few weeks ago and think of things that we discussed. Also, instead of having all teachers show us one method to solving a test problem, I was able to use some “shortcuts” that some of my classmates showed me throughout the week(s)."
"Lo and behold, you somehow pull out [...] an A! A miracle! And I truly believe that it is all because of the Harkness method. In the nights leading up to the test, unlike in past math courses, I was not looking at review problems and having no idea where to start. Yes, I had a few topics that I needed to reexamine, but I wasn't going into the test stressing that I didn't know that information. I understood the information with a much higher retention rate."
"I feel much more confident in my ability to succeed in the class. More specifically with the discussions, I feel that I am contributing my ideas well, and taking a lot out of the processes of my peers. For example, when we discuss the features of a particular graph, it is always reassuring to have multiple people explain the different aspects of a function - quite frankly, some people are inevitably going to be better at simplifying and furthermore, explaining their process."What else is there to say? They get it. They get the whole point. They get that it's about understanding the material. They get that having a discussion makes for a deeper understanding of the material. They get that it's OK to admit when you're having difficulty with the material and to ask for help. They get it. Amen.
Now admittedly, not all of the journals contained such passages. But the only negative comments in the bunch were about ways to make the discussions even better. None of them...literally none...were negative to the point of wanting to return to lectures. Despite the admissions that this does take more work than "the old way", there was the immediate follow-up that it was worth it.
Hopefully this attitude will not only last the rest of the term, but will make it's way into the other sections of the class and have a positive impact beyond this trimester and possibly even beyond this year. I'm well aware that once a class or a teacher gets a reputation, be it good or bad, it's hard to shake. And at this point I'm optimistic that Harkness is starting to get a positive reputation.