Saturday, April 27, 2013

Different Classes

It has always been interesting to me as a teacher how different one class of kids can be from another.  You're the same teacher, and the kids are all taking the same course so supposedly all of the kids have at least close to the same level of ability, and yet certain classes do really well while others just don't live up to their potential.

Case and point from this week: one of my classes is, as I told them, the "poster class" for Harkness in a mathematics class.  They came in prepared every day, had good, deep, respectful discussions, and made the most progress through the current set of exercises.  They also had the best average on the last test.  Two of the other classes are doing reasonably well.  They are coming in prepared, for the most part, and are taking the class seriously, but they are a bit less focused during the discussions, and are not as in tune with the idea that the discussions are about the individual and about the group.  There are a few disrespectful tendencies that need to be broken, such as moving on to the next exercises when someone at the table doesn't completely understand the current one.  I need to refocus them on the idea that if someone at the table isn't understanding their explanation, then their explanation needs just as much help as the other student's understanding does (there are teachers I know who have this same difficulty, automatically blaming the kids for doing poorly without reflecting at all on the delivery of the material they are providing).  Then there is my remaining class.  They have been the primary offenders when it comes to not being prepared for class; for example, one day this week, about one-third of the class had not done the homework.  Calling them on it helps the next day, but it doesn't "stick" the way it should and a couple days later they start to fall back into their bad habits.  Of course, as I mentioned last week, lack of preparation leads to slow,  difficult discussions, and because of that they made the least amount of progress this week on the current exercises.  They also had the lowest average on the last test - all to no surprise.

I do not, however, see this as a weakness of the Harkness method.  Quite the opposite.  Harkness makes it more obvious when a kid isn't prepared for class, when as kid doesn't really understand the material, when a kid is trying to "phone it in", etc.  It is also more obvious when a kid really is putting forth the effort, when a kid has a solid, deep understanding of the material, when a kid is "invested" in the course, etc.  Because of this, I believe I have a more complete picture of the students individually than I ever have in the past.  By the end of class each and every day I have a good feel for where they are individually, both in terms of understanding the content and of how hard they are working, much more so than I have even been able to have in the past.  So...weakness?  No way.  I just need to figure out how to get the kids in the other three classes to have the focus, work ethic, and respect for the individual that the "poster class" has.  I need to step back and uncover what it is that I'm doing that has led the other classes in a different direction than the poster class.  Granted, it could just be the make up of the kids in the other classes, but I need to make absolutely sure it's not me.  Unfortunately, I don't think it's something drastic.  It seems to be something very subtle.  Hmmm....

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