Friday, April 5, 2013

What Else Could I Ask For?

The first week back from Spring Break is always one of the slowest and most difficult of the school year, not only because waking up early has returned to the daily routine, but also because we don't have another day off until Memorial Day - a full two months from now.  I gave the kids the normal amount of homework to do over the break- one worksheet.  On Monday at the beginning of first period, I said good morning, but not much else, and after the required five minutes of complaining about how tired they were, the students began to discuss the worksheet, picking up where we left off before break.  My other classes went pretty much the same way.  There wasn't a huge need to go back and review the material from the first worksheet of the new unit which we began that previous Friday, and as we made our way through the week it became evident that the kids pretty much have a handle on the material we're covering in this unit.  The classes are self-starting at this point, and at times the students go to the board to start in on the exercises before the bell rings to officially begin class.  I've guided the discussions more by asking questions (sometimes as simple as, "Are you sure about that?") than by explicitly pointing out any mistakes, and I really don't fix the mistakes at this point, since the kids make the corrections themselves, most of the time without me needing to point out the error.  This didn't happen as quickly during the previous trimesters (though it did eventually happen), and there are still certain bells on certain days that need me to get them on track at the beginning of the period, or to get them back on track during the period, but these days are becoming fewer and fewer in number as the term goes on.  In fact, this week, out of a total of 20 periods, all of them self-started, and only two needed to me to help them refocus.

Seriously: What more could I ask for?

The kids have bought in to Harkness.  They have taken responsibility for their own learning.  They have started to make connections with the previous material.  They have started to get deep into some of the exercises, not stopping at the level of just answering the questions, but really trying to see the important ideas underlying the exercises.  There are times when I need to help them extend their findings, to nudge them toward a deeper understanding of a particular piece of the material, but again here these times are becoming fewer and fewer in number.  The time it takes to nudge them is a lot less than the time it would have taken had I been lecturing to them, and most times I don't need to finish my sentence or two before at least one of the kids makes the connection, at which point I get out of the way and let the student finish nudging the rest of their group.

Seriously: What more could I ask for?

I don't know what I did right this trimester that has allowed us to get to this point so quickly this term.  Perhaps it's actually nothing I did, but rather it's just the particular mix of kids in each of the sections I'm teaching, or some other thing I'm not recognizing and over which I have no control.  But I intend to enjoy the remaining eight weeks for all they are worth, looking for what went right so it can be replicated as much as possible next autumn and beyond.

Along those lines, I'm fortunate enough to be going to Exeter this summer for their annual math conference, hoping to fill in some of the gaps in my understanding of Harkness which I'm sure are there.  I'm also hoping to connect with other public school teachers who are trying to implement Harkness in their classrooms, giving and taking through a week of discussion, with the aim being not only to do things better next year, but to look for ways to inspire others to join us in bringing out the best in the students and better prepare them for what lies beyond high school.

I guess that's what else I could ask for.


  1. Johnothon,

    Wow, I'm so impressed by your classroom and what's happening for you! Also, thanks for the comment - the blog kind of died when I realized no one was reading it! I'll try to get that going ASAP this year and include answers to your questions. How was the academy?! I'd LOVE to go. I'm super jealous.

    It's wonderful to know we're out there and not the only ones trying to make it work. I have classes ranging from 5 to 21 (both regular Sophomore English classes), but they all love that table. We squeeze around it, because they all want a finger on it! :) It's funny what a little bit of legacy can do in a public school, isn't it?

    I hope the beginning of your year is going well, and I look forward to reading your blog this year.

    1. Aubrey,

      The academy was fantastic: meaningful, useful organized, professional...everything you could hope for. I can't recommend strongly enough saving your money of finding the resources to get there.

      And the more of us that are out here trying to make it work, the more people will realize just how powerful a conversation can be. Sadly, I think we're losing sight of that as a society, and we have long since lost sight of it in education.

      Hope the beginning of the school year has gone as well for you as it has for me...enjoy the weekend!