Saturday, May 11, 2013


It's been a relatively abnormal week in terms of the schedule.  Monday I was out for religious reasons (any Orthodox Christian knows that this is "recovery week" from Pascha), and since I teach the honors-level pre-calculus, lots of my kids were out a day or two the rest of the week taking AP exams.  In fact, yesterday my first bell class was down to 12 students.  So, a few observations:

  • The report from the sub on Monday was glowing.  The kids who were in class (the AP Chem test was Monday, so numbers were down) came in, got to work, kept track of the participation...all without needing a prompt from the sub.  Looks like they've taken ownership of the course and responsibility for their learning.
  • Switching the groups every day as I do is an advantage during weeks such as this.  Since the kids are used to being with a different set of kids each day, they easily reorganized themselves into reasonably-sized groups when the number of absences made it necessary, and the conversations continued as usual.
  • Along those lines, one of the students from my 3rd bell class was going to have to miss several days this week because of the AP tests.  Since she does not have a 5th bell class, she asked if she could join my 5th bell on the days she would miss 3rd bell.  Of course I said yes (seriously, a kid is asking to not miss class...what's not to love?).  Her experience, in her own words: 
"This is the beauty of this class. I was able to come into a completely different class than the one I'm normally in and have meaningful and interesting discussions. The format of the class encourages a kind of intimacy that doesn't usually exist in this school. I could sit down at a table with people and have a conversation, when I was probably avoiding eye contact in the hall three minutes prior. It's fantastic."
  • Harkness for 12 is very different than Harkness for 30.  On the one hand, with only 12 students in the class we had one group instead of the usual three, which allowed me to be at that one table the entire class.  I saw and heard every comment, suggestion, and inquiry, and was able to keep the tally of the discussion points myself rather than relying on the students to double-check my count.  On the other hand, with me at the table with them the entire time, they were looking for my input more than normal.  So, 12 allows me to have more direct contact with all of the kids the entire class period, but 30 allows for (or more accurately, requires) more ownership on the part of the kids.
  • The kids were great about making sure the kids who were absent were brought up to speed the next day, without me prompting them to do so.  They made sure that no one missed the opportunity to discuss any of the exercises.  Granted, the initial part of these discussion was much smoother than usual, since some of the kids had already discussed them once and could therefore more easily explain them to the students who were absent, but still, the team-oriented aspect of it was great to see.
Conclusion: Harkness is far more flexible than a standard class, and is able to handle schedule changes far more easily.  With this much disruption during the week, finding a way to make sure all of the kids got all of the information used to take some serious creativity.  Delivering a lecture more than once for the sake of the absent kids while figuring our what to do with the kids who didn't miss the lecture the first time made things interesting to say the least.  Having the kids who were in class the first time explain the new material to the kids show weren't there was one option, but for kids who aren't used to explaining the material on a regular basis this was difficult at best.  Meanwhile, the Harkness classroom just keeps rolling along without any major changes and, in all honesty, making more progress than the regular class does with the same disruptions.

So overall, a good week of learning both for the kids and for me...just the way it should be.

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