Sunday, December 8, 2013


It only took a year and a half, and it was bound to happen eventually, but this week I became acutely aware of the fact that I'm finally feeling really comfortable with Harkness.  Things have settled down, not just for this trimester, but with the course, to the point that I can relax a bit and thoroughly enjoy each class.

Up to this point, there have been several things that have prevented the comfort from taking hold.

  1. Creating the exercises and then tweaking them constantly as we were running the course had been the main thing preventing it.  In creating the course essentially "from scratch", and with no real template to guide us, we were constantly looking for the flaws in the questions and for ways to make both the individual exercises and their sequencing better.  We're still doing this, but the changes are becoming fewer and further between.  
  2. Learning to shut up and let the kids take the lead was a huge hurdle.  And while there are still a few times every day where I step in a bit too early, for the most part I've learned to relax and let the kids play the exercise through until they arrive at an answer (correct or incorrect) or ask for help.  
  3. Writing the tests was another source of tension.  Each of our tests has six open-ended questions the likes of which, for the most part, aren't found in textbooks.  The creativity involved in writing questions that synthesize several topics and are accessible to the students given the time constraints of a test is not something that happens a couple days before a test.  We have gotten better at this in the course of the last year and a half, but initially we were sort of grasping for good problems.
  4. The kids were making the transition as much as we were.  This was especially true last year, whereas this year the kids had "fair warning" from last year's group. If were honest about it there is a transition period for the students in any class, but normally the transition is eased by the teacher.  This year, we could help with the transition far more than we could last year.

Personally I think this level of comfort has made things better for the students as much if not more than it has for me.  Much like anything else in the classroom, the demeanor of the teacher sets the tone, and this is no exception.  Hopefully, this will manifest itself in the test scores and level of understanding of the students.  We'll see...

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