We've reached the end of the first semester, and overall the results from both honors pre-calculus and algebra 1 are positive and promising.
With the honors pre-calculus kids, we found a way to "incentivize selflessness"(which still sounds like an oxymoron to me). We made a deal with the students that if everyone in their particular section of the course earned at least a B, then everyone would get a grade bump of "one sign", meaning B becomes B+, B+ becomes A-, and so on. And while the kids weren't able to cash in on the deal, the overwhelming majority of them saw their grades jump by over half a letter grade on both the final IES and on the semester exam. My hope is that they have come to realize what I knew all along: the more they help one another and the more they look out for one another, the more they will learn themselves and the better they will be able to communicate their understanding both verbally and in writing. Granted, I'm going to explicitly mention this when we return in January, but I'm confident that my words will simply be reinforcing what they already know. And just in case, we plan to keep the incentive in place for the entirety of second semester.
With the algebra 1 kids, giving the kids feedback rather than numbers on their papers and allowing them to make corrections to their work went very well, as the kids did remarkably well on the semester exam. At our school, we have common tests and exams for the required courses, and the norm on the semester exam is a C average, with a few Fs and a couple As. My kids were able to achieve a B average with plenty of As (including a 100%) and no Fs. For the most part they took my feedback to heart and made to necessary corrections to their misconceptions. In addition to this, they worked well with and for one another during the last few weeks of the semester merely because they understood that doing so was helpful to everyone involved. There was no incentive as there was in honors pre-calculus, and yet the selflessness was there all the same. Perhaps the replacement of numbers with feedback served as a model or perhaps it took a bit of the competitive edge off of things, but regardless I'm hoping to be able to incorporate some of this into the honors pre-calculus classes next semester.
So, a solid first semester for both classes, and a successful (albeit exhausting) infusion of discussion-based learning into algebra 1. On we go...