It’s been far too long since I’ve sat down and really reflected on how things are going. Not that things aren’t going well, because they are, and I think that’s been part of the problem. So often, we only reflect on what went wrong, in the hopes of making it better. We lose sight of the fact that if something went well, we should reflect on why it went well, and on ways it could be even better. In addition to this, if things are going well, we tend to push the reflection off, prioritizing other things ahead of it (like planning, giving feedback to students, etc., …), until eventually we fall completely out of the habit of assessing ourselves on a regular basis. I know this has been the case for me over the course of the last year.
That ends, starting now.
So, as I being to prepare for the year, here is the plan:
- Have the kids prepare the exercises for the discussion the night before, but with an emphasis on asking questions. For the five exercises that will be assigned each night, the homework will be to fill out a Google form that commits the student to leading the discussion for one of the exercises the next day, and then requests that they list at least one question for each of the other four exercises they would like to have answered the next day.
- In class, for each exercise, step 1 for the students will be to put the questions they wrote for homework on the board. If someone has committed to leading the discussion, then it is their responsibility to make sure each of the questions is addressed during the discussion. If no one has chosen to lead a particular exercises, then the questions will be the introduction to the discussion.
- Continue to be “gradeless” as far as possible, placing the focus on the learning rather than on the grades. The year and a half of evidence-based assessment has gone really well, but I’m still trying to find a way to keep the grades out of it. Unfortunately, the fact that we have to report grades regularly (as opposed to having the option to report feedback and progress only, which I would love) prevents this from happening as completely as I would like. I understand why; I just wish there was something better available.
- Have students produce a “spider diagram” of the discussion each day. My plan is to model this during one of the first three days, and then have the students take it from there. I will probably have a different student take responsibility for each exercise. However, if it gets in the way of the students being able to effectively get what they need out of the discussion, then I’ll probably drop this.
- Continue to use the red-yellow-green cups that allow the students to indicate where their group is with a particular exercises. Last year, each table had one red, one yellow, and one green cup. They were stackable, so the cup on top indicated where the group was: yellow meant they group was working toward a solution, green meant they had a solution that needed to be checked, and red meant they were stuck and needed a nudge in the right direction. One thing I need to do better is to require the kids to use the cups, and to stick by my self-imposed rule of not interfering if the yellow cup is on top.
- Since our school is going 1-1 this year, have the kids take notes (as well as possible) on the same document. Since word processors still aren’t very math friendly, especially when trying to take notes quickly, I’m not sure how it will go, but I think it’s at least worth a try.
- Get the kids outside at least once a week. This may be with projects, but it may also be with just doing what we usually do in class, but doing it outside. My working title for this (admittedly stolen, but I can’t remember where I saw this...Twitter, maybe) is “deskless Wednesdays”, but it may be better placed on some other day of the week. Along these same lines, I plan to take the class outside on the first day, at least for a little bit to do a fire drill...why just talk about where they need to go when we can actually go outside?
- Continuing with this, I think it will help if we spend the first three days really setting the stage for the year. The plan is to have a group talk through an exercise (maybe a 3-act exercise, maybe something that more closely resembles one of the “standard” daily exercises, maybe something else), make a spider diagram, and so on, and then debrief afterwards, creating a list of expectations on a Google Doc as we go for reference.
- Have the kids reflect everyday on the discussion, focusing on who was the best prepared, who asked the most useful question, and so on, and not focusing on things like “who got the answers the fastest” or “who answered the most questions”. If I really value the questions, creativity, and learning from mistakes more than the answers (and I do), then the work we do and the feedback I give needs to emphasize this. Another way I want to emphasize this is for the kids to bring in an exercise for me to do, cold, right there in front of them. If I solve it, fine. If I don’t, fine. The point is the discussion, the willingness to try something, being comfortable with the mistakes, and so on, and to give the kids license to do the same.
So that’s where I am right now at the beginning of Harkness, Year 6. And I need to commit myself to keeping this blog updated far more regularly, mainly because I need to reflection and self-assessment as much as the kids do. The fact that I’m not being graded on whether or not I’m do should be irrelevant. Otherwise, I’m a hypocrite.