The ongoing reflective home of the New York City Social Studies CFG.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Struggles in Teaching Practice: How to be More Student Centered and Driven

As the call for progress reports went out, I found it hard to believe that a quarter of the year was done.  I’ve pretty much felt like I’ve been in warm up mode thus far, which among other things, has meant I have yet to begin a project with my students, or any other form of assessment beyond essays and written check-ins.  Whereas there has been some inquiry, it has all been bounded, with me doing the research work.  I’ve yet to set my students free to come to their own conclusions from their own information.  I’m grappling with how to make my Government & Economics course more student-centered and driven.

This has never been a problem for me before.  In all previous history courses, I’ve maintained a good balance of a few weeks of content, followed by a few weeks with students doing inquiry-based project work related to the previous weeks’ content (at least until the end of the year, when my class became a test prep factory).  I’m having a hard time trying to figure out why this is an issue this year.

Part of me just feels overwhelmed my the sheer amount of information students should know to be active and reasonable democratic citizens in our quasi-capitalist economy.  My nature as a history teacher was to reduce what I was supposed to teach (do they really need to understand the Proclamation Line of 1763? I think not), whereas I now find myself thinking expansively about what students should understand (I mean, how could I not help students understand Judith Butler’s theory of gender peformativity when talking about identity).  I also find myself embracing the ability to drop everything and discuss current events.  Thus far we’ve spent a couple days on Troy Davis, a day on Steve Jobs, and a week on Occupy Wall Street and direct democracy.  I feared that this would be something I would not be able to bring myself to do.  Perhaps I’ve gone too far, though.

Struggles In Teaching Practice: When Students Aren't Learning

This school year I have fully implemented a grading system based on skills and learning targets.  It uses rubrics drafted in collaboration with my grade team and, more specifically, our 10th grade English teacher.  Due to this change, for the first time in my teaching career, I really feel I have a sense of my students’ knowledge of material, their standing within a specific skill, and ultimately, their progress in my course.  My special education co-teacher and I are able to pull up a student from our class and immediately recognize where they are with the material.  We have gathered so much meaningful data that it has changed the conversations we have about our students, made “kid talk” more productive, and allowed us to assess our students better.

The issue I’m struggling with in my teaching practice is what to do when students aren’t learning the material.  Now that we have this enlightening data, what do we do with it? 

Throughout my five years of teaching, I have always struggled with designing interventions to help students who aren’t doing well in my course.  But before, when grades were based on points given for the number of assignments completed, the issue seemed arbitrary.  If grades are based on assignment completion, then the obvious intervention for a student who is not doing well in class is to get him or her to complete more assignments.  However, if grades are based on something different, on actual student learning, the intervention is murkier.  A student may not being meeting proficiency in my course because of their attendance, because of struggles with reading or writing, or simply because they don’t eat breakfast. 

Students would need a tailor made intervention to their particular breed of struggle.

Sounds revolutionary, right?

I’m not opposed to this conclusion; however, needs-based interventions are outside the realm of what teachers have traditionally been prepared and trained to do.  I have great fears on what this entails in the expanding role of teachers and for the professional development and support necessary to confront this task. 

Second Meeting: Current Struggles in Teaching Practice

At our second meeting, we began what will become our regular format.  We considered current struggles in our teaching practice and then had presentations from two colleagues, Kate and Steve.

Kate presented a curriculum map for her 10th grade Global History course using the Tuning A Plan Protocol

Steve presented student work from a recent DYO assessment in his 12th grade Government course using the Tuning Protocol.

The writing prompt was:

What are you currently struggling with in your teaching practice?

A Change In My Practice: Thematic Curriculum

This change is at the front of my mind because ever since I have decided to make it, I have been constantly questioning if it is the right decision.

I am transitioning from teaching history chronologically to teaching history thematically.

I have taught 10th grade Global History for four years now (teaching for five).  I have worked diligently to develop engaging and insightful units, based them on the Global History Regents.  I have sacrificed skills for content and have felt that I have come up short in my actual purpose for teaching history.  This last year, my Regents results took a dip, and I realized that I was no longer engaging with the content and no longer forcing my students to develop critical thinking and writing skills.  Instead, I was teaching to a test that doesn't ask them to do either.

I believed that the solution to this problem was to attempt to embed skills more overtly into my units and develop curriculum around themes that would most resonate with my students (and with myself).

With the implementation of the Common Core and the coming changes to assessments, I believe that future Regents exams will need to ask students to do MORE and be MORE rather than less.  I feel like structuring a class around these Common Core skills will serve to make my students more successful beyond the Regents.

But that is IF I want the Regents in Global History to continue to be my personal benchmark of success.  I have many concerns about this new approach and am hoping that this Critical Friends Group will help to clarify and solidify this change in practice.