Reflection: Mile Marker .125

It’s time for my two-week reflection, but unfortunately, it’s also time for our first progress report, which means that–in addition to grading essay revisions, fine-tuning my plan for the unit in my history course, and prepping for Monday–I have to write comments for all of my students. Needless to say, my mind is on the future (i.e., the next three days) much more so than the past. (It also means that we’re already one-eighth of the way through the school year. This blows my mind.) So, this reflection will be fairly short.

First, there have been some bumps in the road with discussions, but I’m starting to accept that different classes are just going to be… different. Some classes, and some students in particular, haven’t all bought into the Harkness method like I had hoped, but sometimes I worry that my expectations are too high. All things considered, the discussions have been pretty good. The kids are all talking, and although the conversations sometimes only scratch the surface, the fact of the matter is that a superficial discussion of the Articles of Confederation is probably not the end of the world.

I have to admit that some of this is also my fault. I’m recognizing that in this format, I’m much better in my history classes because I’m much more knowledgeable about and comfortable with the material. That’s ironic, I suppose, given that the Harkness method is supposed to privilege student-facilitated learning over direct instruction, but the bottom line, I think, is that I just naturally select better readings in history. I’m better able to pair two conflicting sources, and I’m much better at asking a short, open-ended question that will clarify or re-focus the students’ discussion without making me the focus. In Government, on the other hand, we’ve been discussing a lot of “classic” texts (like the Articles of Confederation) that are important, but not particularly suited to discussion. This is something to revisit next semester or next year.

Even though we don’t always get as deep into the material as I would like, I feel like I know all of my students much better than I did at this point last year. I asked all of my juniors to come in for one-on-one meetings to get to know them a little better, but the real “getting-to-know you” comes (in all classes) from hearing their voices every day in discussion. Unlike in previous years, when there was always a core (a corps?) of about 6 or 8 students who carried the discussion, along with a few others who chimed in once a week, and the stragglers who spoke only once or twice all year, I’ve heard every kid’s voice this year–and almost every day. I may not know them on a personal level yet, but I’m starting to see how they think. Looking back on my teaching in previous years, I’m almost ashamed–and then I am reminded that this is a journey. Like my students, I am still learning every day. Again, I’m trying to be better about cutting myself some slack.

As I more or less predicted in my last reflection, I’ve also encountered a lot of grade anxiety. (Sometimes it amazes me how grade-driven many of my students are–but then again, I was the same way well into college. It frankly wasn’t until grad school that I realized that my self-worth should not be so dependent on the number or letter that someone else attached to my work. Maybe my own disillusionment with grades is part of what makes me want to minimize their impact on my students.) I’m trying a sort of standards-based grading this year (I plan to write a post about it soon), and I’m also allowing my students to revise most of their written work, but I’ve been pleased that despite the grade anxiety I’ve seen, my conversations with students have been overwhelmingly positive. My goal is to get them focused on improvement and progress, and so far, they’ve been receptive. It’s early, so the jury is still out on that, but I’m hoping this trend continues.

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