October Goals Reflection

In the classroom, I will:

help my students become more adept around the Harkness table, such that all students in Honors US History can co-lead at least one discussion before the end of the year.

On the whole, this is going well. One of my four classes seems to have it down pretty well, particularly with regard to asking questions, challenging ideas, and asking for evidence of claims, but lately I’ve seen a tendency in some students to dismiss others’ ideas rather than engage with them, so we’ll continue working on this. In two other classes, my students seem to have the basics of good discussion down, but they’re a bit reluctant to challenge each other’s ideas. The fourth class is limited by its size. We’ve lost a student, and so we’re down to seven, and I’m afraid there just isn’t enough diversity of opinion, experience, etc. to sustain good discussions day in and day out. We have our moments, though, and I’m working to be satisfied with that.

I definitely think we’re on track with regard to the second part of this goal. I think I’ll have students co-lead discussions on something related to their research papers, and I hope that this will supplement the discussions I have planned—potentially a nice change of pace and very much in keeping with my progression toward a more student-centered classroom.

continue to develop more formative rather than summative assessments and assessment policies.

Allowing students to revise their work is paying off nicely, I think, but it also creates a lot more work for me and for those students who take advantage of it regularly. Going forward, I need to be more thoughtful about the number and pacing of assignments. Sometimes I feel like I have to give a lot of assignments, lest the ones I do give become more “high stakes.” Although I’ve stopped giving letter or number grades on individual assignments, I am required to give a grade at the end of each quarter. Because there are inevitably one or two kids who do poorly on any given assignment, I feel the need to give at least two or three “major assignments” each quarter. This has been a bear.

I recently read (and recommended to my departmental colleagues) Patricia Scriffiny’s article “Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading” from the October 2008 issue of Educational Leadership. It has led to me continue re-assessing my own assessments, and I think some of her ideas may eventually allow me to move in the direction that I want to go.

introduce more collaborative “authentic assessments” — at least two per semester in Honors US History and at least one in Government.

I’m not doing so well here. In large part, I think, it’s because I’m still not entirely clear on what an “authentic assessment” is in the context of a history classroom. I think I get hung up on the term “authentic.” To me, writing a newspaper editorial from the perspective of Thomas Paine doesn’t feel authentic. Writing an essay that synthesizes sources does. I love the idea of project-based learning, but I still feel it’s crucial that my students—all of whom will go to a four-year college—learn to write well. I try to sell them on the importance of writing in all walks of life, but there is no mistaking the fact that I am also trying to prepare them for the kind of academic writing they will be expected to do in college. I feel strongly that this is important—and yet I also recognize that I may be placing too much emphasis on the conventions of academic discourse.

This may be an area in which I need to pursue more formal professional development, but if anyone out there has ideas for creative and truly “authentic” assessments in history, I’m all ears.

make a conscious effort to see the world (or at least my class) through my students’ eyes.

This is going well for the most part, I think. Compared to previous years, my relationship with all of my classes is stronger than it typically is at this point in the year. Some of this, I think, is due to the changes I’ve made in my approach to grading, but the other part is that I’ve made a conscious effort to accept that many of my students are overprogrammed and undernourished. They’re sometimes literally on the go for twelve hours or more, their stress levels are understandably—but regrettably—through the roof, and many of them (I’m afraid) barely sleep. So I struggle to maintain high standards without pushing them too hard. Rather than come down on my students when they fail to live up to my expectations (as I might have in the past), this year I’ve invited them—both as individuals and as classes—into conversation about the expectations. The approach seems to be working.

To further my personal and professional development, I will:

read at least one book per month about history and/or education and write a short review for this blog.

In late September/early October, I got bogged down in student essays and basically neglected all other reading. When I eventually climbed out of that hole, I did manage to finish Gordon Wood’s Revolutionary Characters. A review of that fine book is planned—I just have to make time to actually sit down and write it. I’m shooting to have it posted sometime this week. My book for November is E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy.

self-evaluate my own teaching by writing a reflective blog post every other week.

As I suggested in my last reflection, I think every other week is probably a bit too often in practice. I like the idea of reflecting regularly, and I maintained this for the first quarter, but I also found myself stressing about what to include in the reflection since not much had changed in the previous two weeks. I think I’m going to go with a monthly “formal” reflection, and then hopefully I’ll be able to reflect on specific incidents as they come up.

continue to explore formal professional development opportunities.

I recently joined both the Organization of American Historians and ASCD. With regard to workshops, etc., I’ve got a couple of things in mind for next summer. However, possibly the most productive thing I’ve done this year with regard to professional development is to schedule time in my week for reading. This typically means catching up on lengthy blog posts and reading publications like Independent School magazine. I’ve let myself skip it during my busiest weeks, but I’ve also found that I really miss it when I do. Just taking half an hour or so on Wednesdays (my “light” school day, given our schedule) allows me to stay abreast of what’s going on in the wider world of education, and it’s also usually enough to motivate me to read more during the rest of the week.

To preserve my mental, physical, and emotional well-being during the nine-month marathon that is a school year, I will:

expend less energy trying to change things that either a) aren’t going to change, or b) aren’t worth changing.

I need to rededicate myself to this goal. My idealism is one of the things that keeps me engaged throughout the long school year, and although this is usually an asset, it can be a liability as well. When I see something that isn’t working as well as it could, I want to make it better—even if there is little chance of making a substantive change or even if there are other things that are more urgent. For my own sake, I need to work on accepting some things as they are, not as I wish they were.

use my time—and especially my planning periods—more wisely, in order to free up time with friends and family and achieve a healthier, more sustainable work-life balance.

I had a hard time with this early in the year, as I struggled to get into a routine, but I seem to be doing better lately. We’ll see what happens when the next round of essays comes in this week, but for the last several weeks, I have felt much more relaxed at home. I’ve tried limiting myself to only three hours of work on Sundays, and although I don’t know if that’s really possible every week, I like it. I could easily put in eight to ten hours over the course of a weekend, but even then, there’s always something more to do. I think it’s better for me—and ultimately, for my students—if I do a moderate amount of work to prepare for the week and come in on Monday feeling refreshed from the weekend.

To hold myself accountable to the aforementioned goals, I will:

assess my progress toward these goals via blog post on a bi-monthly basis (late October, December, February, April).

I’m a few days late, but I can live with that.

1 comment
  1. Here’s a presentation I did on history projects (http://prezi.com/h7nmbxbtz-ef/making-history-matter/) – I can email you samples of any of the projects mentioned.

    I do think it’s important to remember, though, that not all projects are authentic, and not all authentic assessments are projects. Also, remember, doing research and writing about it is ALWAYS authentic in a history classroom; that’s what historians do!

    Great, deep reflections, as always.

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