Monday, January 12, 2015

Highs and Lows At the Half-Way Point

Annnnndd...we're back!  The 2015 portion of the 2014-2015 school year is now a week underway.  I thought this would be a good time to list some of the things that I think are going really well and some things I still think need to see more improvement.

So I present to you... The Highs and Lows!

High:  The students are getting better and better with technology.
I am more and more amazed at how fast they pick up new programs, and quickly figure out easier and faster ways to do something.  I had an assignment at the start of 2015 that required my 8th graders to use a brand new program.  They did the tutorial and were off and running!  It is the same when they learn new apps.  Teenagers definitely speak the language of technology and are fast to absorb the information.

Low:  They struggle with writing out complete and total thoughts and answers.
I don't think the problem here is that 7th and 8th graders can't write out complete thoughts.  The problem is, they don't like to and don't want to.  They are smart.  They are smart enough to know that they will still get partial credit for an answer if they don't use complete sentences, give details, or only answer the first half of the question.  Basically, either they don't read an entire question or they choose not to answer it fully.  I am working to incorporate written responses in more and more of the assignments I create.  Which means, they are required to write much more than 5 years ago.  They hate it!  The problem for's not going away.

High:  Primary vs. Secondary sources.  They got it!
We work with primary and secondary sources every single day.  And every single time I quiz them on the difference or which is which, they get it right!  Whoo Hoo!

Low:  Analysis of primary source documents is still hard.  
Of course it is.  13 and 14 year old students are asked to analyze Supreme Court Cases from the 1800's.  Yep.  They struggle.  I am continually looking for strategies to teach these higher-level documents better and help explain them.  The majority of my lesson planning time is spent searching for documents, figuring out good, tough questions, and developing better ways to teach it.

The other part of the analysis problem is in answering the questions.  The answers to questions requiring a higher thinking level, typically aren't smack dab in the middle of the reading, word for word.  Kids like answers to be staring them right in the face.  They don't like to have to "think deeply" and use the reading to help infer an answer.  It is work.  It isn't easy.  They still struggle with this.  They will come and ask for help and say "I can't find this in the reading..."  Well, it's not gonna be there word for word. You have to use the information provided and infer to come up with an answer and then give the reasons why you inferred that answer by citing evidence from the text.  I think the words "provide evidence from the text" are the most hated words seen on an assignment.  Besides, "write using complete sentences."  :)

High:  Collaboration among students is starting to become second nature.  
One of the coolest moments for me so far in 2015 happened in the computer lab while my 8th graders were working on an assignment to create an infographic poster.  They had to use a program on the web, which non of them had used before.  They did the tutorial and were off and running.  The amazing thing I saw...collaboration.  Not cheating, collaboration.  Students who were trying to figure out how to get that cool effect on their graphic or how to change the color of their background.  Heads were together discussing different ways to create the same boring information.  Not unlike many of us teachers trying to figure out new ways to teach and the technological tools we have available.  I loved seeing my students put their heads together to solve a problem.

Low:  The students (and parents) want an A but fail to realize the amount of work it's going to take.
One thing that I have noticed throughout my 9 years as a teacher.  There are fewer A's per number of students that I have.  Social Studies in the state of Kansas has seen a huge change.  No more is memorizing random facts in chronological order going to get you an A.  You have to think, write, and explain your reasoning with evidence.  This is higher level thinking.  Making that A a higher level to achieve.  Many times students and parents expect that if all the work gets turned in, an A is given in return.  A's are exceptional, which means the work that is turned in is exceptional.  I always tell students on the first day of my class, "It is hard to fail my class.  You basically have to do nothing.  However, on the other side of are going to have to work hard for an A."

There you have it!  Technology, collaboration, primary source analysis and hard work make up the first half of the school year.  And those exact things will make up the second half.  Here's to a good start, leading to a better ending!

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