Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Projects: Mid-Point Status Check

Confession. Once upon a time, in the early days of my teaching, I use to assign a project when I need time to "catch up."

I would create some kind of project, usually that involved drawing/illustrating something, that could take 2-3 days, just so the kids would leave me alone and I could sit at my desk and grade papers, send emails, and take care of other "things" that always seem to pop up.

I am now older and wiser...

Today I proved just that.

My 8th graders are in full swing of their archaeology dig project. This is a long-term project that ends with the students presenting their findings to a team of judges. With this project there are LOTS of "real life" lessons to be learned. Teams create a working contract, use resources provided to them, make daily goals, keep track of the work they do, and are tasked with trying to develop self-management skills.

Self-management skills are H-A-R-D for 14 year old students to develop. There are so many things that can distract them from accomplishing their goals. But it is a skill that we must develop. So I sort of "leave them alone" so they can figure it out. For a bit...

Other than checking in with a are things going as I make "rounds" around the room, I try to give them some space to figure out their roles, a timeline for progress, and using the resources I provide them. Some teams and students are good at this. Most aren't. I let them try to figure it out, I let them struggle a bit...but I'm not going to let them fail the project because they were going off in the wrong direction. Most groups need a redirect, and they got that today.

Today we had a mid-point "status check." I went around and had a little meeting with each group. In this meeting we discussed their progress so far. If they were behind, I gave them tips on how to divide the work to make up for some of that loss time. If they were missing key requirements, I shed light on that. If they need some formatting tips, I show them some things they can do to help the "look" of their presentation.

The most impressive group of the day! TWO THUMBS UP!

Talk about VALUABLE time spent! So much progress was made today by each group. Some realized they hadn't been following the instructions at all, some saw simple things they could do to improve, others asked questions they've been "thinking" but felt silly coming to me to ask.

Now that I am older and wiser, my projects are much more in-depth and require higher thinking skills. This means that I can no longer just sit at my desk and catch up on paper-work. I have to be moving around, involved with their progress, observing, guiding...but still allowing them to develop. It's a process, and one I'm still improving on everyday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Reflection: A Skill Worth Teaching

I have talked in previous posts, how important it is for teachers to reflect on their teaching in order to grow and become better. I have talked about how hard it can be to take a really good honest look at ourselves and where we might need to improve. I have become passionate about reflecting on what I do and helping spread the message to others. 

But I've been leaving out a very important group of people. 

My students. 

It's the first day with my 8th graders since I entered their project grades they completed last week. They decorated and then dedicated ceiling tiles to my classroom. The grades were low. Overall the kids didn't come close to the expectations I had set. I set high expectations. I kept telling them, that in order to get an A they were going to have to go above and beyond. It was going to have to knock my socks off for what I would expect an 8th grader to do. And for the most part, they didn't.

They were coming in today, and I felt like I couldn't just continue with class as normal. I have kids who are straight A students getting C's and D's on this project. They needed to debrief. They needed to be taught how to reflect so they can learn and GROW from this first misstep.

I have been reading a book by Jimmy Casas, Culturize, as part of a faculty book study. Yesterday I was reading  when it was talking about how important it is to have high expectations of kids. I felt like this part of the book was talking directly to me and this project with my 8th graders. I'm NOT going to lower my expectations because they fell short the first time out...but I can't just let them flounder.

Here's what I did. 

I wrote a paraphrased version of the quote from the book that "spoke" to me on the board. 

When the kids came in and got their rubrics, with comments, I gave them some time to read over their scores. (I did NOT sit them with their original teams from this project...I didn't want this to turn into a blame game. I wanted individual reflection). We discussed the phrase I put on the board and why it's important for me to have high expectations of them. I told them, in no way would I lower my expectations. We talked about how important it is to reflect, how future employers will want to hire someone who can reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve. And then I had them grab a piece of paper and create this T-Chart on the paper. 

I told them to think about this last project and what they did well and where they needed to improve as a teammate. I had to be specific. I didn't want to know what they needed to do to improve their ceiling tiles, I wanted to know what they, personally, can do to be a better teammate the next time around. What are they good at, what value do they bring to a group? I gave them some time to write this down.

And then they were instructed think about the areas they need to improve on, what they need to do to be more successful the next time around. 

And then we went into writing our contracts for the next project with new team members. 

The hope is that they take the information they reflected on, their strengths and weaknesses, and they use that to help guide them in what their new team needs to do to to be successful in their next project. 

As I read through their T-Charts of positives and improvements, I was impressed with many of their ability to honestly reflect. These are definitely not perfect, but its the first step in self-identification and improvement. In order to grow, we must first understand where we struggle and what steps to take. 

My plan is to do this exercise after each project, and see if there's improvement as we go. If someone is continuing to write down "stay on task" on their paper...we need to have a conversation about strategies to help stay on task. This helps me know where they need assistance and what I can look out for.

We do so many things as an adult, as part of our job, that we know are important skills these students need to develop. I wonder how many other things I do, as a teacher, that would be good skills to teach my middle school students... 

Definitely something to reflect on.