Saturday, September 10, 2016

Reflections on Unit 1

Greetings colleagues!

I am starting off this morning a little rough as I received bad news last night. A few years ago, I joined a class called Teaching American History (sponsored by a federal grant for history teachers). It met once a month on Tuesday nights. The classes were long and sometimes stressful as I always had school work to do. But, in the end, I met some amazing teachers from throughout the city who have become lifelong colleagues and friends. TAH classes were led by Bill Virden, a former history professor from up north. Bill believed in me as a teacher, which very few people had prior. Bill saw my potential and helped nurture that potential through his classes. The best professional development that I have ever received was through TAH sessions. We have not had class in three (!) years now, and I miss these people all of the time. I last saw Bill this summer, and we had a fantastic chat. But last night, I got a text message telling me he passed away. I am forever grateful, and I will miss Bill.

But on to the rest of my blog post, reflections about my first unit: pre-colonization. I just finished unit 1 on Thursday and felt like I needed to reflect on how the unit worked. To start, I look at what my original plan was. Over the summer, I went to ISTE and GAFE (here in the Springs). I was inspired to give students a choice, use flexible seating in my classroom, and utilize the QFT Process. My first unit was pre-colonization, so I picked two QFocuses: 1) American Indians changed the history of the United States and 2) The Age of Exploration changed the history of the United States. Students would follow the QFT Process and create questions about those two QFocuses. The students would then find their investigation engaging and interesting, and would be inspired to research (though during separate weeks of each other). By examining their questions, they would find interest in the topic and would be engrossed in my classroom. That would lead them to create a "demonstration of learning" using an application on their iPad. 

What went wrong? Because I tried something new, I failed to see how horribly this would all go wrong. My usual teacher foresight was missing :( I have different students than last year, and I knew my students would be unlike last year's students, but I did not realize what a difference that would be. My students did not engage with the content, and I think it was due to non-interesting QFocuses and my flexible seating. My students also lack strong work ethic which we were told, now, by many former teachers, counselors, and administrators. My teaching style is also different than most previous classes which led to confusion and frustration. 

Even though I feel like that unit went horribly, horribly wrong, there was a silver lining. I got to my students at their almost worst. I saw what happened when they got frustrated, and I got to see, though it wasn't fun at all, how terribly they could treat me when they felt discouraged and defeated. It was pretty dreadful for all of us. 

What changes did I make? As the unit went on, I realized I needed more support for my students. I needed clearer transparency in my directions. I also needed to simplify my procedures and structures. I had the students answer two QFocuses separately, so I was able to make some changes from first to second QFocus. I made more handouts with clearer direction. I also forced them to use the same application on the second demonstration of learning instead of letting them pick their iPad app. After going to Day 1 Kagan training, I also realized that I could let my students pick their type of seat, but they did not yet have the maturity to choose the location. I put them into Kagan learning groups which separated many a friend. Grouping helped with my classroom management issue. 

What will I do differently with this unit next year? I will not let students sit where they want, and will put the students into groups. I liked how I did the second QFocus better than the first so that I would use the same structure and procedures with both QFocuses. I will find research online for my students to start, to give them an idea of what type of research they would be doing. I will create guided notes for my SPED students, as they struggled with open-ended research. I would also find activities to add into my daily lessons instead of giving them so much free research time. My issue was that my last year's students could handle open-ended research whereas this group of students cannot.

What will I do differently on this next unit? Again, I will not utilize as much flexible research and will try to provide more research links ahead of time. I will add controlled daily activities to break up free research time. In this unit, students are going to create group projects, so that may help some of my lower students as well. I am happy with my Kagan groupings, so I will keep them for this unit also.

What I am struggling with is that how I am transitioning into teaching my students this year is against everything that I learned this summer and wanted to incorporate into my classroom. There is no easy answer, and I have to do what is best for my students. But I know how they need to learn, and they are currently rebelling against it. I just have to scaffold in these "new" ideas slowly instead of creating such a different and rapid transition from their prior learning.  Here's hoping that it works.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
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