I have 9 total days left of this school year. And I. Am. Ready.
Somehow, I always forget how tired I am at this point in the school year. I slept the majority of this weekend (a luxury, I know!), and I am still completely drained going into the new week.
Usually, this time of year, I am pouring my energy into planning for the fall and redesigning my class (again). However, this year, I don't have the juice. (My lack of posts in the last few months can further prove it).
It's been a rough year... Stupid TikTok trends, reteaching students how to "school," cruelty-rampant social media, and universal apathy have made it harder than anyone expected, myself included.
But I am an optimist. One of my favorite things about teaching is that we get to start over every year: new kids, new course, new content. I love it.
In the last few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about that optimism. Where does it come from? Next Thursday will end my tenth year of teaching, and I am still excited to try new things and grow as a teacher. But I know that isn't the case for everyone. Teacher "Quit"-Tok is making it very clear that many, many educators are throwing in the towel.
How can we take the remaining enthusiasm and replicate that across buildings? How do we undo months of fatigue and apathy to remind educators why we do what we do?
How can we take the setbacks of COVID and embrace how we learned to adapt and grow?
As much as I wish these questions were just a transition to a post about all the great solutions, I have - it's not. They are just the questions that spin and spin and spin through my mind. Now that I am an instructional coach, I feel even more of a responsibility to keep great teachers in the classroom.
For me? I just need the ability to try new things and learn as an educator. But how do you reward great teachers? (And for the matter, how do you measure a great teacher?)
Again. Just more questions that I have no answers for.
I am ready to spend the summer pouring all of my energy into answering these questions, but I am at a complete loss of where to start. (And, in all honesty, it isn't really under the umbrella of my job title). I've just always had the mentality that if something isn't being done, I'll do it myself.
How? How? How?
I think finding the answers is more urgent than we all realize.
Personalization Tip #9
Create opportunities for collaboration and connection between students.
We had a great week in AP Lang. Really. Despite multiple virtual days, state hockey tournaments, and a flurry of student vacations, we were able to work together on a fun group activity.
Because the class is generally personalized by method and pace, most of the time students are working independently. Yes. They chat and enjoy one another's company and work alongside each other, but most of the time, they are working on different items.
For that reason, it is really important to create spaces and opportunities where we come together to do something collaboratively.
For my current curriculum design, I create these moments at the beginning of each new unit. Not only are students working together, but they are being introduced to the concepts of the upcoming unit.
I try to design these activities with an authentic purpose. For instance, as I've posted multiple times, I love creating true crime related activities to engage them in investigation and critical thinking. I have also created activities to connect course material to their daily lives in the form of high school gossip and social media.
But mostly, I just want them to do something together and take a break from any feelings of isolation that can come with personalized learning.
This year, I have been working to improve those activities that have worked in the past and creating some new opportunities to get the class collaborating on engaging projects.
This last week, we tried one of these new ones: a simulation of what the United Nations does. Essentially, I gave students a global issue, assigned them a country to represent, and asked them to work together to draft a shared resolution.
Here's an Overview:
This multi-day activity is designed to mirror the process of MUN (or Model United Nations) competition on a smaller scale. Students will be assigned countries from around the world and present resolutions for a provided topic of discussion. In this case, the students will act as members of the UNICEF committee to mitigate the problem of child labor around the world.
Students will research their country and it’s current practices in regards to child labor, prepare a draft resolution, vote on the top three resolutions, and then enter into a debate with the goal of creating a shared resolution that can win the votes of the member states (USA, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France).
While it ended up being stretched over a few more days than I wanted, I loved the conversations we had as a class. Students did a great job of qualifying their own arguments to suit others and negotiated in creative ways.
If you are interested, I have a teaching narrative written out below! Be well, all.
After over five days pent up in my house with COVID, I am happy to announce that I FINISHED THE SUPPLEMENT PACKS!
In fact, it will probably seem a little controversial, but I'm actually pretty happy that COVID finally found me. This is not to minimize how horrible this pandemic has been for our country, but in all honesty... I needed a forced break.
This year has been trying in new, unprecedented ways already, but the addition of my new position has left me in tears, bitter, and exhausted more than I ever imagined possible. I was forcing myself to go at full speed every second that I was at school, and I was burning out. Badly.
While I would not enjoy going back to my first (and worst) days of COVID, I have enjoyed the last few days of quarantine immensely. I made a book list for the rest of the school year. I started organizing my crazy ramblings into a possible table of contents. And I finished the supplement packs I started at the beginning of the year.
The heavy, heavy fatigue of COVID has emerged as a metaphor for the burden I'd been carrying around before being forced to stop and take care of myself for a minute. I have never been as physically tired as I was in the first days of my COVID spell, but I would also say I had never been as emotionally and mentally tired as I was leading up to my positive test.
As much as it should be a lesson about self-care and perspective, I know I'll go back to school tomorrow with the same over eagerness that will end up in the same burnout. All I can really do is try to remind myself about balance moving forward and do the work that brings me joy (and spend less time on the rest).
I am dismally behind in updates about our personalized classroom. Between inclement weather days, end of the semester, and my coaching responsibilities, I haven't had much time to sit down and summarize what we have going on. Apologies.
However, amidst all those things, I encountered an issue that I wanted to share. One that I know most teachers struggle with. Particularly, in the digital, device-driven age.
Personalization Tip #8
I don't want to say cheating is inevitable, but... cheating is inevitable. Being proactive is the best you can do.
Because I use a self-paced format, student assess at different times. This creates the obvious issue that some kids will complete assessments before others and even get feedback. There isn't much keeping them from sharing their responses with others. And I'm certainly not going to create a unique version of the assessment for each student.
As the semester ended, I had a student who was very near failing. In all honesty, she needed to be proficient in the final unit to even pass. I'm sure many of you know that when put under such pressure, students get desperate. All the re-attempts and supports can't do much when a student has placed themselves in a position such as this one.
So I guess I wasn't surprised when I saw that her answers were identical to another students. (Like... copy and pasted). My initial reaction was to laugh - seeing as neither response was accurate. Then, I had to consider how to approach it. Giving her a zero would mean failing the entire semester, and there was only one day left.
If you've ever been in a similar situation, I am sure you understand the frustration. There were many ways this student could have avoided this situation - possibly failing - throughout the semester. She did not. There was many opportunities in class to get help on this unit. She did not. The strict authoritarian in me is always ready with a "Sucks to suck" response. The human in me just can't.
So I revised the assessment to use a new sample essay. Gave the two offenders a specific time to come and re-attempt the assessment. And ultimately, both passed.
For the next few days, I obsessed about preventing such behavior in the future. Do I need to lock their iPads down when they complete assessments. Do they need to do all of them in front of me? Do I need to explicitly write when they can and cannot get help from others?
While I will be making some changes for the new semester, I came to a clear conclusion. No matter how intentional I am about preventing cheating, there is always going to be someone more determined to cheat. In talking to students in other contexts, they can give me a host of creative ways students cheat - things that I would never anticipate. The thought of combatting all of these possible methods is exhausting to even think about.
Instead, my approach has been to be proactive as I can, and vigilant when assessing work. Here are some of the ways I mitigate cheating in a personalized classroom:
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I wasn't sure they'd LOVE it, but they really loved the sass-factor from both Abigail Adams and Dear Abby. I strongly encouraged them to bring that same sass to their letters.
Reading their letters, I saw pretty consistent ability to pick out her claims. A pretty impressive task when using a letter from 1780!
Week 4, Day 5
And our last day was another learning day. After Daily Dose, we did Unit 1 Calendar as usual, but then I took a minute to review the second folder on the unit: CHECK. Some of the kids were working ahead and onto this section, so I wanted to review what had to be done. Yes. We talked about it the week before, but I've been reviewing what they need to do daily. Like I said in my tip for this post... even if you feel you have told them enough. Keep telling them.
Here are some of the things I did during learning time:
- Provided a few students the passage to complete their CHECK assessment. (I vary the passages to avoid cheating, and I keep the passages with me).
- Corrected Unit 1 Reviews with students using the textbook for their knowledge learning.
- Checked with a couple students who had completed the AP Classroom Unit 1 Progress Check to see how they felt about their learning so far.
- Refocused students who were more excited about the evening's out-of-town football game. Because... teenagers.
- Sat with a group of girls that had been doing too much talking during the prior day's Dear Abby lesson. I wasn't sitting there to punish them, but I made a point to joke around with them a bit to work on building the relationships a bit. As my fellow coach would say, I was making some investments in hopes of cashing in later.
- Provided feedback on the Dear Abby letters for those who stated they prefer in-person feedback. (It might seem difficult to keep track of every one's preference, but I made myself a quick cheat sheet of their results that I just carry on my clipboard).
- Encouraged a student who did a sad face emoji after our Dear Abby lesson. She was second guessing herself so I wanted to show her she did it correctly.
- Asked a student to read her Dear Abby letter to me because I couldn't read the handwriting, but I also felt that she might be able to explain it better orally.
Going through this list, I am reminded exactly why I love a personalized format. These are all things we need to do, and even love to do, as teachers, but we rarely get to do them if we are at the front of the room teaching.
It may seem like I did a million things, but really, I walked into my classes Friday with a very short post-it list of things to do. The rest happened organically. Once upon a time, I was never the teacher who would still be planning her lesson the day OF the lesson (Hello, Dear Abby). Adopting a personalized format has forced me to get out of my own way and focus on what is needed in the moment. It has made me a more present teacher and a much better teacher.