Recently, I have started documenting some of my journey with personalized learning. It might amount to nothing, but my dream is that one day I can fill a void in the current professional literature on personalized learning - that is, a lack of books on how to personalize an English classroom.
Again, it might amount to nothing but a collection of Google docs with my ramblings about why and how, but its important to me that I am always on a mission. That I have a focus which I care about. In the process of filling these pages, I keep coming back to the idea of pacing, or in this case, self-pacing a classroom.
It’s also taking up a lot of brain space because next year, my school is transitioning to a block schedule - which means my current approach definitely needs re-design. (The thought of students pacing themselves for 75 minutes haunts my dreams). But - even with the need to reconsider - I have already felt a shift in my own beliefs about flexible pacing over the years.
First of all and much to my surprise… my kids like deadlines. One semester I kept them entirely self-paced, with the kids allowed to move through all units at their own preferred pace. When I surveyed them after, they overwhelmingly said that more deadlines would have been helpful for them. In response, I took a step back from entirely allowing them to pace their own learning. Now, I allow them to pace themselves within a unit, but I have suggested deadlines AND a hard “blackout” deadline for each unit. It allows them to practice some self-pacing, but also keeps them from getting so behind that they end up in a terrible situation at the end of a semester.
Students also tend to rush through material. I have an open re-attempt and revision policy, which means that kids take assessments with less anxiety about their grade. (Very important in an advanced class…). One downside to this is that they tend to rush through preparing for these assessments. They choose between videos, reading and small groups to learn the content, but in so many cases, they are barely engaging with these options. They are just checking a box for me. This results in them frequently having to re-attempt and revise assessments. While I have no problem with that (and actually see a ton of value in having to revise and try again), I’d rather they learned the material before the assessment instead of through trial and error on assessments. (And if I’m being selfish… it would save me time on feedback and grading).
Perhaps most unsettling for me is that self-pacing isolates kids. While my kids are regularly working together on class activities or working through material in-step with a small group, overall, a self-paced format isolates them from one another. On any given day, a small pocket of kids are a week or more ahead and another pocket is a week behind. The distance between these two groups of students is immense. While I would love for the kids who are ahead to help those who are behind, I have never found a routine or procedure that doesn’t make this entirely embarrassing for both.
Beyond that, multiple days I feel like an online class monitor - just sitting in the back and checking their progress on Schoology. In fact, last week another teacher came to my room to grab a student and she apologized. The kids were so quiet that she thought they were taking a test. In fact, they were all working on their material, but they had no reason to interact with one another. Too often, the only way they are engaging with each other is for unproductive chatter. In a post-COVID era, it’s my responsibility to bring students back to the table, so to speak. While they are well trained in independent work, we all know their ability to engage with others will take them further in life than any amount of time management skills.
So with the change of schedule next year, I am carefully reconsidering the value in self-pacing. That said, I feel I must acknowledge that there are advantages…
What it really comes down to, therefore, is what is more important - that kids engage with one another or that they practice managing their own time. The challenge for me is to adjust to a version of personalized learning that can allow for both, because in all honesty, both are non-negotiable.
One idea that I am dreaming up right now is to incorporate collaboration into their choice learning. For instance, the students who prefer to watch videos could watch their videos, but then they could be asked to collaborate on a practice task like a structured summarizing activity. This would create something similar to tracks or pathways for students, based on how they like to learn. The drawback is that everyone needs to be on the same step of their learning… so the self-pacing is pretty much gone. How can I find a way to make this happen where students can either take more time after these practices to review or for me to re-teach, or they can move on to the assessment. Figuring out what this looks like is my next big step.
What are your thoughts on self-pacing? Is it worth the challenges?
Happy new Year!
As my last post may have implied, I have been buried under a dark cloud that has kept me from tackling new projects and meeting new goals. Just doing the “must dos” of teaching and coaching kept me from doing anything beyond those necessary tasks, but I am feeling the rejuvenation of a good break. I am ready to set some new goals for 2023, and as always… I’m aiming high.
I am genuinely so happy to feel like myself again, and though I know tomorrow brings me back into the thick of stress and exhaustion, I am optimistic. These goals are part of my own personal health and wellness goals. In tandem, I truly think I can see a better semester ahead.
For my readers, I hope you are feeling a similar breath of fresh air. 2023 is the year we can reclaim our passion and remind ourselves why we do this incredibly important work. As I’ll be telling myself every day, we do something that truly matters every single day.
I haven't posted since June.
I have not accomplished any impressive curriculum projects. I have not even updated my Teachers Pay Teachers store in months.
The reality - which I'm sure all other teachers feel - is that I don't have a single ounce of energy to expend on anything extra. I have nothing more to give outside of my coaching responsibilities and teaching my three classes.
I want to create amazing materials for my readers, but there has not been a single weekend when I felt I had the energy for it. I work out 4-5 times a week, and still, I have no energy to do anything beyond the bare minimum.
For me, its a rare form of self-punishment to keep myself from being creative or from building new things.
But that's where we are at. We are surviving.
Currently In Progress
Checking in for just a second today to share something I am working on.
Last month, I started putting together bell ringer packs to fit each of the 22 learning targets in the AP Language and Composition CED.
Each pack includes 9 different bell ringers to suit the learning target, and ultimately, there will be enough bell ringers to fill an entire 190 day course.
My plan is to include these in my free resources, but for now, the first 8 packs are available on my Teachers Pay Teacher store.
Some Thoughts on the AP Reading...
Despite my phone dying, almost missing my flight home, and multiple panic attacks, the AP Reading was… fine.
In all honesty, I came into this one bitter, as I felt a little duped into attending the in-person reading instead of reading from home. (Probably more my own fault than anything).
It didn’t help that the in-person reading was essentially the same as reading from home. This year we read from computers again - which we’ve obviously done for two years now - but it made the entire exercise of flying thousands of people to Tampa see pretty foolish if we were just going to sit at computers the entire time.
My bad attitude plus the previously mentioned surprises made for a rough week.
But I made it.
Because of the extension of the Reading when we weren't able to finish, we had a unique experience this year. In the last two days of in person scoring, we trained on all three of the questions - something that has not been done in my five years of reading.
For me, it was a blessing. I was so sick of reading about ethos, pathos, and logos (more on that later) that switching to Question 3 and then to Question 1 was a welcome change of pace. However, a number of my peers were aptly concerned about the accuracy of scoring when we were being jumped around.
Personally, I think it’s a toss up. Like I said, I needed the change so I found myself reinvigorated every time that we switched. I feel my scoring would probably have been just as hindered by the fatigue had I continued with Question 2.
But that’s enough rambling commentary (... my kind word for whining). This post is not about my complaints, but about the suggestions and tips moving into another year of AP Lang instruction.
The following are the observations I took note of for myself. Some of them are mistakes I saw multiple times that I want to correct next year. Others are harder mindset shifts that I'll be mulling over for the next couple months. Additionally, I want to be very clear that I am in no way an expert, and you should look to the Chief Reader's report (Coming Soon!) for that. These are just a few notes and thoughts I kept for myself as I plan a new year.
Notes from the AP Language 2022 Reading
At the Finish Line...
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.
I Did It Again!
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: