Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking Time

This is not a new complaint.
There's not enough.

It's hard during the midst of the semester to find a spare moment to sit down and reflect on my goals. I find that I spend much of the semester treading water, trying to stay afloat of all the grading, lesson planning, parent contact, emails, etc. It's ironic because I find that when I do give myself time to reflect on my teaching, when I participate in professional development opportunities, when I take the time to blog, I come back to my classroom much more energized. So, I thought I would take a moment at the beginning of the semester, when first semester grades have been put to bed and there is a bit of breathing room, to reflect and set some goals for this semester.

I set one main goal for myself this year - revising my final assessments, making sure that they connect with the skills that I teach throughout a particular unit. What I've been able to do is redesign some of my units. My unit for Night now ends with both a creative and analytical assessment where students put together a creative piece and write an analytical essay both based around significant quotes. This better fits with what I do with the memoir - teaching analytical discussion/writing skills, incorporating quotations into written work, and connecting to themes presented earlier in the class. It worked so much better than a traditional test. In fact, I redesigned a few other tests similarly.

Here's my problem. I like how the new assessments are a better measure of what we've learned and practiced throughout the unit, but they are much more involved, heavy on the writing. This is fine for now, when I've only got 25 assessments to grade, but how do you incorporate more meaningful assessments when you have 90 students to grade? I have struggled with this my entire teaching career. How do I make the work in my classroom meaningful and not kill myself with the grading of it?

The core content classes in our high school have just finished putting together common final assessments, in which students take multiple choice final exams that are composed of higher order thinking questions. But I still struggle with whether or not a multiple choice test is the best measure of what a student has learned. Especially in an English class. Are one or two questions on tone enough to assess whether or not a student can write clearly about an author's style, tone, and technique? And yet such multiple choice tests make it easy to get feedback returned to students in a timely manner. I supposed it is about finding the balance, which I'm not sure that I've achieved yet.

So for the second part of the year, I think I need to revise my goals. I still plan to look at my unit assessments, striving for more of a backwards design approach, but I need to balance this with what I can realistically grade when I have three full classes.

A second goal I plan to work on is increasing the transparency of my classroom. I found during first semester that I got an amazing response from students and parents alike about how open my classroom has become. Posting all my assignments and handouts on the web, inviting parents to participate with us on our class Ning and wiki, and especially granting students and parents access to the classroom via our live streaming web camera has been a positive experience. While students presented their "This I Believe" essays in class, parents joined us, emailing me wonderful positive feedback for students that were not even their children. The parents especially have liked having this opportunity open to them, even if they rarely take advantage of it. The students were the ones to use it most, watching the classes they were absent for. And for me, it has been an amazing vehicle for assessing my teaching. So I plan to explore how to continue that transparency.

Now, I just need to find the time.

Google Goodies

  • googleined - home
    Google More... An Introduction to Google Tools in Education Google provides much more than just a web search engine; they offer a wide variety of free web-based and desktop applications. This wiki was created to support a workshop that introduces participants to many of these services that may be useful to teachers and students. Please feel free to add to these resources by clicking on "Edit This Page" above.
  • Reframing Google's search options - NeverEndingSearch - Blog on School Library Journal
    Over the past couple of years, those brilliant Google engineers designed stunning search options, moving Google search way, way beyond an effective, but relatively unflexible vertical search. And over the past couple of years I've been pasting links to all these options into my subject pathfinders so my students can find them. The problem is--so many of the very best search options are buried in the vast Google wilderness of labs, or in the wonderful pulldowns of more and even more--places where few but our most intrepid students and teachers dare to go.
  • springfieldlibrary - Google Search Options
    Google Tools
  • Kiva - Kiva Lending Team: Team Google Certified Teachers