03 February 2010

The most rambling, non-linear post ever

In this class, my goals and concerns were not realized. Honestly, I did not develop concerns until I was already into the class. My goals were to focus my writing and I think, at least to a degree I did accomplish that one. Particularly on the final piece of writing, there were some parts that I really felt I was writing in a manner that would be considered National Board-esque. However, I still do not feel I am writing at the depth I should be writing. I feel as though I am only scratching the surface.
As we discussed, its not that I knew I needed to not worry about my grade. I’m not particularly a “grade hound”, my normal modus operandi is to just focus on the content and let the grade take care of itself. In fact, this is exactly what I preach to my students. My opinion is that if I am worried about a grade, how can I be learning at my full potential? That said, I am not sure I focused enough on content, so my grade shouldn’t be taking care of itself, but that could be a question unto itself.
I actually thought this would be an easy class for me. Before this class, I considered myself a decent writer. I came to the realization, very quickly, that I am not the type of writer who will be able to breeze through the National Board Certification process. This is a good thing, in my opinion, since the process seems to be designed to make teachers really focus on what they are doing and why they are doing it. So, an unexpected result (at least for me) was to learn more about the process of NBPTS certification. I didn’t expect that at all!
In this class, I learned a lot about myself as a person. I learned that motivation to be successful is not necessarily intrinsic, at least for me. I have to have an external motivation to be successful. Maybe this is the point we should discuss grades, but that it’s a moot point as far as I am concerned because I didn’t start taking this class so I could say I got an “A” in it. I took this class because I am a lifelong learner. This class taught me I need to be reminded occasionally of why I am teaching. It is helping me to understand some of what my students feel when I assign writing projects. It really has helped me to develop the writing aspect of my wiki project in my classroom. I spent some time this morning being more specific in my expectations of my students. In the past, I have felt that I could just “throw any old assignment out there” and then didn’t understand why I didn’t get the product for which I was hoping.
As a result of this class, I am learning which questions to ask to get students to write. In the past, it has been difficult for me to verbalize exactly what I want students to do. However, after reading the writing prompts for NBPTS, I have been able to work develop assignments for writing that result in more in-depth thought from students. For example, I assigned an independent research project (this is mentioned in my final writing piece) and asked the following questions:
1. Introduction - What are you doing? Why is it important for you to have these skills?
2. Body - What did you do? How did you do it? Why is the method you used valid? Include your numbers and how you got them. Equipment, knowledge, skills; all of these go in this section.
3. Conclusion - Closure. How could you use what you learn in school? In a job? In another class? What did you learn from this project? What would you do differently if you had to do the project again?
While I have not yet had the opportunity, I am looking forward to reading their papers because I asked completely different questions than I ever have before and I think their writing is going to be much better than in any other project I have assigned. This all comes as a result of this class. (Note to self: maybe I have learned something after all! Maybe I just needed to reflect on what I was learning. Its like realizing something after the fact, but not understanding what’s going on while its happening.)
Concerning the National Board process, I’m a bit more afraid of it than I was prior to this class. Looking at the process seems daunting, I admit. However, the writing component of all of this doesn’t make me feel any better about it. Previously, I had grand ideas of being this amazing teacher who has fantastic relationships with students. Now, not so much! That’s not to devalue what I have going on, its just that to attain National Board “status”, I’m really going to have to be able to verbalize what I am doing and why I am doing it. However, if I am doing something that isn’t affecting student learning, well then Who Cares?!? If there isn’t learning occurring in my classroom or if I can’t show that its happening, why am I doing what I’m doing? I am realizing that I’m not as effective as I’d like to think I am, because its really, really, really difficult to give evidence of student learning.
I’ve got to be a lot less grandiose in my thinking and get back to teaching science. I guess this class has been a good dose of reality for me as an educator. I have stopped to think about what I am doing and why I am doing it. Consequently, I’m not feeling as positive about the things I am doing. That does, however, mean that students will be impacted in the future because I am reflecting. Jody, remember: the process is as important (or more so) as the product.
I don’t think this class has had any aspect of it that hasn’t worked for me. I always felt that I could go back to my notes or your powerpoint from the previous week and see what assignments were going to be due. Probably my biggest issue was simply the overwhelming task of seeing what is required for NBPTS. The gentle reassurances and reminders were always helpful. Especially when you would remind us that some folks do this without any support system whatsoever. I appreciated when you would give real world examples of teachers with whom you have had contact who are seeing the writing prompts for the first time and felt overwhelmed, while reminding us that we will not be attending the rodeo for the first time when it comes time to really start writing these entries.
Hmmm, here’s the question about grades. I think maybe subconsciously I did sub-par work, but I can honestly say I never did that on purpose. You gave anecdotal evidence of students who have checked out after your lecture about grades and your expectations. First of all, who in the world am I to tell you what to do in your classroom? But! You asked right? Okay, here goes…this is what I do in my classroom and have just instituted this practice with my AP students this year. You can take it for what its is, a trial in my classroom, it may fall flat, who knows?
I talk the very first day about what AP Physics is and what it should be. We discuss the fact that, while physics is the best science class ever, it is a very broad topic and may turn out to be the most difficult class they have taken to this point. I tell them that they have been conditioned, through many (not all) honors classes in middle school, to get the “right” answer. They have been taught that school and grades and learning is about the product, not the process. I allow them to talk and tell me what some of their fears about the class are. At this point, I tell them that I am more concerned about the process than the product. I want them to learn “science as a process” and stop focusing on whether they go the right answer or not. I share my thoughts on grade inflation and how they have been conditioned to accept nothing less than an “A”. I inform them that all other teachers have been doing them a disservice by letting them thing that A’s are the standard. We talk about grade distribution and I tie that in to any population sample and we talk about a Gaussian Curve and what that means. We do a little discussion of standard deviation, (bear in mind, most of these student have had more math than I have). I talk to them about what a “C” means (average), what a “B” means (slightly about average), and what an “A” means (excellent, exceeds the standard in ALL areas). I remember this vividly, I began to see some realization and surprise on many faces that they were beginning to understand they true meaning of what was being said: If I do everything and some extra credit, I’m NOT going to be assured of an A! What have I gotten myself into?
At this point, I tell them that I cannot guarantee an “A” in this class. Uh, hello? Its AP Physics! That said, I tell them to STOP worrying about their grades and start worrying about whether they are trying their best to learn the content. I assure them, in the words of Mr. Larry Bell, that “No student will fail my class this year”. However, that comes with a caveat: if you give me 100%, I can assure you that no one will fail my class this year.
The only way they can learn is to quit worrying about their grades. I pose the question, “If you are worrying about grades all the time, how can you focus on the content?” I may be delusional; maybe there was no realization. Maybe there was no surprise. Maybe there was no “Oh Crap” look on any faces. I had a few students drop my class the next day and one of them freely admitted that the class was going to require more work than they were willing to put forth during their final semester of high school. I can live with that.
I’m no longer afraid to tell students that my class is going to be really, really hard. My enrollment in AP Physics this year is higher than in any of previous year, to my knowledge. I mean, what in the world? I have 24 students in that class!
As you read this, I’m sure you are thinking,  “Okay Bowie, this is way more than what I asked for!” This is a common problem with me. I had a student ask me about a black hole today and we ended up discussing the Theory of Multiple Universes, the possibility of 11 dimensions, and the idea that the Universe is something expanding into nothing. Many of them told me that their brains were hurting when they left class.  So, suffice to say, I’m sorry for giving you more on this last question than you asked for, its who I am and what I do!

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