I had a very productive first marking term with my students. Even though there was some push back about writing in the math class (new for them), being assigned homework (new for some of them), and having a fairly strict grading system (or so they said), my students gave forth excellent efforts and have really come out on top of most of my expectations.
On the very last day of the marking term, I decided that instead of teaching something new right before their mini-vacation, I would ask the kids to write a self-reflection of their learning thus far. This assignment certainly didn't count for a grade, but I did explain that this was an opportunity for me to see who they were outside of my class, beyond the in-class efforts and their points on quizzes and projects. I gave them some specific prompts and specific timing guidelines per prompt, in order to encourage them to not rush through the task. They ended up giving me so many wonderfully rich details! It was so wonderful to read, that afterwards I went back to re-write some of my already finished, already polished narrative evals in order to acknowledge some of the new things I learned about them.
I integrated into this self-reflection three elements that I just loved:
1. I asked the kids to give me a short (5-minute) math autobiography. I had assigned math autobiographies in previous years, at the start of the school years, but because those students didn't yet know me and I didn't know them at the start of the year, it was not terribly useful for me to know a background story not associated with a name/face. This time, because I already knew them a little bit, their autobiographies gave me SO much insight into where they come from and why they behave the way they do in my class. I asked the kids to write about their general math history, as well as their favorite math teacher and what that person did to make math a good experience for them. Some kids wrote down that they've never had a great experience with math (ever!). Others wrote down that they had been educated previously in another country, and my class was the first time in years that they had learned anything new, so it was hard for them to adjust to having to work hard at something. One kid wrote down that he used to love math, then he hated math because of his relationship with one teacher, and now he likes it again because of me. He said that he's going to work harder the rest of the year in order to fully benefit from the course. Some other students wrote that they've preferred learning where the teacher shows an example and does a mini-lesson (which isn't how I run my class).
2. I asked the kids to wrote down as many things as possible from this marking term that they are proud of. I gave them specific examples, and I said that even if they didn't find the material to be easy, they should have many, many things from the class that they are proud of! Some of them wrote that they felt really proud of their persistence on taking re-quizzes without giving up. Others were proud of their good conceptual understanding as evidenced by their good scores. Some others said they've put in a lot of effort into the writing assignments and really tried their best on every assignment, even if I didn't collect them. Some others said they regularly helped their friends in class and over the phone at home. Some of them told me that they made lots of flashcards and studied them regularly, in order to help them focus on the important concepts. Some of them did the practice quizzes multiple times in order to make sure they understood what was important. Some were proud that they kept seeing me outside of class for help, showing great responsibility in their own learning. My kids were awesome!!
3. I asked the kids what was not working for them in my class, and for them to provide me with a proposal for improvement. This could be something that they're doing or something that I'm doing. From this, they gave me a variety of good ideas, such as writing their names on the board to line up for help (so that it's "fair"), rotating groups while sticking with a partner, so there is some consistency and someone who is still working at the same pace as you, etc. etc.
Fabulous! I was so impressed and overwhelmed by the frankness of their reflections. It was both humbling and inspiring to know that they already respond on an emotional and an intellectual level to their experience in my classroom, within just two short months. As much as learning is a dialogue, I felt that this was a really useful and timely feedback for me in my own teaching of these particular students.
Following that, my department had a ROCKIN' retreat today. We sorted out the sequence of topics from Algebra 1 to Precalc, placed them into all the courses, developed an emergency differentiation plan for our current Precalc classes, and came up with an amazing idea of students choosing math electives for the last couple of months of the school year in order to help us to better differentiate and to group them temporarily by both ability and interest. We came up with the mantra that we want our kids to be COURAGEOUS in math, more than anything else. (More than confidence, more than any skills or concepts.) I work with the best colleagues!!!!