Monthly Archives: September 2010

Gold Stars

I’m hard on myself on this blog.  It’s for good reason.  If no one tells me I suck, then I’ll never get better.  And I’m surrounded by very positive, supportive people.  So the only way I’ll improve as a teacher is if I stay hard on myself.

But sometimes, I deserve to commend myself, notice the sunshine.  So here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of things I’m good at or areas of vast improvement in my almost three years as a teacher.

1. I memorize students’ names faster than any teacher I know of.

2. My expectations have gotten higher every year.  My average grades have stayed the same.

3. I can hook up my own technology, thanks.

4. My discipline problems have gone way down since my first year.  I write up very few students, mostly because I just don’t need to.

5. I don’t lose my head over hoop-jumping administrative stuff.  Some teachers throw tantrums when they’re asked to do anything extra.  I’ll either comply or politely forget to do it.

6. I keep my mouth shut.  High school’s a gossip-laden soap opera for teachers, too.  It’s very hard to avoid rumors about students or the nosy, negative attitudes of some colleagues.  I do a decent job of minding my own business.

7. I’m not an idiot.  I can write a clear email to a parent.  I can create a spreadsheet and analyze test grades on it.  I know students would much rather tell me about their game instead of me just saying, “Good job,” so I ask open-ended questions about their performance.   I’m not good at some pretty important things, but I know I’m capable of figuring them out.

Snossel Gninnalp

In grad school, they taught us about BACKWARDS DESIGN.  It’s a lesson-planning approach that goes like this:

  1. I decide my students need to be able to do [A].
  2. I determine evidence that would prove they can do [A].
  3. I design the best path that leads them to producing that evidence.

I’m sure others have put it more eloquently, but that’s the gist.  See, it’s backwards in that I consider the END before the beginning.  Makes perfect sense to me; I just can’t do it.  Like the game Othello, it takes seconds to learn and a lifetime to master!

This week, my students are suffering from my very forwardly designed lessons.  We read “The Most Dangerous Game” (which is fabulous for 9th graders, by the way–really exciting, ripe for analysis, etc.  They’ll complain about the length then whine when it’s over.).  While we read, we took notes on character and setting.  I thought it was going rather well–felt real teacherly.

Things took a turn towards Sour Town when I gave them 3 possible writing assignments to choose from, all of which require the students to cite passages from the story to support their ideas.

That goal–using the text to support an analysis–baffled my students.  Not coincidentally, it’s where I failed to properly design my lessons backwards.

Oh, I knew I wanted to my students to be able to do this from the get-go; it’s why we took notes as we went along.  But here’s my failure (and I screw this up all the time): I don’t break down the larger task (using the text to support an analysis) into smaller, manageable components.

Some after-the-fact consideration: in order to do the job well, my students need to know how to:

  1. Find stuff in a story that supports their ideas.
  2. Incorporate the quoted material with their own ideas in a logical way.
  3. Properly cite the stuff in MLA format.

Three little things.  They’re manageable, too.  But I didn’t pause before I started the story to consider these needs.  I could’ve taught them this stuff along the way, but instead, my weak, sloppy lesson at the end set them up to fail.  They’re not getting it, and the assignment’s taking days longer than I anticipated.

So what’s the lesson here?  Sonny shouldn’t be teaching, probably.  But another lesson is to not only know where I’m taking my students, but anticipate and equip them with what they’ll need.  It sounds like absolute common sense, I know, but my brain just isn’t wired for it or something.  I’m getting better, but there are still units like this that suck suck suck.