New Year’s resolutions came early for me this year, just like they have for the past thirteen years, actually. When the first semester of the school year comes to a close, I begin my annual two week period of introspection about what’s working in my classroom and what’s not. I have been teaching long enough to develop an ever-growing bag of tricks; however, since students change every year, finding that perfect balance of the right activities and the right time is quite challenging. That’s why good teaching is both a science and an art.
Over the break, I finished reading a pedagogy book, Visible Learning for Literacy: Accelerating the Practices that Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning, which I highly recommend to any K-12 literacy teacher. I am proud to say that I am already incorporating many of the things mentioned in the book, but I realized that there is room for me to do them better. For example, students’ reflection over their work is the number one most effective learning strategy. In my gradeless classroom, student reflection is a vital component of the process, but I need to do a better job of providing my students with clear learning targets so they have an increased understanding of where they’re going before they get there. This should result in my students’ reflections being more authentic which, in turn, should increase their retention of the material.
I also watched a webinar during my break about the purpose of homework. Over the years, I my position about homework at the high school level has certainly wavered. According to my pedagogy book, research shows that homework is more effective for student learning the older the student gets, but only if the homework is something that the students can do quickly and independently. Alice Keeler, an education goddess who conducted the webinar, took the position that homework is rarely, if ever, necessary, regardless of the grade level. She made the argument that what teachers spend time on in class is what students will regard as the most important information, and that parents should not be expected to help their children with their homework because they are oftentimes too busy or unable to help, and they’re not necessarily masters of the content that the student needs to learn.
Approximately half of the work my students received during the first semester was homework. Their completion rate began very low and only meagerly increased during the course of the semester. I took quite a bit of time to contemplate the homework that I assigned. Were they capable of doing it on their own? Was it purposeful? Did they see the benefit of doing the work? I came to the conclusion that almost all of them were capable of doing the work, and it was purposeful, but I was missing buy-in. When it came down to doing homework in my class versus doing homework in another class, rarely was the the work in my class done first. Further, I learned from talking to my students that after school jobs combined with the length of my homework contributed to their low response rate. I plan on continuing to assign homework during the second semester, but I need to change nature of the work, make it more time-efficient for them to complete, and help them understand how completing the homework will make them better students and better people.
The opportunity to reflect on my teaching practices and rework how my classroom operates is one of the things that I truly enjoy about being a teacher. How many professions exist where the employee has so much autonomy over day-to-day operations? Since seventh grade, it’s always been my dream to be a great public school teacher. In fact, I want to be one of the best teachers that my students have ever had; however, in order for me to accomplish that dream, I need to continue to be introspective and adaptive to their needs. Each class period inside of each school day within each school year is an opportunity for me to experience my dream. The new calendar year and the new semester offers a great opportunity for my students and myself, and I can’t wait to get started.