Friday, June 5, 2015

2014-2015: What Worked and What Didn't

I'm a big believer in reflection as the school year comes to a close. Before I get lost in a hazy summertime reverie, I think it's important to make a little record of the stuff that worked and the stuff that didn't that school year. I've done this every year since student teaching, and I think it's really helpful in figuring out what needs to be changed again for next year. This year I thought I would share my reflection with you guys!

Smash Books
I first introduced my plans for my interactive student notebooks (Smash Books) in this post. I said that my ultimate goal for the Smash Books was for the students to use them as a reference and a tool for success in English class. I think it's safe to say that this was absolutely the case for the majority of my students. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I go back through and look at my completed Smash Book for the year, and the kids have expressed the same feelings. Several have called it a "work of art" and a couple said they would be keeping it as a reference tool for future classes. I definitely learned a lot using these for the first time and I'll make some minor changes. but overall I was so pleased with these! I plan to go into greater detail about the success of the Smash Books in a future post, but for now, I can say that Smash Books worked! 

Desk Pods
In my 2014 Classroom Tour I revealed that, for the first time, I decided to group my students' desks into pods rather than my traditional spin on the even more traditional rows. Unfortunately, the pods didn't last beyond my maternity leave. For starters, my class sizes kept growing and growing, all the way into the second semester! It was impossible to keep them in pods when there were thirty-eight kids in two of the classes. The pods also caused some difficulties for my maternity leave sub, whom I encouraged to do whatever necessary to make her time in my classroom go well, so she switched back to rows. Ultimately, I'm not sure I'll go back to the pods, even if I do have smaller class sizes. I won't say that they didn't work, necessarily... they just didn't work for me.

Supplies Bins
One word: BUST. I grew to loathe this system. They just required way too much class time to maintain for my liking. I spent a fortune in supplies this year and the bins were never tidy enough to my satisfaction. My classroom always looked messy because of these things. Those were half-heartedly ditched when the pods went away, but I completely ditched them about halfway through third quarter. I prefer my old student supply center for classroom basics and for students to bring some of their own supplies. These just did not work for me.

Early Finishers/Support Assignments Wall
I pretty quickly realized that I just did not have time to keep up with this, which makes me sad. I need to figure out a way to support my high-achievers and my low-level learners. This wasn't it for me. It didn't work.

Skills-Based Curriculum
One huge change I made this year was to focus my curriculum more heavily on skills and less on recalling information. I wanted to up the rigor in my classroom by having students work on higher level thinking. We still had some recall components (I'm a firm believer in learning the context to further understanding of literature), but the majority of the year was spent on skills. We ended up with twenty-seven skills in Honors English 9 and thirty skills in English 10. I honestly think the focus on skills was a big reason my sophomores were so successful with their English 10 ECAs this year. Ultimately I feel like more real, significant learning happened in my classroom this year than ever before. Skills-based curriculum worked great and I will definitely continue this next year!

Skills-Based Grading
Along with my skills-based curriculum change, I decided to try skills-based grading (discussed in this post). In short, this went to shit really fast.
A few problems:
1. Our antiquated grade book software is not conducive to this system. It is clunky at the best of times, inflexible and downright useless the majority of the time. (To be fair I got really spoiled my first year of teaching. That school's software was incredible.)
2. I am a firm believer in being as objective as possible when it comes to student grades. The wording of my skills-based grading rubric made it very subjective and I started being inconsistent in my grading. #nobueno
3. Since I was unfamiliar with this little system myself there was no way I was going to expect my maternity leave substitute (who already had to put up with way too many of my other hairbrained ideas) to try to do this. So this bird flew out the window in November and never came back.
I haven't decided if I'm going to stick with using points instead of weighted grades. Ultimately, though, I think that I was able to evaluate students' capabilities regarding these skills without this system. Skills-based grading just did not work the way I hoped it would.

Class Rewards Card
I kind of forgot about these... #badteacher. We never got in a routine with using these things. I'm going to chalk it up to being a very weird year and I'm going to give this another shot next year. So... kinda worked?

Class Rosters on a Lanyard
YES. A million times yes. This is a MUST. It was so damn handy to have this thing! I used it all the time! I really thought I would only use it during emergency drills, but it was so convenient to have a little class list just hanging out by the door. I referenced it very frequently, especially with my giant classes. This will be a staple in my room FOR-EV-ER because it totally worked.

Handout Baskets by the Door
It took a little training, but these were serious time savers! I think we're all trying to trim back on the amount of class time we spend doing tedious management tasks. This saved so much time distributing papers, especially since I had so many more this year with the use of the Smash Books. After a little training, this definitely worked.

What about you all? What awesome thing worked for you this year? Did you have any busts like I did?

Happy Summer!