I have written before about what awesome students I had this semester. It was my first attempt at college teaching, and I was nervous about how to approach everything–my courses, my students, my grading.
I was so close to falling into the trap that I fell into when I first began teaching, and simply reverting to doing what I’d seen done. The first week assignments were due, when a few kids’ were missing, I almost got mad, and gave them zeroes, and had a serious meeting with them. You just can’t not turn in work in college!
But, instead of deducting points or getting mad…I asked myself: what the heck would that achieve? Do I want these students doing that to their future students? What is the point!?
So, I just talked to them. I tried to understand why their work wasn’t done, and I tried to help them understand why deadlines matter in our course. I gave them the first second chance they’d gotten in college. And when they turned in their work, I was so glad–it was amazingly high quality.
There were other ways I modified our course, too. Although according to the course design, all of the students’ long-term assignments–writer’s notebooks, lesson plans, major projects–were slated to come in at the end of the semester, for one bombshell grade, I asked that they turn them in in chunks so I could give them frequent, ungraded feedback. I didn’t want to wait 16 weeks to discover they’d been way off track the whole semester. The students were grateful for some of the only formative feedback they’d received while in college.
I asked them to make their notebooks more authentic, their responses to our assigned books and articles more honest, and their research and data analysis more realistic. I gave a lot of positive, specific feedback in return for their risk-taking, asked them lots of questions to keep them thinking, and in turn, I saw them begin to take more risks in their thinking and writing and teaching. We built a community of teachers who questioned the status quo, and I could see their growth.
I’m so thankful that I kept my workshop values in place when I began teaching preservice teachers.
I asked for authenticity, honesty, and dialogue when we engaged in our study of books and articles and our students. In return, I gave specific, frequent feedback, the opportunity for revision of thinking and writing, and time for students to talk with one another and with me. Keeping these non-negotiables in place has helped me craft a classroom and a course that I’ve enjoyed teaching and that has allowed my students to grow (although I already have lots of ideas for improving the course next semester!).
We ended our course with a final class period of presentations of the students’ semester-long projects. Students gave one another feedback, and I wrote beside them, writing in note cards as I’d seen Penny Kittle do in our summer course at UNH.
This note from a student in her writer’s notebook proves to me that all students, no matter their age–from kindergarteners to the 21-year-olds I teach–crave the time and attention and care and respect of their teachers. We should keep that at the heart of our teaching, always.
I know, like many of you, that I’ll be using winter break to rethink and re-vision my teaching for 2017. I hope that we’ll all create goals and routines that keep workshop values at the core of our teaching–values of risk-taking, time for talk, revision, reflection, authenticity, dialogue, honesty, and all else that encourages our students’ growth in the most important of ways.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! How will you be spending your time away from school? Please share in the comments.