Friday, May 22, 2015

How was your year?

Today marks the last day of my 3rd year of teaching and the end of the 2014-2015 school year. I thought I would take a little time and reflect on what went well, what was challenging, and what I hope to do next school year. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this school year. Post a link to your blog or a brief overview in the comments if you'd like.

What went well...

  • Classroom organization - I was assigned a very small classroom and it really forced me to be on top of my organization game. I also tried to keep the room as clutter-free as possible. To that end, I used milk crates with a hanging folder for each student for their in-progress and completed/graded work (for those assignments not on Google Classroom). I also used tables instead of traditional desks. These had the added benefit of forcing students to converse with each other, an absolutely crucial element of an ESL classroom.
  • Technology Integration - I think just saying "Google Classroom" is sufficient here. What an invaluable service. I'm looking forward to using the new features and can't wait to see other improvements in the future. Some other "frequent flyer" online resources included Quizlet and Padlet.
  • Separate Content & Language Objectives - This year I focused on posting language objectives with words, phrases, or sentence stems that my students could use to succeed at the content objective that day.
  • Cooperative Learning Groups - I sat down with test score and anecdotal data on every student enrolled in my classes this year and grouped them so there would be high, low, and mid range scores in each group. This led to groups really being able to help each other and learn from each other on a daily basis. It also increased my students' sense of classroom community and mutual respect.

What was challenging...

  • Small classroom - although I had an easy time using physical proximity to manage student behavior, I have to believe that some of the behavior outbursts my students had weren't helped by the small space. If a student needed more space to be isolated, I didn't have it. I was lucky to have a great classroom neighbor, but I found myself longing for some extra space that would help my students feel less like sardines.
  • Huge gaps in ability levels - I had one class in particular that was very small (7 students) but had students who were at absolutely opposite ends of the English language proficiency spectrum. This proved to be extremely challenging to keep the higher-level students engaged while offering tons of extra support for the lower-level students.
  • Attendance issues - A few of my more knucklehead students had so many absences and tardies this year that it caused them to fail classes and, for one or two, repeat the grade they are in currently. The biggest challenge in this regard is that these students are so intelligent when they want to be. I know that sounds awful, but these kids have so much potential that they choose to ignore.

Thoughts for the year ahead...

  • Communication - I'm teaching summer school again this year, and I'm finally going to get my feet wet with Remind during the summer school session. I really want to increase how often I'm communicating with students and give myself a tool to safely reach kids outside of the classroom.
  • This is not my classroom - I started reading and listening to what Nicholas Provenzano, The Nerdy Teacher, has to say about the classroom (and everything in it) being for the students. I moved my teacher desk out of my room today and I'm only going to add one extra table to my room. The leftover space is going to be left there for the students to repurpose. If they want to have a spot to relax on a bean bag chair, I'll help them fund raise for bean bag chairs. If they just want it open, I'll leave it open. My approach for the next year is that everything in the classroom is for the students. The tables are theirs, the chairs are theirs, the floor is theirs. I am in the classroom for them and I think they need more choice of what happens in the classroom.
  • Make-up work - I'm a big picture thinker and when I get an idea for something, I make it happen pretty much immediately. The idea devours me in that moment and I have to do everything in my power to make that idea come to fruition. Even this blog post is one of those, "I should do an end of year reflection post" thought so here I am writing it until I'm finished. Sometimes this means I'll get an idea for a project or assignment, I'll give the assignment or the project, and then I'll have a blank look on my face when a student misses class and then says, "Hey Mr. Stern, what did we do yesterday." My plan for what happens when students miss class is not the best. This year I kept a binder with assignments, but the students would always have to come and ask me for another copy or I would forget to put extra copies here or there. Regardless, that is one of my biggest goals for my class. I want students to have zero excuses for missing work. If they miss class, they need to know exactly where to look and they need to be able to rely on that place always having what they need when they need it.
That's about it for now. There is still much to consider as I plan for the next school year this summer. The 2014-2015 school year has gone by so quickly and it's almost tough to say whether it was great or not great or whatever. I just know that I had fun with my students and I learned a lot and they did too. I know this year has made me a better teacher and I look forward to serving another great bunch of students in 2015-2016.

Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on the 2014-2015 school year or link to a blog post you write about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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