The Value of Reflecting

Can you believe that it’s almost the end of the school year?  I’m sure some of you are already out of school!  Here in NJ, we have about 2-2.5 weeks left this year and then it’s summer!  But summer doesn’t mean no work.  I will be spending a good portion of the summer reflecting on my first year teaching high school English, going over what worked and what didn’t.  I have been jotting down notes all year, what I want to do differently and what I want to continue next year.

It’s important to reflect on our teaching.  No one should be teaching the same lessons, year in and year out, without change.  Students change, times change, technology changes.  As teachers, we need to evolve, too.  My department spent a few days earlier this year beginning to align our curriculum with the Common Core standards.  We were pretty well aligned but just needed to work on the new curriculum document.  This, however, inspired me to rework my units at the beginning of the year.  I team teach with history and the NJ world history curriculum has also changed slightly, starting now at a later date.  This gives me a little more wiggle room and I am planning to start my year with a thematic unit based on Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth.  I am so excited about this.

Taking time to reflect makes me a better teacher.  It makes me seek out new ideas and keep learning.  I am a perpetual student (and if I could afford it, I would be a student forever!).  I need to reflect and research and learn and grow, or I am bored!

Will you be reflecting on your best practices and what you can improve this summer?  What are some ideas you have for next year?

Update on My Daily Schedule

As many of you know, my schedule was turned upside down this year.  Instead of teaching two classes for 2 hr blocks of time, I now teach 4 classes for 50 minutes each.  I also went from having 50 students to over 100.

Needless to day, it’s been a rough adjustment.  I tried teaching all four classes the same concept each day but I quickly felt like I was losing my mind.  It was too difficult to remember what I said or did in each class and by 8th period I found myself constantly asking the class, “Did I already mention this?  Did we do this?”

It just didn’t work.

I then switched my schedule around and made the decision to teach reading to my first two classes and writing to my third and fourth classes of the day, alternating every three days.  This way, I teach 2 lessons each day and I keep my sanity.  It also allows me to see what works and what doesn’t, making adjustments that day and also for the next set of classes, 3 days later.  I’ve found myself making a lot of adjustments on the fly, to individualize for each class.  With close to 30 students in most classes, it’s a lot.  I have been grading a lot more and devoting a lot more of my own time to assessment and grading.  Not a lot of fun!

On the plus side, I do love my students.  We are currently reading Tuck Everlasting and learning how to annotate text. I love pushing their thinking and holding them to my extremely high expectations. In writing, we just began personal essays, one of my favorite units of study. I am loving the variety of each day and the fact that I am not constantly teaching the same thing.

I am including my read-aloud each day. We usually read to begin each period (though in one class, we conclude the lesson by reading). I read for between 10-15 minutes each day and have only missed a few days since school started. We finished When You Reach Me and are currently reading Also Known As Harper. I do find myself going a little crazy some days, reading the same parts of the book out loud over and over, but I find that each class moves at its own pace so I rarely repeat in a day.

I do admit, I am struggling with independent reading. I begin each class with independent reading, in place of the typical do-now. That usually gives me students between 5-7 minutes of independent reading. And on reading days they almost always read independently during their active participation. But on writing days I struggle to get reading in. I find myself encouraging the kids to “steal” a minute of reading whenever they finish their work or have nothing else to do. While I wish I had more time to devote to independent reading what I am doing seems to be working so far. The kids are reading and I got a lot of positive feedback at conferences. It just bugs me because I know they could be doing even more if I had the minutes to devote to reading.

Eighty or ninety minutes. That would be perfect for Language Arts. I feel like I would be able to get so much more done if I had an hour and a half of language arts instead of 50 minutes. And I want fewer students. It’s overwhelming right now and I find myself tempted to change assignments and assessments so that they won’t take me hours upon hours to grade.

But so far, I’m making the best of it and my students seem to be handling it well. It just frustrates me when I look at the work I would have gotten done up to this point with more time in the day. I’m weeks behind in my plans from last year. But we do what we can, right?

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