Monday, December 28, 2015

My 2016 Goals

"Sometimes things will bend you,
But trust me you'll be fine,
I've been moving mountains that I once had to climb.
And life's not out to get you,
Despite the things you've been through,
Because what you give is what you get,
And it doesn't make sense to make do."
---Neck Deep, Gold Steps

               I have been thinking lately about how far I have come and all of the changes in my classroom in the past year and what this means for my teaching in the future. I am not a huge fan of "resolutions" but I do think that setting goals for the future is a good thing as an educator. I look at these goals as something I want to do. I am a big believer in having ideas, no matter how big and how impossible they may seem, and implementing them even if it's messy and doesn't work. In fact, I prefer if it's messy and doesn't work. Nothing is perfect and being able to make it better should be the goal of all educators. So, with this in mind, here is what I want to accomplish in the coming year.

     1. Turn my students into producers, not just consumers.

     Sit and get. Sage on the stage. I talk, they listen. If I don't tell them, they won't understand. But do they really listen? How do I know they understand? I have always had this dilemma as a teacher. Before the shift in education to get away from the traditional lecture style classroom, I have always been frustrated with this approach simply from the results I was seeing on a regular basis. Sure students could answer a multiple choice question, but to get them to explain something related to that question and they were coming up short. So I began to find ways to change this from group work (structured the Wolski Way!) to projects to anything I can find to get students to understand the material better. So when the trend in education began to turn towards having students actually do something, I was naturally on board with this idea. 
      I taught a class called Contemporary World Issues which really pushed me into making the students producers and not just consumers. The topics like technology, terrorism, and sustainability were so fluid and complex that to do a traditional class would be so time consuming and really impossible that I let go and gave more control of the learning to the students. I tried to make every unit have some sort of product at the end for them to demonstrate to me that they understood the topic. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it when I saw the results. They did beautiful work. And, to top it off, they even excelled on a traditional paper and pencil assessment at the end of the class. This was encouraging in a big way.
     Now I want to adopt this for both my AP American Government and my College Government classes too. I have started to do this a little bit in my AP class, but have to adjust it to the twice a week blended model that I am currently in right now. It is very doable, but it takes a lot of adjustments. One of the adjustments is to get students used to this approach. They love the sit and get, because it's easy and they know the game. They are very capable of being producers, and the world they are going into will demand this, so it is worth pushing them outside their comfort zones. 
     The hard part for me is finding the best way to accomplish this. It is worth the trial and error, the effort. My goal is to begin to introduce at least one "producer-like" project or assignment per unit for both of my classes this coming year. I have some of the ground work already done, I just have to make it happen and be consistent with it in a purposeful way.

     2. How do I know they know? The use of formative assessments

     How do we know when students "get" the material we are trying to convey to them? This should be and is the burning question on every teacher's mind when they think about assessing their students. I used to think that the end assessment was the best way to gear where the students were at any particular moment. But then I slowly realized that at that point, it's too late? How do you go back to parts of the unit when you have already moved on to the next unit? Enter formative assessments. I had the unique pleasure of receiving some Marzano training early on before Marzano became a household name in education. One of the biggest moments for me during the training was realizing I had to check for understanding much earlier than at the end of the unit. 
     I have been working on my formative assessments, especially in the new blended model. It's nowhere near where I want them to be, so this is a big goal for me this year. I also have to perfect my assessments. Is a 5 question MC that is self graded a good way to see if students know the material? What about a simple question that students have to write an answer? How do I keep track of 85 students plus another 65 in a timely fashion? This is what I have to work on in the coming year. I think a combination will be good. I am always up for suggestions, dear Constant Reader, so if you have any, let me know in the comment section. If I can get closer to perfecting this, it will go a long way to helping me and the students.

     3. Be the agent of change

     I know, I know, this phrase, in one way or another, gets tossed around a lot in education. I am taking this to heart however. I want to spread what I have witnessed in my teaching to others. I know much what I have done and have seen students do has the potential to help others. While there is a lot going on in education today that one could use to be pessimistic and/or angry about, I also think that there is a lot of potential too. You just have to make sure you constantly find it, use it, refine it and make it your own. 
     Hey look, standards are standards. There are many that have complained against the Common Core and I can understand some of their arguments, but while I have some reservations about any set of standards handed down to us as teachers from the political realm, they are still just standards. They are workable. You can still do great things with them. I think some of the magic in teaching is working with what you have and making the students rethink their own learning. I believe you can do awesome things like PBL, 20 Time and making students creators with any set of standards anyone gives you. 
     My goal then is to share, help, encourage, and entice people to get out of what is comfortable, what is safe and push themselves as educators. This philosophy is what I believe to be the future for education. We cannot wait for others to decide for us that what we are doing needs improvement. That is our job, should be our job and truly is what could make education great. <steps off soapbox, dropping mic!> I know this sounds weird, but after 23 years in the classroom I don't think I have perfected the art yet. But I believe I have made some headway and have done some pretty good things. I want to spread that to anyone and everyone who will listen and take risks in their classrooms and beyond. 

     I could have added more goals, but I think it's prudent to stick with just 3 because, well, I tend to try too much and these goals are pretty big in nature and scope. I will keep you updated as to how they are going, feel free to add a comment or two!