Friday, 20 September 2013

The First Three Weeks

I've been meaning to blog for a while now, but (excuses) I've been incredibly overwhelmed with school, extra-curricular activities, and life in general.  I'm looking forward to this week end because my school workload is fairly minimal.  I've been so overwhelmed that I actually forgot to pay my gas bill, and I NEVER forget to pay bills!  Usually I pay them weeks in advance. (Fortunately, it is only two days overdue.)

I figure that three weeks in is as good a time as any to reflect on the start up of a new school year.  Here the reflecting goes, class by class.

My Block A class is ENG3U1--and I love this class.  Despite being first thing in the morning, the students (mostly the overwhelming number of boys in the class) are full of energy.  Very rarely are there awkward silences.  The energy is mostly positive, but I did have to move a group from the back corner in an attempt to "keep them in check".

I am happy with the sequence of the first unit, which is an introduction to cultural texts.  We are exploring the ideas of identity and heritage by looking at poems, essays and short stories.  This unit really sets the stage for the course big ideas.  Students have utilized a variety of strategies to understand texts, and they have explored different perspectives about how people understand themselves.

Our first formative task was an analysis of a poem's main idea.  I spent a good ten minutes on each paragraph giving the students' feedback about idea development, quotation integration, MLA formatting, and clarity. Ten minutes on each paragraph didn't seem like much, then I realized that it took me FIVE hours to provide feedback.  I didn't want the time I spent to be for naught, so I dedicated some class time to having the students log into their UG Cloud accounts and read my feedback.  Then, they had to email me their stars" (things they did well) and their "wishes" (things they wish they had done and will do for next time).  Thanks to Scott Jordan for this activity.  I think, though, the five hours was worth it.  I am expecting strong essays next week.

Just this week, we spent some time setting up our blogs.  We haven't actually begun blogging yet, because I want to spend some time looking at the importance of being a good digital citizen.  I'm working on a lesson to make this engaging for the students.  I don't want it to be a lecture of "do this" and "don't do this".

My Block B class is CHM4E1 (Adventures in World History)--and I love this class.  The class population is incredibly varied: a couple of girls, mostly boys; a student from the Transitions program; four students from the ASD program; a student with an EA dedicated to him; a student whose other classes are at the university preparation level.  Despite this incredible variance, the class gels really well.  I regularly see students helping each other with the course ideas and with the technology, which is a bit touchy right now.  In fact, today, one of the students was VERY overwhelmed because he couldn't find what he wanted using a Google search.  He came to my desk and was clearly agitated.  I had helped with something else earlier and could sense that it was a bad day and things just weren't going well for him.  I suggested that he take a break from the work--go for a walk, play on the Internet.  Another student jumped in and offered to help him come up with some new search terms and show him some websites that worked for her.  She completely got him calmed down and focused.  I loved that students came up with a solution and they worked together.  I wasn't needed--and I was glad.  Community is really starting to come together in the room.

In terms of curriculum, I had to make some changes within the first week of school.  The first unit hinged on access to technology, and because of delays with the refresh, computers wouldn't be available.  I switched the first two units around, because the second unit about pirates didn't require access to technology in the same way.  Gladiators are going to be explored as the second unit now.  As an entire class, students are going to create a website about gladiators to share with the Grade 11 World History classes.  Direct teaching by me will be minimal.  The students are going to direct their study of gladiators and share their learning and learn from each other via the creation of the class website.  I am really excited to start this unit next week.

My Block C class is CHC2P1--and I don't love this class...yet.  I will fully admit that I am lost.  In a previous blog post (here), I detailed how I was going to approach the first unit.  The students were going to create a website, similar to CHM4E1, only theirs would be about World War I.  Unfortunately, because of technological delays, I have decided to move the website task to the second unit.  I have high hopes that the self-directed approach of creating a website, as well as the topic (World War II) will engage the students and change the tone of the classroom.

No matter what, I cannot engage this class.  There are maybe five students (out of twenty-two) who actually want to be engaged and learn.  With the remainder of the class, it seems like history (and by extension me) is a complete inconvenience to their day.  And I feel badly about this.  Whole class instruction is not effective, nor is independent work.  The best success I have is when I work with small groups of students, but that means most of the class isn't engaged in the work they're supposed to be doing.

Because five students were absent yesterday, due to football, they weren't able to do the work.  I utilized 204 and Resource to get the students caught up.  I am hoping that this is a good way to introduce a regular use of the supports.  I sometimes think some students view being sent to 204 or Resource as punishment.  I am hoping that because the first time it was used was solely because they missed class, not because they needed help or were bad, will make it easier to accept being sent there to work.

I am hoping that with some hard work on my behalf, which will require a re-imagining of ways to encourage student learning, we can get on track to a decent semester.  Something needs to change, because I can't handle the complete uselessness and ineffectiveness I feel during the period and afterwards.

While I would have rather had three great starts to a new school year, I am optimistic that at the end of January, I will be able to say that all three classes ended up being a positive experience.

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