Sunday, February 24, 2008

Finding a Vision

I'm in a strange place with teaching right now.

On the one hand, there've been several reminders lately of how much work I still need to do at classroom management. I'm back to the place I was at the end of last school year, bemoaning all the situations that happen where I don't do anything, or do the wrong thing too late, because I don't actually know what I should do in response to that student. It's frustrating because just a few weeks ago I had a series of days where I felt like I was totally "on my game" and able to think quickly enough to make intelligent choices in classroom management. I started to see it, really, I swear I did! Where'd it go?

On the other hand, I've been starting to really get a clear vision of what I want my classroom to be. I have all these ideas I've been working on, introducing pieces of into the classroom, and generally spending a lot of time behind-the-scenes working out the details of how and why for everything from assessment to pedagogy. It's like I've been walking around blind in a maze for the last 3 years, occasionally stumbling into the right thing, and then suddenly I left the maze and got a chance to view it from above.

On the gripping hand, however, I realize that those sorts of visions are only part one of trying to get better at this teaching thing. I'm good at big-picture vision, and dreaming up interesting ideas. I'm also good at reflection, seeing where I went wrong. The problem is, I'm not so good at translating those two things into actually doing all the nitty-gritty work right and making the right decision in the moment. 'Great idea, poor implementation.' That's me.

I used to call this "follow-through" but that's not quite it. I got follow-through: I come up with an idea, I do it, I keep fussing with it. What I don't have is "not-starting-over-again-when-the-going-gets-tough", aka persistence. As nice as all these visions for next year are, they don't help me do a good job for the next 4 months. Rather than give up on working through this tough, winter stretch and planning how I'll do it better next time around, I need to be focusing on how I can bring all these ideas and realizations into the classroom now.

To that end, I've been giving myself assignments. These are specific things that I can work on, have a finite end point, and I can use in the classroom right now. Currently, my assignments to myself include:
  • Fixing presentations. Less text, more images. Less bullets, more story. Seems to be in vogue around the ednet right now.
  • Organizing test questions. My big plan for next year is to introduce an assessment scheme modeled on Dan Meyer's, but adapted for my standards, content, and students. To that end, I need a reliable bank of test questions on every standard I teach, organized by substandard (WHII9a,9b,9c, etc) and tagged by difficulty (still working on that part). So, every time I write a quiz/test for the rest of the year, I'm going back and tagging questions, adding new ones, and generally trying to do this as-I-go rather than all-summer-long. It's actually making me do a lot more thinking about the questions I write, which is good, because I hate writing tests and slack off on them usually.
  • Including processing/transformative assignments in class time. I wrote about this a little before, but it's become a big thing for me. Any time I plan a lesson and I think 'there's not enough time, have them do it as homework' it's a sign that it's time to reevaluate the lesson, make sure I'm keeping it simple, and make time.
I'd been meaning to write about some more of my stuff that's worked lately, and post some good links, but I've been ignoring the internet lately. I'll be back, don't worry.

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