Posted in Uncategorized

Are We Teaching to Students or Time?

Things we buy these days seem to come in nice, neatly wrapped, small packages.  Some companies have tried to make their big packages even smaller.  Gum that used to come in long packages now comes in small, square boxes.  Cell phones are shrinking in size too.  Everything seems to be made to fit into pockets or small spots just right.  While it would be nice to do the same thing in the classroom, it doesn’t always work out.

I’ve tried to have units fit into blocks of time between breaks so that we can end a unit before going on a long break.  I used to think that students couldn’t retain information from before break.  So, my goal was to force units into chunks of time rather than fit the units to the students.  I’ve now realized that timing doesn’t always matter.  Sure, it can be too much to expect students to remember a bunch of facts and information following a long break of two to three weeks, but if a unit continues following a break without needing to recall a lot of minute details, it’s just fine.

My current STEM unit on Energy is divided into three sections.  While we finished the first two sections before our Thanksgiving Break, we still have one more section and project to do once we return in December.  However, the students aren’t expected to remember all the equations from the first project.  This final project is a bit of a standalone, although, it is still related to the topic of energy.  Is it bad to continue a unit after a break?  Should I put more effort into finishing units prior to breaks?  Does it even matter?

The neuroscience research tells us that students will remember things that are engaging, relevant, or linked to prior knowledge.  If we expect or need students to remember facts or information, we must teach it in a way that will allow them to connect with it in some manner.  If we don’t teach it in such a meaningful way than we should not expect our students to retain it.  Retention isn’t about memorization.  It’s about purpose and connection.  So, if we teach our units in engaging and meaningful ways, than it’s okay for them to overlap breaks.

If my gut is telling me that it’s okay to have units of study continue following a break, then why do I feel like it’s a bad thing?  Why do I feel like I need to cram everything into a time period?  Because my colleagues are telling me this.  My history department chair is trying to tell me to beware of units that continue after a break.  He said that the students will be lost and reteaching will be necessary.  Really?  I’ve had units go long after a break and have had very little problem with retention or students being lost.  So am I crazy or does it come down to teaching practices?

I say, if we are teaching in a way that best helps our students grow and develop, then the time period of units and starting and ending dates have no correlation.  We can begin and end units when we know or feel like we know our students have mastered the skills.  If it takes more time than originally planned to help our students comprehend the concepts and meet the objectives, then we must provide our students with the time.  We shouldn’t move onto new concepts or material until our students are ready and prepared.  Effective teachers teach to their students and not the calendar.

Posted in Uncategorized

Bringing Individuality Back to Education

With the implementation of the Common Core and scripted curricula across the country, some teachers are finding it difficult to bring their own unique spin on teaching into the classroom.  Schools are mandating that so much time be spent on one thing before moving onto the other that teachers aren’t able to help their students fully comprehend and understand concepts and skills.  Although some teachers have a creative way of teaching poetry or fiction writing, they are unable to share it with their students because if they aren’t saying the certain line listed in their lesson plans at the right time, they risk losing their job.  However, the real losers in all of this are the students.  The students are the ones suffering.  Some students need more process time to understand a concept while others need more time to practice a skill before mastering it.  When teachers are forced to whip through lessons and their curriculum as if it’s a list, the students lose the chance to learn and grow.  Problem solving and critical thinking takes time and you can’t script time.  Schools are creating machines that can do and say the same thing like programmed robots.  The media keeps telling us how America is not producing enough engineers and scientists but yet our schools are teaching students in the factory model.  Creativity isn’t found in a script.  Some students can’t think for themselves or solve problems in unique ways because they were never given the tools to learn how to do that.  They may know how to read parts of books but can they transfer those skills to books they want to read?  We need to let our students explore, learn, fail, relearn, think for themselves, change things, play with things, and solve problems in new and innovative ways.  We need to bring individuality back into the education realm.

Today during my humanities class, the students began working on the I-Search research process regarding our term-long unit on the Canaan community.  The students brainstormed and chose topics today in class.  They then crafted a paragraph explaining why they chose their topic, what they know about their topic, and how they learned what they already know.  Before letting the students get to work, we discussed paragraph parts and had the students explain what it takes to create an effective paragraph.  There was little for us to say as the teachers because the students already know so much.  We had them explain how to do it.  Then we let them get to work.  While most of the students crafted simplistic paragraphs which started with something like, “My topic is…” one student felt as though that model was too confining.  He wanted to take a different approach so as to be engaged with his topic.  He crafted a more creative and unique paragraph with very different opening and closing sentences.  He wanted to bring a personal flair to the assignment.  In some schools, this style of work would not be condoned and he would have had to rewrite his paragraph according to the requirements.  However, genuine learning and growing comes about when students are engaged in the learning process and take ownership.  This student didn’t want to write like everyone else.  He wanted to write the way he writes.  He wanted to show his true potential.

In my sixth grade class, the only wrong way to do something is to not do anything at all.  Choice is a key ingredient to student buy-in and crucial to the learning process.  We must allow students to find their niche and be engaged with what is being taught or learned.  If we had stifled that student’s creativity, he might no longer be excited about researching his topic.  Once a student no longer cares about what he or she is learning, we’ve lost them.  Let’s not lose anymore students to the factory model of education.  Let’s help our students find their inner student and allow them to be who they really are.  Are we teachers or floor managers?  Let’s take stand for real learning and be different so that our students can be who they are meant to be– Themselves.

Posted in Uncategorized

Time vs Goals: Does either really win?

When it comes to time, there seems to be very little of it.  I feel as though I’m always running out of time or time gets away from me.  So, where does it go?  Why do I never seem to have enough time in the classroom with my students?  How about giving teachers one extra hour a day to do with as they see fit?  They can use it with their students or to plan and get work done.  That would be awesome.  Sometimes I feel like an extra hour would be all I might need to check everything off my classroom To Do list.

Today in humanities, our goal was to have the students discuss what makes a strong opening for a story.  My intent was to have the students get into their reading groups and discuss some guiding questions before reading and analyzing the various beginnings their peers created.  I wanted them to drive the discussion and be in charge of their own learning.  While this does take more time than teacher-centered instruction, the students own their learning when they are driving it.  However, when I chatted with my co-teacher this morning about our agenda for the day, she reminded me that we also wanted to leave some time for the students to apply the skills learned through their discussions to create their own effective openings for a story they had already begun.  So, her suggestion was to have us as the teachers guide the discussions and keep them more focused and shorter so that they still have time to write on their own.  While this idea makes sense, I was disappointed that we didn’t have time for the students to drive the groups themselves.  The questions I ask and what I say may not always be the direction in which the students want to go and I worry that what I say and ask might stifle their creativity.

As always, time won this battle and we lead the discussions on how to create effective openings.  I asked the students some questions and provided them with some insight into the art of creating a great beginning.  They added some wisdom to the discussion and some fine conversations were had.  A few students debated whether one sentence was long enough for a great opening to be created.  They went back and forth a few times.  That was pretty cool.  Everyone in the group seemed to understand the ingredients needed for an effective opening to be created.  While a similar solution did come about and the students still had time to do a little writing on their own, I wonder if a discussion not lead by me would have been more fruitful.  Not every student spoke in the discussion.  Was it because they were worried about what I might think?  Were they afraid to be wrong?  If I hadn’t lead the discussion would those quiet students have been more vocal?  Would the students have brought up ideas we didn’t discuss if I wasn’t driving the conversation?  Did we need to leave time for the students to practice applying the skills learned today?  Their homework is to continue working on the piece they started in class.  So, if they are going to work on it  tonight anyway, did they need extra class time to get stuff done?  All great questions which I don’t necessarily have answers to.  What I do know is that time is always a factor.  I want more time with my students.  I want to allow my students to grow and develop in a way that works for them.  I want my instruction to be student-centered.  I realize that some mini-lessons do need to be done in a teacher-directed format, but not everything.  I worry that at times I am not best helping my students.  If only time was replenishable like lives in the Super Mario Brothers video game, the original one for the Nintendo, of course.

Posted in Uncategorized

Differentiation in Action

When I first started teaching, I thought differentiation was some fancy new technique for teaching.  I didn’t realize it was something effective teachers were already doing.  Good teaching involves meeting the students where they are and challenging them to grow and develop as thinkers and learners.  Some students need more support while others need less scaffolding.  Great teachers need to know their students well in order to help each of them individually.  Teaching is not a factory job.  We are not mass producing students that can all do the same thing.  We need each student to reach his or her full potential, and to do this we must individualize and differentiate the curriculum.  What we do to help one student understand fractions may be very different from what we will do to help another student comprehend the same content.  We are educational guides along our students’ path towards understanding and enlightenment.

Today during STEM class, my students were preparing for Friday’s Science Fair while also finishing their Figure Me Out poster project.  Both of these assignments are due on Friday of this week.  They’ve been working on these projects since late October when we began our Energy Unit.  Some of the boys still needed to write up their lab reports while others were testing their investigations.  A few students worked on designing and organizing their display boards while other students worked on their Figure Me Out poster.  Every student has a different investigation regarding thermal energy and every student is creating a Figure Me Out poster that provides information about them.  Each assignment is tailored to meet the individual needs of the students.  Each assignment allows for student choice, which fosters engagement in the learning process.

When the students had questions, they asked each other for guidance.  My co-teacher and I assessed student work as needed, but we were very much hands-off.  Our classroom is student-centered.  The boys work at a pace that best suits their needs as learners.  Some boys work best lying down while others need to be standing.  A few of our students sit at tables to work.  Some boys need to work in small groups while others need it to be very quiet.  Some students were able to choose their own science fair investigation topics while others needed support to brainstorm ideas.  A few students had no problem creating their own math problems regarding numbers related to their life; however, some boys struggled a bit with this and needed to see some examples.  Every student was supported in the way he needed to be for success to sprout.

Today was a cornucopia of work in the classroom.  Every student was doing his own thing yet working on the same assignments.  They learned from each other, helped one another, and accomplished much work.  Some areas of the room were more quiet than others, but every student was on task because they were doing work, which allowed them to grow and mature as students.  To be a great teacher, I must differentiate the curriculum for my students.  Not every boy can handle work of the same caliber or at the same speed.  I know that and so I mix things up.  If you were to visit my STEM class, you might look at it as chaotic and distracting.  To my boys, our classroom is a place of support and learning.

Posted in Uncategorized

Ever Have an Off Day?

I pride myself on being a very focused, committed, and positive person.  I’m always able to see the bright side of even difficult situations.  As an educator, I’m able to be on all the time.  My mantra is, “Today’s the best day of my life.”  My students know that and respect that about me.  I try to be a beacon of good in their often storm-filled seas.  It’s challenging at times.  Especially when things in my personal life get in the way.  While I try not to let external factors influence my attitude and outward appearance, they can sometimes seep through my cracks and find their way out.  Today was one of those days.

My son, who is an eighth grader at my school, was late to first period.  Although that’s not a big deal, it’s been a common occurrence recently.  We’ve talked about it at home and have tried to help him brainstorm some strategies to help.  While I knew it was bound to happen again, I was hoping it wouldn’t happen the very next day.  Then, I found out that he’s also had some struggles in his dorm.  It’s been a great year for him up to now.  However, I also know that Thanksgiving Break is approaching and the term just ended.  He’s tired and when tired he can make poor decisions.  I get that.  However, when I found all of this out today, I was in a mental state of vulnerability.  Why, I couldn’t tell you, but I took on the news very personally and became frustrated and upset.  I tried to hide it the best I could, but it was hard.

During STEM class today, I wasn’t as focused and dedicated to the students as I would have liked to have been.  At times, I didn’t remind them to ask their peers for help and instead I provided them answers that they could have easily found on their own.  I also didn’t respond well to a student when he asked what he should do since we were unable to acquire his materials.  I told him, “Alter your investigation or come up with a new idea.”  He didn’t seem to like this.  He was very frustrated because he had committed a lot of time to his idea already and didn’t want to have to start over.  I could have been more supportive.  Some other students were not as focused as they could have been and instead of asking them what they were doing I simply told them, “I’m wondering if you are all as focused as you could be.”  I felt like that wasn’t the best response.  I felt off during the entire double-block today.  I feel as though I could have been more helpful and compassionate but also more inspiring.  I want my students to ask questions and probe deeply for answers.  I want them to be problem solvers and fixers.  I want them to work independently while also supporting their peers.  I feel as though today wasn’t my best work.  I feel like I could have given much more.  Had I not allowed my family issues get in the way, I could have been a more effective educator today.

During lunch, I reflected on the class and realized that I wanted to try and right some of my wrongs.  So, I apologized to the student whom I shot down and spoke to a colleague about getting him the materials he needs.  We’re going to be able to make it work for him so that he can conduct his original investigation.  He seemed excited about that.  I have also been trying to let go of the personal issues plaguing me.  I spoke to my son and told him about these issues and tried not to make a big deal out of them.  I want him to know that he will have consequences but that we will also continue to support him through this tough time before break.  He seemed to get it.  Those actions helped, but I still regret allowing negative emotions to get in the way of my goal of being the best possible teacher for my students.  Clearly, this is an area I need to work on.  Maybe, checking email during the class day is not the best idea.  But, what if I miss something important or crucial?  Perhaps I can just change my thought and put things aside.  Whatever needs to be done, I will work at doing it so that I can be the most effective teacher my students need.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Need for More Outdoor Education

During our advisory period last week, we talked to the students about Howards Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences.  We explained what each intelligence was and asked them to select their strengths and weaknesses in the various areas.  Almost all of my advisees noted a deficiency in the naturalist intelligence.  Why is that?  Most of my boys seemed very confident in the other areas, but their comfort level with the natural world around them was very low.  What is causing that issue?  My theory is that technology is literally bombarding us daily, causing our students to have limited time to explore the outdoors.  They would much rather play computer games or update their Facebook status rather than explore forests.

To combat the negligible score for our boys in the area of outdoor education, our sixth grade takes a yearly trip to this very cool place in Hancock, NH called the Sargent Center.  The students learn to build shelters with what they find in nature, start a fire without a flame or match, conquer their fears, work as a team, and identify edible plants in the wild.  It’s an awesome experience that helps educate our students in a time driven by screens and data.  The students have no access to screens or technology while we are there.  They interact with one another, solve problems, and have lots of fun.

This week, our we took our sixth grade class down to the Sargent Center for an adventure the boys will never forget.  The trip began with some hiking and team building exercises to help the students understand how to work as one unit.  They also learned about their eyes and how humans have night vision but that it takes longer to kick in.  They even got to experience the rhodopsin effect.  The boys were entranced.  They loved exploring their understanding of the world around them.  Our second day included a high ropes course expedition where the students looked their fear of heights head on and pushed through it.  Each of the students challenged himself to do something hard.  I even tried a new element that I have always been afraid of.  I told myself it was too difficult.  This year, I did it.  I overcame adversity.  The boys were so proud of themselves.  They cheered on their classmates and supported our family.  It was a life changing experience for many of them.  That afternoon they learned how to survive in the wild by building shelters to protect themselves from the elements.  They had so much fun working in groups to create small tents made of wood and leaves.  It was so much fun to watch them solve problems and listen to their effective communication.  They also started a fire using only what they could find in the woods.  They learned about bow drills, flint and steel, and tinder.  They created a roaring fire from a small coal they created on their own as a team.  It was awesome watching their faces as the fire came to life from almost nothing.  That evening we enjoyed a campfire complete with stories, songs, and s’mores.  The boys learned to entertain themselves without technology.  Our final day included orienteering and geocaching.  The students learned how to read a map, use a compass, and locate treasure using a GPS unit.  It was a beneficial and phenomenal experience for our boys.  They learned a lot and had fun without screens.

After our time at the Sargent Center, my co-teacher and I realized the value of educating our students on the outdoors.  Not only is it a valuable skill to know how to start a fire or survive in nature without technology, but they were solving problems and learning by doing without direct instruction from teachers.  They were each other’s teachers.  Many schools today that are driven by the Common Core and a mandated curriculum are turning out machines that do what they are told.  Students are not learning how to solve problems on their own or to think creatively.  Heck, many of our students don’t know how to survive without technology.  If we want to advance our world, we need to change the way we educate our students.  We need students going outside, exploring, playing, and learning about the world around them.  We need them to be able to figure things out on their own without adult supervision or direction.  Schools need to include some sort of outdoor education experience within their curriculum if we are to genuinely prepare our students for lives in a global society.

While places like the Sargent Center exist around the world, schools can do the same types of activities on their own.  They require little funding and planning but do mandate time.  Time must be devoted to helping students learn about the natural world that exists outside the confines of the classroom.  They need to learn to do hard things and survive using very little or they won’t survive on their own after they leave our schools.  If we want our world to thrive, then we must provide our students with opportunities and practice in nature.  We need to get our students outside playing and exploring.  Outdoor education needs to be must-have, non-negotiable part of every school’s curriculum.

Posted in Uncategorized

My Flowering STEM Class

As a teacher, I sometimes find it difficult to challenge students to want to do difficult things.  While some students are intrinsically motivated to exceed expectations, many students seem content with just doing work to get it done.  I’ve have had success with the engagement route by providing choice to the students.  That seems to work for many of them because they get fooled into doing great work as it is challenging in a fun way.  However, there always seems to be one or two students who don’t fall for my trickery and subterfuge to make learning fun.  They still see it as work.

Today was a turning point.  For our current STEM unit on energy, my co-teacher designed a Figure Me Out poster project in which they need to create a poster with questions about themselves.  The answers are in the form of mathematical equations and problems.  They have a required list of mathematical items which must be in their problems somewhere, but we never told them how many problems they needed to have or what the questions have to include.  They could ask questions about their birth date, address, phone number, age, shoe size, number of pets, etc.  The information they provide is limitless.  While this is a project that requires some serious problems solving and critical thinking, it’s not the most haptic learning opportunity.  I was worried that some of the boys would just complete the task to get it done without challenging themselves.  Boy, did they prove me wrong.

As they worked on their posters today in class, they brainstormed questions to ask and began devising complicated math equations.  One student broke up his birthdate into three parts.  The equation he crafted to reveal the day of his birth included a convoluted math problem which required the correct use of PEMDAS to solve.  The first go-round, I messed it up entirely because I wasn’t properly utilizing the order of operations.  Wow!  He really tried to push himself to showcase his true potential as a math student.  One of the students that we struggled with earlier in the year regarding his effort and ability to work effectively rose to the occasion today and even surprised himself a bit.  Not only did he want to ask a question about his birthdate and age, but he wanted to figure out and then have students calculate how many days old he is.  He even took into consideration the leap years within his lifetime.  He is so attuned to the details.  He has really been challenging himself to highlight his ability to meet and exceed our expectations.  So awesome!

Several other students also really challenged themselves to create higher-order thinking problems and questions regarding this project.  They wanted to show-off what they can really do while also making some challenging puzzles for their peers.  How cool is that!  The boys are learning to solve problems on their own while demonstrating their fluent understanding of the graded objectives.  So, why is this?  What is making even our underachieving students challenge themselves?  Is it because the project allows for choice?  Is it because they love sharing information about themselves and so it’s a no-brainer?  Are they smitten with this project because it is novelty and something different?  What is it about this project that is engaging our students so well?

I could hypothesize, but whatever it is, it’s working.  They love creating a math poster all about themselves.  I can’t wait until the boys have a chance to test out each other’s equations before we depart for Thanksgiving Break.  That should be super fun.

So, the moral of this garden story about STEM and flowers is that sometimes, trying something new and allowing students the freedom to choose is all you need to hook a class and make them want to challenge themselves and rise to the occasion.

Posted in Uncategorized

My AMLE Conference Experience

To grow as an educator, my desire to learn must never be stymied or lessened.  In fact, I need to challenge myself more and more each day if I want to be the best teacher for my students.  At the start of my career as an educator, I didn’t really know what I wanted out of teaching, and so I didn’t take advantage of professional development opportunities unless they were mandated by my school.  Then, as I came into myself as a teacher, I started realizing my potential and goals.  This is when I started to really develop as a teacher.  I assessed my strengths and weaknesses and found a way to grow my strengths and allow my weaknesses to become assets.  I read books, talked to other teachers, attended conferences, presented at conferences, and began blogging.  I began hunting for knowledge in order to become a better teacher.  While it can be challenging at times to self-assess and set new learning targets, it is the only way I can effectively hone my craft as a teacher.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I can become a teacher leader.  I want to bring about positive change in my school.  I want other teachers to want to grow themselves and their craft.  I want our teachers to be able to effectively engage our students and help them want to learn and grow.  I want to change the culture of my school so that as teachers we are students too.  So, to help me figure out how to properly go about accomplishing these lofty goals, I attended the annual AMLE Conference in Nashville, Tennessee last week.  It was three days of growth, learning, and fun.

I learned that to bring about change, I need to model that change for others.  I need to be a cheerleader for change.  I need to, as a teacher, showcase what I want to see in my colleagues.  I need be doing effectively what I want to see in all teachers.  It starts with me.  I can’t just talk about change and what needs to happen, I need to be doing it in order to bring about change.  I need to invite teachers into my classroom to see how we operate in the sixth grade.  I need to share data with the rest of the faculty members at my school.

I learned that in the sixth grade we are not effectively utilizing the standards-based model of grading.  While we are grading our students on skills, there are some tweaks we need to make.  We need to reassess students on skills and objectives several times throughout the year to be sure they can consistently do what is being asked of them.  We need to allow redoes to count for full credit.  Rick Wormeli also reminded me of what I already know and do, don’t grade homework or practice.  Allow the students to practice the skill as many times as is needed before completing the assessment, but it should not impact their grade.  The grade is about the skill in final form.  I also learned that averaging grades is ineffective and similar to lying.  The mode of the grades is the most effective way to calculate a student’s final grade.

I also learned about PLCs and how they are not what I thought they were.  I had always thought that PLCs were about teachers getting together in small groups to grow and learn collectively while challenging each other to become more effective teachers.  While that is partially the goal of the model for PLCs used in most public schools, a lot of the work done is focused on analyzing student data based on results from common assessments.  They also arrange the PLCs by department.  How will I learn new methods and practices if I’m meeting with the same group of teachers I see regularly in department meetings?  I want to learn how language teachers instruct their students.  I’m sure there are plenty of techniques for teaching a new language that I could apply in my STEM class.  I want to be in a mixed group.  I want to learn from teachers that are working with different grades and subjects.  I worry that PLCs would be stagnant at my school if we utilize the public school model.

I also had the opportunity to work through some of these new ideas and noticings with my co-teacher as we attended the conference together.  While we already plan and teach together, rarely do we have time to deeply delve into pedagogy and new practices.  Attending this conference allowed us the chance to discuss what we learned and how it might be applied in our classroom.  It was a very beneficial experience.

While I came back to the classroom equipped with the same cape and suspenders as always, my outlook and ideas have changed slightly.  I’ve grown thanks to this amazing conference and opportunity.  I learned a lot and can’t wait to implement some of these changes in the classroom.  I also look forward to working at becoming a strong teacher leader so that I can bring about change within my school.  I don’t want to standby and talk about what we need to do anymore.  I want to do what we need to do.  I want to inspire others to do the right thing and effectively educate and help our students develop and mature.

I want to close with a shout-out to my co-teacher for making this an amazing experience.  Thanks for humoring me and tagging along while I danced the night away at various Country Music Clubs in downtown Nashville.

Posted in Uncategorized

How Do I Best Provide Feedback to My Students?

When I was in college, the only feedback I ever received from my professors regarding my written work came in the form of red ink scrawled across the paper.  None of my teachers ever gave me more than a line or two of written feedback.  They marked spelling errors and other mechanical issues, but never really focused on the content.  I also never received oral feedback or had conferences with my teachers regarding my work.  While I feel as though I did grow as a writer, I had to do it on my own.  As a teacher, I want to support my students as they grow as writers.  I want to have the boys think about their writing as a living being.  What can they do to make that sentence, line, or paragraph stronger and more descriptive?  Does that line make sense?  So, over the past several years, I’ve worked closely with my co-teacher to be sure we are providing our students with effective and beneficial feedback.

Today during Humanities class, the students participated in our first Poetry Slam of the year.  The students read aloud the object poem they crafted last week in class.  Prior to the students reading their work aloud, we discussed the art of a Poetry Slam and even showed them a video of Taylor Mali reciting a piece of his brilliant work aloud.  We had the students make noticings of what Taylor did well.  They all caught what we hoped they would.  They understood that inflection, annunciation, characterization, body language, and volume are all important aspects of reading poetry aloud.  We then explained the protocol we were using for our Poetry Slam.  The boys all seemed to understand exactly what they needed to do.  Despite this, many of them looked petrified.  Rarely this year have they had the opportunity to read their work aloud in front of the class.  Usually, if they shared their writing, they did it from their seats.  The Poetry Slam forced them to be on display with all eyes on them.  What if something went wrong?  Plus, we asked them to take a risk and read their writing with gusto and not in a normal manner.  We wanted them to try something new and take a risk.  We wanted them to breathe life into their brilliant poems.  This is a difficult task for many sixth grade boys.  They don’t want to appear different or embarrass themselves.  We reminded them that our classroom is a safe place in which they can try something new and be supported.  This still didn’t seem to alleviate their fears.

With this in mind, we also reminded them of the purpose behind having them read their work aloud.  In the seventh grade English class, the students will be expected to fluently read aloud their written work quite frequently.  So, practicing this skill and improving their ability to read aloud, will help them be fully prepared for the rigor of the seventh grade.  They seemed to get this.

Rather than put anyone on the spot right away, we asked for volunteers.  One person raised his hand almost immediately.  So, he read first.  He did a fine job, reading his poem slowly, inflecting and enunciating in places.  He even emphasized some words.  So, to help other students understand the expectation and to praise this student for having the courage to read his piece first, I provided him with positive feedback.  I praised him for having the courage to go first.  I also pointed out how well he did reading with pace in mind.  He had a smile on his face and seemed to feel very good about his performance.  Awesome, I thought.  We had several other students volunteer after our first boy.  They all did great work and I provided them each with a sentence or two of feedback.  My goal was to point out the things they did well that showcased their ability to meet the objective.  I also wanted those boys to feel good about taking a risk and trying something new.  Reading aloud in front of a group of your peers is hard work.  I wanted the boys to feel supported.  While I did thank our last few students for reading aloud, I no longer provided them with specific feedback.  At the end of class, I realized I should have been more specific with my feedback to those boys.  While they didn’t master the skill, they all took a risk.  I should have pointed that out to them.

Then, my co-teacher brought up an interesting point, providing feedback to students in front of the whole class can be detrimental to the students.  Even if it is positive feedback, her rationale was, when not all students receive feedback, they may feel singled out.  She also mentioned that the other students might feel intimidated to go next after the last student received such accolades.  While I don’t agree with her point, I understand where she is coming from.  However, how do students know what the expectations are if you don’t point out examples?  Would other students have volunteered as easily if I had provided no feedback to that first student?  Would the other students have recited their work as wonderfully as they had if I had not provided the specific praise to the first student?  Would other students had been more open to volunteer if I had not offered the feedback I did?  How does this kind of positive feedback in front of the whole class affect the students?  Do they get embarrassed?  If students don’t receive feedback, do they know how to grow?  Is it possible to offer feedback in the moment to students, individually, when a group reading activity is taking place?  Did my feedback affect some students negatively?  While I praised almost every student, there were one or two who I merely thanked for reading aloud because their lack of English proficiency made it difficult for them to effectively meet the objective of reading aloud.  Should I have said nothing?  If I had asked the students to make noticings of their peers’ ability to read aloud, would they have been as positive?  Would the students have taken it as seriously if feedback was given by their classmates?  Would it have taken too long to do it that way?  Is there a more effective way to provide feedback to my students in a read-aloud situation like this?  I want to praise them for their great work and courage, but I also don’t want to negatively impact the other students by doing so.

After speaking with my co-teacher about this, we decided that the only way to figure this out, is to do some action research.  So, in the coming months we want to gather some data from our students.  We want to know how feedback impacts our boys.  Do they like specific and positive feedback in the moment even if it is in front of their peers?  Or would they rather not have any feedback at all?  What works and what doesn’t is what we are going to try and figure out.