After finishing the middle school spring musical, getting my travel paintball team organized, and helping my brother with his engagement over spring break, it was finally time to meet back up with students and get a pulse as to what was happening and how they were feeling in general about English classes. Recharged from break, they were ready and willing to give their feedback (even more cavalier than before - I always love how students come back from spring break AS the next grade. Meaning, if they are in my freshmen English class, they return from spring break as fully blown sophomores. I love it). Anyway, my upcoming weekly blogs will be the presentation of these ideas, directly from the mouths of a diverse assortment of freshmen and sophomore students.
1. It's spring, turn the lights on!
No more talk about snow from this bunch (and after a very mild winter for us, I thought their whining about this topic would never end). Freshly back from their Caribbean or Hawaiian or Floridian vacations, these students are just thinking about the beach. They want their classroom to reflect this newly remembered inspiration, so for someone like me who ALWAYS teaches with the lights off, this was a surprise. I am blessed with three large windows, so we always go the natural sunlight route. When challenged about this, they simply said: "give us all the light." They want sunlight, overhead light, my funky lamps' light, all of it. Maybe they think it will give them a nice base tan before June. :)
2. More time to read - SSR!
This will probably be wildly unpopular with a lot of my English teacher colleagues, but I have to admit that I have always found SSR to be a bit of a waste of instructional time. To me, students need to be up and doing. Don't get me wrong, we read every class (whether short stories, poems, song lyrics), but students don't just sit with novels and read for thirty straight minutes. It's too passive. And I know, ACTIVE reading is a thing, but not being a huge reader myself, I have never structured my class in this way. Yes, you heard correctly, I am an English teacher who doesn't LOVE reading. I just LIKE it. It's fine. Well, regardless, these students want more time to dive into their books. Freshmen year in my county is "survey" which means we read a little bit of everything and I always save the tougher lit circles for the end of the year when the students are better prepared. With students reading The Odyssey, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Of Mice & Men, I can understand why they want more time. We just acted out Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth as a class (and they really enjoyed that) so it all makes sense. With spring sports and just "the spring" in general stressing everyone out, less homework reading probably isn't a bad thing either.
3. More discussion time and less in-class office work:
We always discuss the books we read - in fact we do them in full class, and smaller group circles. I believe I detailed the logistics of these in a previous blog post, but the long story short is: we have a talking piece and that piece moves either sequentially or non-sequentially depending on the style of question. This allows every student to share their opinion and builds an excellent classroom community. Typically our class involves a mini-lesson, a quick write/poem/song analysis (that we have in circle format), and "office time" for the students to work with their departments on their weekly "company expectations." See more at: misteramistera.weebly.com But recently, students have been wanting to spend that final third of class reading/discussing the reading with their office groups and saving their other expectations as homework. Naturally, I am totally fine with them pacing and organizing their own work - this was just definitely a switch from what they wanted earlier in the year. Once again, my guess is that they have gotten the "hang" of office work and they want to dedicate more time to the more difficult texts. I suppose this experience showed me that students change their needs over the course of the year and we must give them the space to allow them to do so. I could never read in a classroom as a student (I need my bed) - so as a teacher I tend to make reading homework. But I am not my students and need to support what best addresses their needs.
4. Face to Face Writing Conferences
One of the "coolest" things about my class is that students know they can get help WHENEVER they need. I am availble via e-mail basically from 8am-10pm on any given day. Students definitely take advantage of this offer and frequently e-mail their song or poem analyses, their pieces for their writing portfolio, or ideas they have for other stories and essays. Through this method, I have been able to meet with more students on a more meaningful level about their writing than I have ever been able to do in the past. I have been utilizing these e-mail conferences with students for the past four years of my teaching career and have really liked how much I have been able to see and record how much they grow over the course of a year. However, since I began this method, this year was the first time I have had students openly admit that they would like face-to-face conferences in conjunction with e-mail. In the past, students know that they can come in during their lunch block to eat and discuss writing, but as you can imagine, this isn't wildly popular (since lunch is the only time in the day during which high schoolers can properly socialize). So, students have requested more instructional time be dedicated to in person conferences. I have decided that I can meet with students to discuss their writing while others are silent reading, discussing, or working on their office work. I was curious as to why they wanted this and several said they don't feel connected with a teacher through e-mail. They agree that it is fast and effective, but they felt like they were lacking that rapport element that we spend so much of our class time developing. This is a viewpoint I would never have considered. I assumed students wanted the quickest and easiest way to complete their work, and although they are at times in search of this efficiency, they are also just as much looking to us to be people in their lives and to interact with them as such. Not just socially, but academically.
I have to admit myself excited to see how these student changes go. To me, fourth quarter is also the perfect time to implement changes. It keeps class fresh (especially at a time when school is stale for so many students (and teachers)), allows me to gain feedback from a specific group, employ their ideas, and see what works and doesn't work (thus allowing me to reflect over the summer and come back the following year even better prepared), and by quarter four, our students are hopefully prepared to leave our class in a few weeks. This means they have learned the majority of what we have set out to teach them and we can treat them more as equals than as students. You can have more advanced discussions, read harder texts, write with more mature tones and styles, and present in front of one another completely comfortably. As I stated in my post entitled "Seasons" - quarter four is also fun for all of the traditions. Everything is coming to an end in quarter four and we can really choose to harness this emotion and properly pace instruction to have the most impact on the students. My wish is that these student-created improvements, mixed with my time-honored fourth quarter traditions will create the most inspirational, effective, and enjoyable end of the year to date! :-)