Monday, February 18, 2013

Translation?... Rotation?...Reflection?...That's it!

Reflection! That's it! The key to all of this! As I said in my last post, I work hard to be a reflective math (and PBL!) teacher. I am often thinking back on my research, preparation, activities and projects to see what I could have done better this time and what changes I will make the next time. However, no matter how much I reflect on a project, my insight is vastly different from that of my students. Students' reflection and feedback is quintessential to creating meaningful projects that are both engaging and enriching for students.

One of my favorite ways to receive feedback is through student journaling. Students journal for me on a regular basis, reflecting on: their own individual work throughout the day (and letting me know how I can help guide them through their independent PBL activities/projects they are involved in); weekly progress toward meeting their goals; individual topic reflections (think writing prompt); and project-specific reflections.

TIP: The most important way to ensure you are getting good and consistent feedback is to come up with a good and consistent system for you and your students. This could be in the form of keeping a hand-written journal students submit to you before class it out, or it could be gathering a collection of journal-esque entry- or exit- tickets, or if you are lucky enough to work at a tech-heavy school like I am, you could use an online form.

I'm lucky enough that my school uses Project Foundry (PF) and that I am our PF-Guru, so anytime that I need a specific journal for a project, I can easily create it. For the Planet X Project, our students frequently wrote Daily Check-Ins for me letting me know their individual progress & struggles. This was incredibly helpful for letting me know if students weren't on pace, and if they weren't how I could help them. (Note: NO Journal is effective if students don't use it, or don't use it well. This WILL take practice and a LOT of patience. Many of my students are nowhere near journaling/reflecting experts yet, but that is OKAY! They will get better, and so will you!) As for the Cyrano project, I wanted to create a journal to help students express their concerns and overall feelings of the project. The results are below:

Reading through these (along with the dozen or so others) was incredibly helpful to me. It helped me to understand which component(s) of the project students found more helpful or enjoyable (typically the playlist) and which ones students found the least enjoyable (The Glencoe Reading Guide. Interestingly enough the students also ranked this as one of he most helpful components of the project... funny how students react). This also provides me with information as to how I can improve the project.

In the future, the component I want to improve the most on (aside from reflection which I briefly covered in my last post) is the English portion of the project. Students found the Reading Guide helpful, but not enjoyable. I believe that in order to improve on this, I could conference with the English department about strategies for previewing and reviewing sections of literature. I would try to use more of the pre-reading activities from the guide, along with discussions before each class-reading to help prepare the students for anticipating what lie ahead in the text. I feel that my colleague and I did a nice job of having discussions following each reading and informal discussions during work days, but we could have introduced some different protocols to offer variety and possibly spark new insight).

In general, students had a good concept of theme and how to find and cite text to support a theme. Our biggest struggle content-wise was understanding rhetoric, tone and syntax. This is likely due to the fact that I am most certainly not an English teacher and these concepts are not my strong-suit. While I feel comfortable teaching students strategies for writing, editing and revising their work & finding and making meaning of literature, I know that I struggled in teaching Rhetorical skills and strategies. Even using something as simple as directing students to a website that helps students to identify various rhetorical devices and self-test would have been helpful before attempting to have students identify the rhetorical devices used in our reading (I did however anticipate my poor performance on helping students understand rhetorical skills and I had given students a multiple choice assessment along with passages and a place for answering why they thought that was the device used in said passage).

While the journal proved helpful in providing me some insight into what and how to change the project the next time I run it, I feel that having run a group protocol for a Pre-Showcase Reflection as stated here in my previous post would have been incredibly beneficial for students in understanding the Growth Mindset that is essential to PBL success.

Finishing up a project is always so exciting, and such a mind-boggle. How did we get to where we are now? How could I improve next time we do the project? Where could they have improved? What could we have done differently... together or independently? Using reflection skills I've learned in various texts  and pd days and keeping this blog to help me keep track of it all, I've been able to discover a lot about myself as a teacher and a learner in the PBL world; and while I know I have a long way to go, looking back on the long journey I've already made helps me to know that every step I've made along the way has helped me to become the teacher I've always dreamed of being. I'll never stop reflecting, so I'll never stop growing and learning, and that is truly the best part of the whole experience.

Final Products!!

Final products are ALWAYS so exciting. It's the culmination of a LOT of hard work--on all accounts--so seeing it all finally come to fruition is just such an amazing feeling. Students participated in our first official Project Showcase with the entire school. The original goal was for both sets of my students to be participating in this Showcase (Planet X-ers and Cyrano Kids), however Planet X became SUPER time consuming so that project STILL hasn't wrapped up.

TIP: Projects will NOT always wrap up when you think they will. Students do not necessarily progress at the rate that you anticipate they will, and as PBL is a very intuitive thing, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

So the Cyrano kids had created their final products (movie trailers, comic books, comic strips and xtranormal movies were their favorite creations) and were able to present and our for our first Project Showcase I would rate the overall feeling as a 2.5... we were almost to the point where we want a Showcase to be, and we had a lot of good basic ideas for creating a Project Showcase, but I feel that we we fell short of meeting our target. We could have improved by helping the students to be better prepared for how to present their projects. Many of the students have done presentations to their advisors before, but have seldom presented to their peers, none the less a GROUP of their peers. In the future, we will likely have students practice doing presentations to groups in their advisory class. We also could have better prepared the attendees to be productive with their Project Showcase presentations, by arming them with some quick questions.

TIP: It is important to reflect on your own performance before reflecting on a students' performance. If you failed to meet certain criteria to help set them up for success, then you should know that fact before you look at a students' work. You can do this by asking yourself questions similar to the following:

  • Did I meet all of my objectives?
  • Which objectives did I fall short on and why?
  • How can I make sure that I hit that objective fully the next time?
  • What did I do well with this project?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What didn't work at all this project?
  • Who can I talk to to help me do better the next time?
I've worked specifically on becoming a reflective math teacher, so this list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a good place to start. 

Okay, so back to reflecting on the students' performance at the Project Showcase.....

Students presented the material in a very basic manner. While they had been excited about creating their projects, many of them had faced unanticipated struggles during the creative process and were not as excited about their final products as they had started out to be. With a semi-feeling of disappointment, students were not as enthusiastic during the Showcase presentations; they presented their project & their final product but didn't give it a lot of heart. Perhaps it was that we hadn't prepared them well enough to handle the obstacles that they surely would (and did) encounter; or perhaps we didn't give them enough time to wrap up and feel successful (and enthusiastic) again. In the future, I want to have a Pre-Showcase Prep Reflection day (instead of reflecting mainly AFTER the showcase). During this day, I would have the students come together fish-bowl style (or perhaps a different protocol depending on the students) to discuss their overall challenges, success and failures as individuals and as groups with this project.  We could discuss the growth-mindset (one of our cornerstones of our Advisory program--for more information search for Carol Dweck) and how that applied to our situation with this particular project. I would finish by having students focus on one aspect of the project that they felt they did particularly well and make sure that they highlight that during the showcase. I believe that this would help students to see that they weren't in the project alone (which should be obvious, but these are high schools and often think that it is an all-against-me scenario in a lot that they do), and that they did at least one thing better than the rest and that they therefore improved in one area (and will hence know an area they need to focus on making better the next time around). Students could then share these feelings (challenges, successes and failures) better with their peers to help support them in the future.