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.