Workshop Wrap-Up; Week 1 Worries

Last week I couldn’t wait for the first week of school to start; today, I can’t wait for the first week of school to be over and done with.

It took a good deal of time during workshop last week to finish writing my learning goals and creating tracking sheets. I finally got to a point where I feel satisfied enough with them that I will be able to distribute them to students (although I have since made some other minor changes). I was also feeling good about my other, more traditional chemistry class in which I am working with a couple of other teachers to plan; I always appreciate being able to share ideas and responsibilities with each other.

Today was only the 3rd day of class, and I’m more than ready for this week to be over. I’m ready for the students (and me) to be settled into our routines, for the daily schedule to stay the same from one day to the next and to have some consistency in the flow of day to day proceedings.

***

I’m worried about cramming 35 students into a class that is built for 28. It’s crowded; transitioning from large-group to the lab stations takes longer than I would like it to mostly because of the tight spaces where students have to shuffle past each other. There are only 7 lab stations – and 5 students to a group is more than I would like.

I’m worried about using SBG (or SBAR, if you prefer). After the initial talk about the grading system (learning goals, assessed on proficiency not points, etc.) there was not a SINGLE student that had any questions about it. I was really surprised – I’m not sure if it’s a good sign or if I should be worried… or maybe they just weren’t really listening.

I’m worried about having enough time to do everything. I think this is on every teacher’s mind, but this week it’s especially prevalent.

I’m worried about the students that I’m teaching – they are the “bottom of the heap” in terms of our different tiers of chemistry. I want to keep them engaged, I want to connect with them and I want to gain their respect. I just worry that classroom management issues will get in the way and undermine these things.

I’m worried that I will get burnt out. On top of my teaching responsibilities, I’m taking 2 grad school classes this semester. I’ve found this week that when I get home, I’m not really in the mood to think about school anymore… so when will I do my homework?

I could probably go on and on, but I think those are some of the major concerns that keep on surfacing. I’m not expecting solutions to these from anyone or anywhere, I know with time they will work themselves out. For now, it’s uncomfortable and uneasy – I guess I just need to live with it. It would just be nice if they would work themselves out soon.

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3 thoughts on “Workshop Wrap-Up; Week 1 Worries”

  1. re: Learning goals – yeah. My first year I wrote them all out and then pretty much scrapped the rest of the year’s after the first unit and rewrote them each time. So…don’t go printing them all out. My best advice is still to narrow your focus but increase depth. Pick a few standards that are really worth learning and learn the crap out of them. Trying to cover will just kill you.

    Student questions – yeah. Don’t worry about that. It’s entirely abstract and they probably don’t believe you. Like you said, bottom of the heap. They’re entirely used to failing. They’ll get a quiz back and stuff it in the backpack. The key is to teach them how to use the feedback from the quiz to guide their next steps.

    1. Jason, thanks for the encouragement. I’ve only printed out the first couple of goals so far, and I’ve been resisting the urge to do a mass-print of all of them – I think I ended up with 16 topics overall. We’ll see if I end up paring them down at all throughout the year.

      I think you’re right – the questions will start coming after the first quiz and we start talking about feedback and how to use it. Any tips on teaching them how to use the feedback? Any pitfalls to watch out for?

  2. Well, I was coming over here to write “don’t worry about the SBAR questions — they don’t believe you.” But Jason beat me to it 🙂

    I just realized that this is over a week old — how is it going? (I’m trying to improve my time management myself, which means my blog reading is constrained to once/week).

    You’re right about needing to teach them how to use feedback. I’m still not great at this. The only things that have been helpful for me are having them do evaluations of me, and having students apply for reassessment. With the teacher evals, I ask about once every 2-3 weeks for feedback on 3-4 short questions (What’s helping you learn? What’s making it harder to learn? … or possibly “Each day, it’s clear what the point of this class will be” on a likert scale). Then I agreggate the results, present them to the class in the very next meeting, and model how to respond to feedback. Reassessment applications require student to explain how they’ve used feedback to improve, and give me a chance to write back, explaining that “it helped me be less stupid” is not satisfactory. On the other hand, you may not want to put any obstacles in the way of reassessment.

    Oh, one other thing — sometimes we play “find the teacher’s mistake.” I make a mistake on purpose; they have to explain why a reasonable person who make that mistake, and give me some feedback that helps.

    One way I’ve found to save time is not to grade homework for points. It’s much faster to assess with comments than to figure our scores, especially if (like me) you obsess over whether partial marks are fair and consistent. You can always grade for completion if you think it’s helpful. You could also allow resubmission of homework (either corrections, explanations of mistakes, or whatever you think your students would benefit from) and give some class time to do it — another place to teach how to respond to feedback.

    Good luck, and keep us posted.

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