Sunday, October 19, 2014

First Quarter High School Examination and Some Musings on the Concept of Failure

In the summer, my husband and mother-in-law asked me what I was preparing for my first year teaching high school. I gave them a couple of concepts I had been playing around with, but they were put off by my lack of fully formed plans. In an attempt to be helpful, they began listing ideas they wanted me to use. I listened earnestly for a couple of minutes, then my brain shut everything out. It's difficult to relay without sounding bitter. I know they want me to succeed, so when they saw that I "wasn't prepared," they tried to pitch in. Because they love me, they couldn't bear the thought of seeing me fail.

But I need to fail. I, and everyone else who will eventually master a skill, need to fail in order to truly learn.

(I looked for a previous article to link that last statement to, but I guess I haven't written one up yet. I know I have enough material floating around in my mind for it. Add that to my ever-growing list of concepts that require further exploration through narrative reflection.)

Yes, they were just trying to give me ideas, but I took offense to it. I took it as an attempt to run my classroom. I reminded myself that they were just being helpful and tried to make enough uni-syllabic sounds of noncommittal agreement to drop the subject, but I suppose in my endeavor not to offend back, I did so too passively. Eventually the conversation ended in angry tears--mine.

As it turns out, I've been lucky enough to land myself a second job with administration lenient enough to give me my space and trust me to teach without requiring lesson plans or even curriculum mapping. Of course I've taken full advantage of the situation, playing with new ideas as I see fit.

But I'm also still hesitant enough to cling to what I view as traditional activities. And for the same reason as last year, too--in hopes of providing the outward appearance of a teacher who is in control of her classroom and knows what she is doing. I seem to be displaying the semblance of doing as such because, in truth, I probably am. I just don't have the confidence to know it yet. I just have a natural tendency to want to fly under the radar and not get "caught" doing something out of the normal because I fear I couldn't justify it accurately enough to get the permission to continue. Some day I will.

But also, I'm still discovering what my best practices are and, knowing this, would rather keep it to myself until I'm finished. If administration knew, I fear they would want to "be helpful," and I'd have a repeat occurrence of what happened this summer on my hands. And that's what I'm really trying to avoid.

I still need to play with ideas that don't work in order to know that they don't work.

I need to be free to fail in order to know what not to do.

I need to fail in order to grow as a teacher.

So, briefly, here's a short list of activities (some traditional, some not. Some that work, some that don't) that have been going on in my classroom for the past two months:
-Writing from prompts, but not every day
-No textbooks
-Reading books as a class (that is, an entire class reading the same book. Not aloud, but with reading assignments for homework)
-Reading Shakespeare
-Watching movies versions of books after finishing the reading
-Playing independently-produced board games with the theme of books read together or discussed
-Poorly performed Socratic seminars
-Group discussions
-Essay questions answered in iterations
-Daily quizzes with simple Bloom's Knowledge questions to give points for completing assigned reading (for modern books)
-Taking notes together on the board (for Shakespeare)
-Freely used magnetic poetry
-A role-playing-game-themed digital behavior management tool
-Stream of consciousness writing
-Desks that are in rows by default but easily rearranged to create small groups and partners, circles, semi-circles, and circles within circles
-Standing at the front of the room to teach whole-class
-Sitting with students in the circle to guide conversations
-Standing back to let student-led discussions flow
-Internet research and summary writing on books (definitely an entire post on this to ensue)
-Pillow usage for lounging on the floor during work periods
-Creating a found word word wall (freshman class only--I have them twice a day)
-Sentence diagramming with Shurley Method (freshman class only)
-Preparations to write our own school newspaper (freshman class only)

I'd like to elaborate on many things listed, but I find that difficult to do at this time. I feel like they are all experiments in progress, and when I write, I like to be able to speak declaratively about my subject. I like to be able to make conclusions and decisions of finality that can stand true at least for the time being, and I can't really do that with something I'm still in the middle of. (That's also one of the reasons I don't write often, because I feel like I'm always in the middle of something and not close enough to the end of it to make any real decisions about it.) So, elaborations and statements of temporary finality still to come.

Here are some things I am desperate to implement but have not yet because I'm still trying to figure out how to best incorporate them:
-Reflection writing
-Social emotional learning
-Nonfiction article of the week
-Annotation writing (close writing)
-Argument and logic
-Better Socratic circles
-Teaching styles of writing through exemplars
-Technical writing

Honestly, that's not so much. It's not as big of a list as I was expecting it to be. I just need to get my stuff together and work on incorporating them already!

Recently I've been feeling stressed about work and down about my job performance, so it's nice to take a step back and think about what we've actually already been doing. It's nice to see that big list of things we've been working on. I'm happy to be where I am, carrying out the experiments I am and implementing the the work I am. Though the day to day is tedious and full of challenging learning for everyone, I'll be able to look back with a heart full with accomplishment soon enough. And with that thought, I am contented.