Its the last day of school, but I’ve got no students today, so its a good opportunity for me to look back at this year. Plus, after managing to keep up with this blog all year, I couldn’t miss the very last day of school!
I’ve written about this before, but this year I was much more intentional about building a classroom culture and getting students to see the value in a student-centered approach. Students were much more willing to take intellectual risks early in the school year and were very positive about the course. I also heard a lot more growth mindset talk from my students. The time I spent on class culture was time well spent.
I was a little worried about culture building in my sections of 9th grade physical science and Chemistry Essentials since I only got 12 weeks with each of those sections, but getting students to buy-in and take risks was much quicker and easier than in my honors-level physics classes. I think a lot of it has to do with each groups prior experiences with school. The students who take physics have typically been very successful in school, so I’m changing the rules of a game they’ve been winning. My chemistry students tend to struggle in school, so the game of school seems broken to them and it can be a relief when a teacher does something different. I had my 9th graders their first trimester of high school, so it seemed natural that my science class was different.
Next year, I want to work on explicitly teaching students how to work collaboratively and building in more individual accountability. I had some lab groups that didn’t really know how to approach a task collaboratively where one person would take the lead while others acted as sponges. Not surprisingly, the students in these groups tended to get lower grades and show less growth on the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning. This summer, I’m going to spend some time working on how I can help students build the skills to truly work collaboratively.
This year I made the switch to standards-based grading (SBG) in my physics class, and I’m very happy with the change. A lot of students talked about how this approach encouraged them to really learn the material and they liked that they were encouraged to go back to what they didn’t understand. I think SBG also helped build the positive, growth-oriented classroom culture I was after.
The big question when I talk to colleagues about SBG is always how to get students to do the daily work. In physics, students figured out pretty quickly that they needed the daily work to prepare for the assessments. In chemistry, I had a lot of students who I never got out of the mindset that not graded means not worth doing; the students who expressed this belief most strongly were also the ones most surprised by what appeared on assessments. While I don’t want to start putting everything students do in the gradebook, giving students more feedback on their daily work could add some value to the daily work in students’ eyes.
I think this is also part of a larger pattern I saw in the course where many students seemed to view individual lessons as completely separate from each other; if each day stands alone, then why should what students do in class on Thursday affect how they do on the assessment Friday? I did some having students write summaries of the lesson and complete a warm-up at the start of the next, but I didn’t do it consistently and I didn’t put the time or effort into making it truly meaningful. If I teach a course like this one again, I need to put in the work to make the summaries and warm-ups more valuable so that the course shifts in the students’ eyes from being a series of isolated lessons to a coherent whole.