Sunday, July 24, 2011


 I want to end my summer by reflecting on different aspects of my classroom, how my thinking has progressed since I began as a teacher, and what I want to do for next year.  I don't imagine this to be terribly interesting for others to read, but it's something I really want to do.  Once the school year starts up I think I'll switch more towards what I'm doing in my classroom.

Teaching Fellow training makes it really clear that we need a BHAG for our class.  What is a BHAG you ask?  A Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  Something you need to make big risks in order to achieve.  Something that motivates you and your class to keep driving throughout the year.  Teaching Fellow’s suggested goals, likely influenced by Teach for America, included things like “Students will earn 80% proficiency on each learning target” or “80% of students will pass the state exam.” 

I don’t know why 80% was the magic number, but those goals never sat well with me.  But in my first year, I dutifully followed my training and posted my goal in large font above my blackboard.   I taught all boys that year, so I posted a football field with a moveable football for each current learning target to show progress. I narrated the progressions like a sports announcer and they loved it.  They were into it.  The boy cheered when, as a class, they improved in solving an equation for x and progressed from the 20 yard line (20% proficiency) to the 55 yard line, to the 90 yard line. They cared about where the football was and got sad when another class was closer to the end zone.   Ostensibly, they were invested in the improvements in math as well, but something still felt artificial about the whole set up and process.  

About 3 months in one student noticed “Hey Miss!! We never make it to the end zone.  Once we get close you change the learning target.  Why don’t you let us score?”  At the time my honest answer would have been, "Well...because that's what someone told me was a good idea."   I toyed with the idea of leaving all targets up and allowing the class to continue to improve, but that was really difficult to implement.  Is it realistic to strive for 100% mastery from 100% of the class?  How motivated would the students be if we wanted more but never got it?  In wanting anything less than 100% mastery from 100% of the class I was A teacher at my current school set the goal in the context of theater, “Would you go see a play where 80% of the cast knew 80% of the lines?  NO! It would be a horrible trainwreck to watch.  So why are trying to achieve that in your classroom?”

I started off Year 2 without any goals posted.  Only a sign with a quote stolen from my mentor teacher, “Mathematics: Taught as a Language, Applied as a Science, Appreciated as an Art.”  And that informally was my goal.  To have students understand that math needed to be learned like a language, to see that it had applications, but also to appreciate it, in any form and on any level.  After winter break I posted, “BIG GOALS:  Communicate Effectively.  Think Strategically.” I needed something more concrete, more visible for me to discuss with students and make clear connections to.  I liked that my goals were broad and applied beyond my math class.  I made it clear to students how striving towards these goals would help them in math and beyond.

My goals for next year aren't totally settled yet.  In my data and statistics class I want students to become fully aware of how powerful statistics are, when the are misused, and how to use them to enhance an argument.  I want them to leave class thinking, "Wow.... that was math class?  That was AWESOME!" I want to successfully integrate art in a non-trivial way.

I don't know what other classess I'll be teaching, but I think I'll keep something similar to "Communicate Effectively and Think Strategically." 

Things I’ve Learned #1:  I need to be true to myself.  I can’t do something in my class just because someone tells me it’s a good idea.  I don’t care how much research backs it, if it isn’t authentic to me, then it won’t work for my class.

Things I’ve Learned #2: I don’t like goals based around learning targets or portions of my class succeeding.  I do like goals that are more intangible.  The trouble with intangible goals is that they are hard to measure success.  How can I know if my students have learned to think strategically?

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