Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Small Victories

I'm blogging two days in a row. Definitely a record for me lately!

After a challenging day yesterday, today was a very good day. My 11th grade American Literature class went well. We are studying the romantic period. For homework the students had to read an excerpt from James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer and fill out a chart showing the characteristics of modern day fictional heroes and the heroic characteristics of Deerslayer. Despite the fact that it was a short excerpt and they had a week to do it, the boys did not have it done. I had the class read through the excerpt and underline anything that was heroic and admirable, then I had them add to their charts anything new they came up with. This gave the boys a chance to actually do the assignment. It does frustrate me when they don't bother to do even simple assignments in preparation for class, but I do like having the freedom to have them get the work done and still accomplish the learning.

I have two round tables in my room and this class naturally segregates themselves. The three boys sit at the front table and the 5 girls at the back table. I love having the round tables because it lends to collaboration and discussion so much more easily. I had the tables share their charts with each other and come up with a statement about the American fictional hero during the romantic period and the modern American fictional hero. This gave me a chance to listen in on their thinking and to help the guys as they struggled with the assignment because they had not done the homework. There was some good discussion. This is one of the things I keep hearing from flippers. They like being able to talk with individual students about their learning and help them work through confusion. It really is fun. I enjoy the one-on-one aspect that the flipclass model allows.

From the American hero we transitioned to satire. I had the students pull out their smart phones/iPods, and look up satire. We formed our own definition and listed characteristics on the board and brainstormed modern day examples they were familiar with. This was to introduce the next assignment: an excerpt from Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York. I am using American Literature curriculum from The Center for Learning (I use their materials for many of my classes) and have a great handout that has vocabulary words in bold and questions printed next to the excerpt for them to answer. I gave each students a set of words to define. They had to look at the context to help them choose the correct definition. Once they had finished, each student shared their definitions in the order they appeared in the excerpt. As definitions where shared, students made notes on their paper so they would know what the words meant when they read the piece for homework.

My favorite class from today was my US History class. We had a debate on Shays' Rebellion and our Chinese student gave a presentation on the Chinese government. For homework the students read about Shays' Rebellion, chose a side, farmer or merchant, and prepared statements on three things: 1. whether or not the rebellion was justified, 2. whether paper money should be created and the farmers' taxes lowered, or the rebellion put down, and 3. the strength of the national government. The kids worked really well together to prepare for the debate, although the "merchants" had a bit of a hard time. There was some misunderstanding of the material/situation, and some of the students were unwilling to make revisions to what they had already prepared. It did present opportunity for good discussion and correction. Really, this is how I wish all my classes would go everyday- they come prepared, we discuss, I get to facilitate, to listen in on group discussion, and to talk with individual students, and we all experience learning.

Our Chinese student has very low English skills, although he is growing by leaps and bounds. We are blessed to have a tutor working with our international students this year. Her presence has made a huge difference. This year we have two international students- a junior from China and a freshman from Taiwan. They are taking their English class with the tutor for ESL but are mainstreamed for their other classes. Because their English skills prevent them from being able to read the materials in history, I have them work on alternative materials that are at their reading level. As we have been working on this Constitution Unit, I have had F researching and reading about our government and comparing that with his own government in China. Today he shared some of the history of the Chinese government and how things have changed in China in recent years. What a pleasure to listen to him! He had such presence. I think he has the gift of storytelling! He did such a good job telling about the things that the government did in the past that he felt was wrong, and how "new China" had a different way of thinking.

Today was a fun day of learning. Right now if feels that days like this are few and far between, but when I do have them, they feel like small victories that give me hope that there will be more.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight

I've always been intrigued by this saying. I wanted to use it for this blog post because it applies to how I'm feeling these days, so I went to google it. I wanted to make sure I was remembering it correctly and I wanted to know where it came from. The first hit was someone asking what it meant. I found the reply thread to be rather disheartening, but that is for another blog post on another day.

I've started too many blog posts with complaints about not blogging, and I didn't want to do that again. Consistent blogging is just one of the many things that I feel I am failing at these days. But I'm not going to give up. Most of the time these days I feel like a fish trying to swim upstream and I'm pretty weary. But I'm not giving up.

I'm continuing to learn about #flipclass and just spent a rather encouraging hour participating in tonight's Twitter chat. I found some new people to follow, and I got a few ideas for things to try. I also have been thinking about the sheer volume of what I've been trying to do. I rather feel like I've been trying to get a drink from a fire hose. A conclusion that I came to this evening is that I need to focus on flipping just one of my classes, rather than trying to flip them all. Now keep in mind, I'm not talking about 100% flipping. I'm talking about taking baby steps.

Now the questions is, which class do I focus on, and how do I balance all the work I still have to do to be prepared for all my other classes? Someone on #flipclass suggested that I start in the one that I feel most comfortable with content and has the highest achieving students. That is going to take some thinking. I have high achieving students in all my classes, but I don't have the comfort level with the content that I would like.

This is going to take some thinking. The hard part is trying to improve and move forward, not just operate in survival mode all the time. The hard part is to find the time to do the work and learning that I need to do without neglecting my husband or killing my personal life.