Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reflections on Teaching Writing to 9th Graders

Ok, so it has been a long haul. Today I briefly covered the conclusion and the works cited pages for my 9th graders and their position paper. It has been six complete weeks since I started this paper. It should have taken five weeks, maybe six tops. So what went wrong? What can be fixed in the future?

I count a number of factors:

1.) My teaching – I am a student teacher and that being said I have never taught writing at this scale or this amount before. The amount of different steps (the finding of sources, the overall works cited, paragraph formation, etc.) have taken me a while to cover. I did not know how much I could push them at first, and now I have a better idea.

2.) Their knowledge of paragraph and paper formation – They came into AHS without ever having developed a paragraph fully, at least that is my understanding from Anne. I at least know that when I started this paper they had not constructed a five paragraph paper based on evidence that they had to use to prove an overall thesis. That struck me as a little far behind, like something that should have been covered in fifth grade or at least by the point they got to high school. Needless to say I have had to do a lot of teaching of material I did not think I would have to cover.

3.) My pace – Learning the ebb and flow of teaching is an art that I have not fully learned yet. However, I think now six weeks in I have a better idea. That being said, at the beginning I did not push them enough or gave them too much slack on assignments. That needs to be, and has been, improved for other classes and this class alike in the future.

4.) The middle schools – I hate to lay blame on what is going on in middle school, but I see what we, my department and I, have to do to catch students up. At the same time, I have to be curious if someone from the high school consulted with the middle school and really sat down and looked at each other curriculums? What if students came into 9th grade already having written a large research paper? What else would these high achieving students be able to do? Image how I could focus more on the action plan with their position papers and less on their writing? That would be incredible, but at the same time I teach to where my students are at, so we move from there. It’s not only in 9th grade, but in all other grades. I move from where they are at.

5.) Classroom management – There are two factors in there that I would count that I did not take into factor. One factor is modeling and giving clear directions on homework. For homework I need to be clearer in what I want out of them (and not only in this class. I have done a poor job of being really specific and even modeling what they need to see and what I want to see from them). I also need to bring back the models in my classroom. They were great for a few weeks, but I cannot ask students to write full paragraphs, conclusions, or works cited without first seeing examples. That is crazy. I need to bring back the models that have been lacking for the past week. The second factor is the overall behavior of students. The first few weeks and into last week the students have been crazy and I have not done a good job keeping them in check. That is my fault more than anything. I need to do a better job of keeping them in line so that there can be a productive working environment for everyone. Although, students talking, re-explaining ideas multiple times, and other minor disruptions shorten the time in class for instruction. I need to, and I believe I have started down the path, of making the classroom more of a learning environment in the future.

6.) Abandonment of the plan – At the beginning of the project I told them due dates, the schedule, and that they needed to meet with me twice throughout the project. That has not happened because I have not enforced it. That is my fault and I take the blame for that. However, I have met with every student every day in class and with our double feedback project that Anne and I are doing they have received ample feedback and assistance with their work. That is not an excuse, but it just makes it a little easier for me to handle.

I would be remiss to just focus on the negative (I can hear Anne and Ray both in my head right now), and there have been multiple things that have gone well. At the beginning of the project they believed it was impossible to write five to six pages all on one topic and now they are almost there. The accomplishment that will come on Friday will be amazing. I cannot wait to see it in their faces. The action plan has been a great idea and I cannot wait to see that come to fruition later this week. They have, for the most part, now understood the parts to a paragraph and can find resources that will help them in the future. I have collaborated with other staff members and have brought them in on the discussion, learning, and planning also. That has been a really rewarding experience. The students, I think on the whole, have also really enjoyed the project. None of them have given up yet, which is good, and I think the end is in sight. That reminds me, the globe that I started the whole project with needs to make an appearance again as a physical reminder. We are changing the world, it has just taken a little longer than I would have liked.