Wednesday, April 1, 2009

AP or IB – That is the question

Also over break I was able to go visit Jason Leclaire, one of my cooperating teacher’s, Kristin’s, husband over in Aurora. On the day that I visited Jason he taught two sections of Advanced Placement Literature and one section of IB Program English. When I arrived at the school out in Aurora, the east side of Denver for those of you that are unfamiliar, I walked into an environment that appeared very new and up-to-date. The walls were painted nice, appeasing colors and the students appeared ready to go for class. I spent the first part of the day, the first hour, getting ready for the rest of the hours of that day. Jason and I went over the writing prompts and the material for that day and discussed how I wanted to be involved in the class discussion.

Then the first period of the day began. It is always interesting to watch people teach, but even more interesting to watch Jason teach considering I know very well the style and method that his wife, Kristin, teaches from. Furthermore, Jason started class with a sheet of notes about announcements that he needed to make and then started off the day with the activities and ideas that the class was covering for that day. Meanwhile, Kristin starts off class by going over the goals for the period as laid out on the PowerPoint and then discusses homework, which is also laid out using PowerPoint. They are both different ways to accomplish the same thing and nothing is wrong with either style, however it is very interesting to watch them both at work.

Jason’s period of IB students really had an extreme lack of classroom management issues. In fact, it was completely amazing to watch these students at work. During the period they took a section from Heart of Darkness and applied it to a vast knowledge of literary terms and techniques to prove an individual point to the class about something that was going on in that section. It was very powerful to see each student in the class performing at a very high level. In addition, it was very powerful to see in the discussion that followed after the examples how students referenced each other. It was not just that whoever said this and I think that is a good point, but it was Brady said this and I agree with him because… and the discussion went on from there. It was incredible to watch how everything unfolded with the discussion in the IB class.

After this period we had lunch and then another round of the IB students. Once again, these students were fantastic. They were thinking critically about issues in the text and then they were applying concepts and higher order thinking not only to the sections that they presented on, but also to other sections. Again, Jason did not have any classroom management issues either with this class. This second class led me to understand that Jason’s classes are very structured and ordered; it just does not appear to be like that on the surface. Jason knows exactly where he is going with every lesson and the students seemed to know also, which made it really fun to sit in the back of the classroom and watch where he was leading them. One thing that I noticed overall about the IB program students is something that Jason told me during the first planning period of the day. He told me that IB students are in a program, they take all their courses in the IB program and then hopefully at the end they receive an IB certificate and a high school diploma. They are highly achieving students who really want to be there, where as the AP students are just students that have decided for one reason or another to take an AP class. This, however, is not a bad thing; it just puts the entire experience into perspective with the types of students in each class.

One thing I want to mention before writing about the AP students, the students in Jason’s IB program were extremely engaged in the classroom discussion. Normally a teacher has to try really hard to maintain the engagement of the students in the classroom. However, Jason had no problem with this because his students were honestly engaged in a classroom discussion for the entire block period. They did not waiver, they did not change, they did not check out for any length of time – these students were genuinely engaged in the discussion happening in the classroom. It was truly amazing to see and something that I cited as a result of the IB program and all the students knowing each other, but also being very motivated at the same time.

The next class that came in was the AP students, and let me tell you that there is no real way to distinguish between an AP and an IB student, but somehow I just knew by the way these students acted, how chatty they were, and how their range of abilities was all over the place. These students were like the exact opposite of the IB students, but at the same time these students can pick and choose what they want to take for AP classes whereas the IB students are in a program. That distinction between program and individual class came through with the differences in student makeup, ability level, and overall class size too (the AP class was another ten students larger than the IB classes). The AP students started off class with a timed writing, which meant that I was free for forty minutes. During this time I was able to go next door to a study skills / college preparation class and discuss with the students the transition into college and about college life. It really dawned on me that I only really have two months left of college. That is it and then I am done. I am really nervous about graduating in general, but at the same time I think I am ready to move on. However, it was a lot of fun to meet with these fifteen students who have struggled in high school and to see them all going to college or university is a huge deal. It is from there, though, that I think I really inspired them to go on and do their best during one of the or possibly the greatest time of life – during college. After about forty minutes of chatting with these students I went back to the AP classroom and was able to lead a discussion over the text that they had just wrote on for their essay. This discussion was kind of nerve wracking at first, new students that I did not know, teaching them, wow what an experience. So I did that for about fifteen minutes and then Jason took over and finished the class up with some announcements.

After school Jason and I talked about a whole variety of things that had happened that day and throughout the field of education – including which battles to fight. I noticed that throughout the day there were many students getting up and leaving to go places. Some of these students had passes and others did not. Jason told me that going to the whole issue of using the bathroom during class is one of the battles that he does not fight anymore. He used to, but then he re-evaluated and decided that it really was not worth the energy and time to fight it. We talked about a number of battles that he did or did not fight and why. I left with the acknowledgement that I will figure out which battles really matter to me and from there I will continue to be a better teacher.

Observing Jason was immensely helpful, if only to see what AP and IB students are like in a better light. However, learning from his teaching style, activities in class, and overall attitude toward teaching were extremely beneficial as I go back to Arapahoe and Wartburg.