By Alissa Hansen
It’s 2016 and a new year implies some changes that need to happen. My number one goal is to be transparent about all of the changes that I would like to make in order to make this second semester successful.
As Mrs. Choate had said in her previous post, teaching freshmen is rather a delicate matter. They come at learning with the mentality of a middle schooler, yet they are eager to gain knowledge and be treated like upperclassmen. They want freedom and independence, yet they need rules and structure. They need to be encouraged, but redirected when off task. They need to be “tricked” into learning, in other words in order for them to be motivated, they need to see that joy that Lemov talks about and they also need to see how the content is relevant to their own lives in for them to take a vested interest in what is being taught. I’ve taught upperclassmen for a number of years and last year was the first year that I have taught freshmen exclusively. They are an oxymoron at times; they want to be treated one way but act the opposite. Their emotions are a rollercoaster and most of them do not have a problem wearing their emotions on their sleeves. It’s quite the classroom to observe. I have to say that although these past two years have been challenging, they have also been the most rewarding as I have the opportunity to witness just how much students can grow, academically and socially, over the course of the year. This first semester has had its ups and downs in terms of students’ lack of motivation and negativity, so my goal is to make some changes in hopes that this second semester will end with a bang!
In terms of routines, I have them (I have a website with an agenda for students each day. I write clear objectives on the board. Students know where to go for missing or make-up work and where to pick up hard copies of work they missed due to an absence. I greet students as they enter my room each day). So, I feel pretty good about the routines I have established for my classroom and students know what to do when they enter my room; however, there are times that everything doesn’t align as wonderfully as I would like it to. Sometimes while I am greeting students at the door, inside the classroom, students are not beginning their Do No (which is clearly on the board) and not following rules so some of the routines do need to be tweaked. I like the idea of the threshold that Lemov discusses. It can be very difficult to try and reach out on a personal level with 150 students each day, but this semester I am really going to strive for doing this in a genuine way. My goal this semester is to make a personal connection with FIVE students each day. And when I say personal, I mean want to reach out to students and work with them one-on-one, despite the demands of the entire class. My plan to is to focus on one class each day and five students each day.
I really like the idea of STAR/SLANT too, but working this into a schedule with freshmen could be tricky. Students could view this as childish, so I think I have to be pretty sneaky about incorporating this into the curriculum. This will work out pretty well given that we are approaching the research paper and persuasive speech. I am going to have students start doing impromptu speeches more often and this would be a great tactic for them to learn how to be active listeners/respectful audience members and hopefully this will translate into how they approach being students in the classroom and really listening during lessons/instruction. Freshmen seem to have a really difficult time with this, so perhaps making it a game with incentives will prove to be beneficial.
So, with routines, although I feel like I have some pretty good ones in place, I still plan to include some of Lemov’s ideas for routines and be very transparent with students about the process.
Character & Trust
This is the chapter that really had some resonance with me because although I think I have a pretty good rapport with students, there are still many areas in this category that I need to work on. I NEED to live in the now, assume the best, allow for anonymity, to narrate the positive and reinforce actions and not traits. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and when I reprimand students for things they can no longer change, I know it defeats the whole purpose. And how can anything be learned through criticism, unless it’s constructive? So, instead of stating “ Student’s name, put your phone away” or “Student’s name, you need to stop talking” I can focus on what they can do to be successful like, “I need you focused for this lesson”. I can also fall into the trap of making students out to be deliberate about their off-task behavior, and although sometimes it can be, I am sure there is a reason and instead of focusing on the negative like “you’re being rude!”, I can be a little more delicate to make sure my words are not judgemental of the person, but instead the behavior. For example I could say, “That behavior is not acceptable.” I try to be as positive as possible, but even that can be difficult when students get frustrated and give up or are off-task and unproductive. I really need to do more focusing on what is going well and stop getting sucked into what is not because it brings me down. And even when things aren’t going well, I need to try to pull out an aspect that can be viewed as positive. For example, “I am glad that you are putting in the effort here. It looks like you started this part off well” or if a student is not being productive I could say, “ Student’s name, I really want to see your best work here as I have seen it before. We have a lot to do today.” I can also make sure to address students in a way that helps them become risk tolerant so they understand that they are fully in control of their learning and that their actions determine the results, not “how smart or not smart that they perceive themselves as being”.
I have a lot of work to do, but I do think there is plenty of time to do it and it’s a great time to begin this reinvigoration of teaching as it’s a new year!