Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A summer of big things - Picking a good hill

I don't know how other teachers spend their summers, but mine is usually spent teaching summer school so I can get paid.  I use my free time to do some official and unofficial PD.  Most importantly, I plan for the coming year. I'm a planner and a dreamer, so I can't help it.  I don't plan in the sense of developing individual lesson plans.  I basically sit around and dream of all the ways I can do it better.  I think of crazy schemes and projects I want to try out with my new batch of students.  I inudate flood my teammates' inboxes with all my crazy thoughts.  Sometimes they respond.  Sometimes they just write it off as more maniacal musings.

This summer my biggest "project" was revamping the way I teach math.  I will teach three different levels of seventh grade math class this fall and I want to do it differently than I ever have before.  I'm tired of the demonstrate the skill, guide their practice of the skill, send them home to independently practice the skill, then quiz them the next day routine of teaching math.  I've decided that I will set up some type of center approach with rotations that hinges on an inquiry-based methodology.  I have less than a month to get a lot of details sorted out on that one.

Deciding on such an approach has naturally led to the biggest change in how I do things.  I experimented with standards based grading last year in science, moving away from the traditional 100 point scale.  Implementation of RTI at our school helped set up a favorable environment to do so.  Even so, my grading practices remained more similar to the traditional way of doing things than to anything new.  This year will be different.  I am taking the full Nestea Plunge (pardon the dated and obscure reference) into standards based grading assessment.  I will no longer give grades of any type.

I've already written about this on Jason Bedell's blog here so I won't reiterate those boring details.  I prefer to use this post to evangelize, speak in fiery tones, and stake my claims.  If you read my other post, you will see I lay out the possible opposition.  I don't yet know how my principal will respond to such a method.  I'd like to think that he will love it based on our previous conversations.  The more I think about it, the more I want to talk about it with my colleagues.  Most of my colleagues will never go for such a scheme.  They still operate from an "everything has to be grade-kids have to learn responsibility-all these retakes without penalty isn't fair-we're preparing them for the real world" and so on mindset.

But this has become a Damascus Road experience for me.  Why have I never seen the light of this before?  Why have I feared trying this?  Is this not the only true way to assess (or "grade" if you must) a student's learning?  Is this not what education is supposed to be about?

Lest I begin sounding self-righteous and pompous in my newly enlightened state, I assure you it is not my intent.  But nothing else makes sense to me.  There will be barriers and they must be overcome if this is the right thing to do.  Technological and software constraints are trivial - those are easy to work around.  The real barriers are the ideological ones.  The rebel and revolutionary in me anticipates, maybe even longs for, a fight.  But I have picked a hill for this year.  It is on this hill that I am willing to die this year.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I was thinking about doing the same thing for my Grade 9 Math class. I want to do more project based learning and have centers for learning. I also can relate to what you say about, "dream of all the ways I can do it better."


    Brian aka Nunavut_teacher