As Robert Burns noted: “The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley” or the more popularly known “The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry.” While my class plans rarely (I hope) lead to grief and pain or even joy, this quote is apt for my teaching experience. Every teacher knows that the “best laid” lesson plans rarely work out exactly as planned but as WC Fields wisely noted: “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Perhaps it is the second part of that quote that most applies to my blog post: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
If I want to learn and grow as a teacher then I must evaluate and reflect on the successes and failures of my past classes – and perhaps most important I must learn from them so I can avoid making the same “damn fool” mistakes. I try to keep this in mind every semester as I embark on the 3x3semester evaluation suggested by Profhacker.
First, three things that went well: focus on community, reading groups, and emphasizing reflection. This semester I focused on developing class community and teaching my students about why community is important (as students and as writers). I deliberately used Twitter as a tool to build community in my class as well as to teach students about community. I think this worked well and I’m finally realizing the potential of using Twitter as a teaching tool. I also created reading discussion groups to further support community and to solve some of the problems I’ve been having with my reading assignment. These were a definite improvement over letting students go solo and forming them around student interests solved some of the problems I experienced with past reading groups. Finally, I placed even more emphasis on reflection than before. I continued with literacy narratives as before but I added journals, reflection discussions, and Twitter notes to provide further opportunity for reflection throughout the semester. I had used all these in the past but was much more deliberate about connecting them this semester and I was pleased with how that worked out.
Now, three things that didn’t work so well: reading groups, writing workshop, and rubrics. Organizing the reading groups by interest worked really well and I think helped students connect with each other and the material in more meaningful ways. However, I am still doing too much of the heavy lifting here to organize them. I need to get out of their way and let them do the work. I definitely need to micromanage less next semester. Same is true for writing workshop. I need to orchestrate the process but be careful about stepping in too soon or they will never learn to do it without the training wheels. Finally, I need to redo/rework/reconsider my use of rubrics. I don’t feel they are adequately representing evaluation.
Finally, I plan to restructure both my reading group and writing workshop assignments as well as redo my rubrics. This last will be the most challenging because I’m thinking about making it a collaborative exercise with input from my students. I’m not prepared to totally relinquish my control over this but I think making it a collaborative exercise could be a good learning/teaching tool which will fit in well with my intended focus for the spring semester. I’m teaching Writing I for the first time in a while and I intend to focus on not only how we become (more) literate but why it is important. Our reading and writing will focus on that topic which still falls within my writing-about-writing interest of the past but will allow me to work with my increasing interest in reflection and community as well as the citizenship aspect my program assessment requires.