Motivated?

I’ve been teaching now for nearly six weeks. It feels like a lot longer, but I know that I still have a long way to go on the never-ending journey of becoming the best teacher I can be. Love the clichés? Sleep deprivation + reflection = awesomely overused clichés.

I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks and the common thread in all my frustrations is motivation. I have students who are very motivated by marks, a few students who are motivated to do a good job because they want to, several students who are quite bright but “just aren’t applying themselves,” and even more students who just don’t seem to care.

In an attempt to change all that, I did what I am calling a flip-flopped classroom in my Workplace and Apprenticeship 20 course. I know that many of my students don’t care to do homework (hey – I didn’t either), so I abolished it. I still wanted to have a chance to be doing a flipped classroom-style learning experience, so I recorded my videos in less-than-five minute segments. I simply broke it up into manageable sections. I gave them enough information to get the jist of the topic and a few easy questions. I posted all the answers in the back of the classroom on my AWESOME “Problems? We’ve Got Answers!” bulletin board (I know what you’re thinking… I am so pithy or very lame! I’m still undecided on that one.). They check their work after each assignment, then watch the next video for the next lesson. It has a “short sheet,” which is basically a couple of questions they need to answer during the video to make sure that they understand what is going on, and, more importantly, to make sure they actually watched it. I usually broadcast one of my videos on the smartboard each day, depending on where the majority of the class is.

Here’s the beauty of this plan now. I have the entire class to be circulating. It gives me way more time to be helping students out, and it gives me way more control over classroom management. My back is never to the class, I am always milling about. I can catch problems before they arise. More importantly, the little goof-ball that brought in a laser pointer no longer has anything to point his laser at. Since I’ve implemented this, I’ve been so much happier with how smoothly my class has gone.

I also am loving the no-exam model I’ve created to accompany it. I have them do skill checks, as I’m using standards-based grading with this class. They get a skill checked twice on predetermined dates. These are basically like an exam, but chopped up into manageable, small portions

It’s not perfect. Not by a long short. I still have unmotivated kids. I still have kids off task. I still have hours from [insert insane place you’d like to avoid] where I’m run off my feet and feel like there is no hope for the upcoming generation. But, I have to say, it is better. I can catch more shenanigans before they become problems. I have students who are working hard and are ahead of the class (which means I have to keep ahead of them – not an easy feat some days!). I have most of my students working at the pace I set. I do have a few students who are behind, but since there is no exam looming, I don’t mind giving them a few days to get their act together. At the end of the day, I want them to learn, even if it s a few days later than I had originally hoped.

My favourite part of this is that I can have a unit assessment project. It’s not worth very much (SHH! Don’t tell the students!). It’s worth 10 marks out of 60 for the unit (5 marks per skill, with ten skills in total). It ties everything together and it is open-ended enough to let the students explore something that they care about and could see in their future.

I’ll end this post on one last happy note. On Friday, I asked the students what they thought of the change. Unanimously, they agreed. They all had good advice, like that I needed to get their marks up sooner for better feedback. I knew that one, but I’ll be a little bit more diligent from now on. What hit me was one student who has been a particular pain in the you-know-where (I bet you’re thinking of an ankle bone right?), said that I taught the lessons on my videos really well. The class then started clapping for me. I didn’t cry right then, but I’m certainly shedding a tear now. I can honestly say that even two weeks ago, I would have told you that I would likely never be shedding a happy tear due to this class. Gosh! I’m so glad I was wrong.

Kids have a remarkable ability to be wonderful. Just when you think all hope is lost, they do something that reminds me why I teach. I’ll have to remember this when I’m in the depths of despair next time.

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