The students were reminded of the class format, the resources available to them, and the expectations of the course. There was to be one difference to today's class, though - today I would be moving from "pod to pod" within the room, speaking with 3-5 students at a time about their test results, how the first unit went (in their opinion), and how they would like to see the course progress through the new unit.
Basically, I wanted to know: what do the students find is working? It was great sitting down with them in these small groups, and I found all of the conversation to be respectful and engaging. Here is some of what they said:
- 10-minute mini-lectures: These were overwhelmingly loved by the students. Many said they really liked receiving the note in small groups (rather than to the whole class) as it let them ask more questions and control the pace of the note better. Because the students tend to work with their friends, in a mini-lecture there they found there was less conflict/frustrations between students of different cliques or backgrounds, allowing them to feel more comfortable in class as a whole.
- Online resources: Many students (but not all) really took advantage of the online videos, worksheets, lessons and tutorials to work ahead or get caught up from home. Those students who had to spend time away from school seemed to benefit from this the most.
- Tracking Chart: Students liked the visual aspect of the tracking chart, both to keep on top of their own progress, but also as a double check for me (did I not get their work from learning goal 7? They were sure they handed it it? Let's look together…). The students suggested we add to this by denoting - somehow - roughly where the students should be in the course on the master list, as if they were working at an average pace through the learning goals.
- Pace: On the whole, students like working at their own pace, not only as they move forward through the material, but also because the master list lets them jump back and forth between topics - the resources are always there.
- Live Help: Students wanted the ability to receive help when they needed it, and suggested I keep the editable Google Docs Help! file accessible at all times - not just as we approached a test.
- Testing: Students liked the quizzes (taken after every 3 learning goals), but not the test (taken at the end of the unit). They liked how the quizzes and test matched the learning goals well, but felt there was too much expected of them on the test. I'm not sure if this is due to poor review of the unit's 8 learning goals on their part, or rather my tests are too long. I'll be talking with other teachers, and showing them my test, to see what they think. We'll also revise our review process leading up to the next test.
- Videos: A small number of students used the videos quite a bit, but many find them boring (just following someone's writing while listening to a voice) and complicated. youtube is also still blocked at our school, making even trying to watch the videos frustrating. I'm on a mission to find better-quality videos. Bonus if they are not on youtube.
- One-on-one help: Several groups discussed the availability of one-on-one help during class time. They like that there is lots of opportunity to interact with me, but they - like me - find the class so busy that they can't always get the amount of help they want.
One of the strategies I hope to use to help with this includes getting a properly organized binder of handouts that the students themselves can go to when they are ready to move forward in the unit, instead of having me "guard" the exit slips. Another strategy is to often remind and encourage them to consult each other. Hopefully this will help.
Definitely need to change:
- The only complaint the students really had about the first unit, was that one day I was away from class for a meeting. They felt that between me being away and, in some cases, them being away the day before/after, they lost up to two days of progress. It didn't help that this was just a few days before the test. While this could be an excellent opportunity to remind them of their access to resources as well as initiative when it comes to independent learning, in the interest of keeping everyone organized, I'll be letting the students know in advance - where possible - when I won't be in class.
One pod of students said they would benefit from a more traditional structure to the class: having a note, and then practicing the concepts until they are ready for the exit slip. For this group, I will start each class with a mini-lecture at their table (and to any others who want to join in), on the learning goal of their choice to get them started, before moving on to the rest of the class. I think it's a nice compromise.
Onward and upward into the second unit!