As with all my other courses now, classes were set up in a mastery-based, proceed-at-your-own-pace way. It was a new way of learning for most of my grade 9s, who were used to lecture-based teaching.
We did a number of introductory activities - getting onto the Google Classroom, trying out various GAFE tasks, learning how to make notes from various sources - before jumping into the content. We started with the Electricity unit, which has lots of great tactile labs and experiments, so students didn't have to rely too much on a lot of new-to-them technology.
To make it a bit more manageable, I reduced the number of choices to start, made some tasks mandatory, so everyone was completing them and they could work together. But students still had to figure out what worked best for them individually, and apply that to being able to succeed in an open-class setting.
For many of these students, all of a sudden it was a LOT of freedom.
What Happened?Some blossomed immediately. Students who love science and love learning really enjoyed the fact that they were not restricted by the pace of the rest of the class, and could get creative with some of their work.
Many students have taken the full two months since the semester started to really discover how they learn best. The first unit was a huge flop for many of them, mostly because they weren't sure how to pace themselves, or how to structure their time in class. I am absolutely thrilled at the progress they have made in the second unit (and I share my excitement with them!); I can really see them growing into independent learners.
While our second unit was much less hands-on (which may have helped with their adjustment - mental note for next time I teach this course), I am confident going into a new unit with more labs next week that they will continue to improve.
But for some, the freedom is still too much. They continue to get very little done in class (for some, their productivity worsens as time goes on), and what does get done is rushed and done only so that they can say the task is "complete." They spend most of their time chatting, and the excuses as to why they aren't working are unending. There seems to be no intrinsic or extrinsic motivation that I can offer to help them make their way through the course material. As a result, their progress is slow and their resulting grade low.
I've been blamed for not teaching.
I've been told I'm "not doing my job."
I've been told that I am the reason these students aren't learning anything.
But some students, no matter how many times I offer help, or sit down to explain a concept, or offer to fetch materials for them, or check in with them to see if they have any questions, they still refuse assistance. They enjoy the freedom and casual nature of the class (perhaps a little too much?), but they cannot function within it.
A Fresh StartI have tried changing where the students who struggle congregate in the room to work together (though more often than not, together, they get distracted and get nothing done). I have tried isolating them and providing them with resources to work on their own (though when apart, some take offence and refuse to do anything at all). I have provided digital activities, analog activities, creative activities, rote activities, hands-on activities, bookwork. I've tried strategizing with the students, as well as with their parents... but nothing seems to engage them in learning.
So with the new unit next week, comes a new tactic.
For the students who are truly not able to succeed with this much freedom, I am going back to lecture-based teaching and set assignments. But not for the whole class - with a peer teacher in the room, I will be able to take the few students aside, individually, and present them a 10-minute lecture on the day's topic. They can take the note (as they are used to), ask questions, and then be guided to complete a task by the end of the period.
Part of me feels defeated going back to "traditional" teaching. And part of me dislikes the idea of "forcing" teaching on students. I would much rather have them come to me when they are ready to learn. But part of me is happy that because the rest of the students have such good momentum going in class, I now have the time to sit down with these individuals and truly tailor a lesson to them.
As uncomfortable as it feels to be seemingly "moving backwards" from a dynamic class, I don't think I really am. I have to remind myself that true differentiated instruction requires knowing the learner, and adjusting the lessons so that they can meet with success, and that's exactly what I'm trying to do.
With luck, as we progress through this unit and into the next one, we can work on independence and transfer skills from this particular lesson setting, to a more autonomous one. We'll see how it goes...