Thursday, December 04, 2014

It's All in the Feedback

So, it's December 4th, and this is the first post I've written for the month of December.  Well, actually that's not true.  I spent 30 minutes writing a blog yesterday, only for the whole thing to disappear when I was trying to publish it.  That's an awesome feeling....not.  So, now I'm going to try and recreate that post and share what I've been up to for the past few days.

I haven't been gone because I had nothing to write about.  Anyone that knows me knows that will probably never happen.  I can ALWAYS find something to write about.  No, I've been gone because my behind had a REALLY hard time getting out of bed early enough to write my blog on Monday and Tuesday.  It was freezing cold outside, and nice and warm in my cozy bed.  So, I decided to hit the snooze button about a bazillion times until I just ran out of time to sit and write anything.

I was also EXHAUSTED after the break, and going back to work was a transition I had to get myself back into the groove of.  It's amazing how five days off can mess with me so much.  Also, the fact that I spent two days stressing about a homework assignment for one of my classes didn't help.  On Friday and Saturday, I spent the majority of those two days in front of my computer trying to make a video for the education technology class I'm taking.  By late Saturday afternoon, I was in tears with frustration and ready to throw my computer out of the window and never touch a piece of technology again.  

I will say, though, that the whole ordeal gave me A LOT to think about when it comes to my students.  Not to sound braggy, but I've never had any real struggles when it comes to learning or doing assignments.  I skated my way through elementary school, high school, and college barely cracking a single text book, yet still coming out with straight As.  I never had problems with taking tests, writing essays, completing handouts, or doing research projects.  Don't get me wrong, I had my share of stressful situations, but I've never really been in a situation where I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do.  It was ten times worse being in a situation where I should know what to do, but what I was trying wasn't working.  Technology is something I'm pretty good at using.  I am considered somewhat of a go-to person with technology questions, and I am always finding new tech tools to use in my classroom.  So, it was so much worse being so stressed and lost with what I was supposed to be doing for my final tech assignment.  Making a video should have been a walk in the park for me, but it wasn't... and I felt the weight and pressure of the stress that came along with it.

So, thinking about my own students, I was able to really see for the first time what it was like being on the verge of frustration to where I wanted to give up and throw in the towel.  I got a glimpse of what it was like, and I didn't like it.  However, I also didn't give up and kept on pushing, and when the project was finally completed, I felt so much relief and satisfaction that I'd made it through.  A situation I can also share with my students who sometimes feel like giving up when the going gets tough.  

This week, the atmosphere in my classroom has been quite different.  I've been talking A LOT about how important it is to stick with something, regardless of how hard it may seem, and the tools and resources that are available when it feels like nothing is making sense or they just don't think they'll ever get it.  I've also been relying on student feedback to drive my instruction methods in a whole new way.

Student feedback is something that our district is really focusing on this year.  We have had all kinds of professional development, meetings, and are in the midst of book studies related to student feedback. A lot of emphasis has been put on the feedback that teachers give their students, but I've also been really tuned in to the feedback I've been getting from my students.

My focus for the past couple of weeks have been the groans and cheers I get throughout the day.  For example, if I tell the students to get out their math books and there is a collective groan that sweeps through the classroom, I have been tuned in to it.  Rather than just pretending I didn't hear it, I've been calling kids out on the groans they've made and asked for their feedback.  What I've found out is that those groans come for a variety of reasons:  Some kids groan because they think math is boring, some kids groan because they are scared of math and know they're going to struggle, and some kids groan because everyone else in the room is groaning and they feel like they should just jump on board and do it too - even though they actually like math, but don't want anyone else to know.  

So, I asked for feedback on what I could do to minimize the groans, and it's really been a great experience.  Kids have shared with me that they like the examples that I do, but they want it to be more interactive.  They like being given little challenges or discussing with their table how to solve problems before I show them how.  Some kids have shared that when they're ready to start working on their own, they'd like to be able to do that rather than sit through the extra examples I do for the kids that are struggling.  The struggling kids have shared that they like coming up to my table and working with me in a small group so that they can feel more confident, and I can give them some close assistance as they're working.  With that feedback, I decided to change a few things.  

Starting this week, I've given the kids a couple of problems to solve before I start talking.  They try and solve, swap their work with a partner, and then discuss how they got their answers.  I then spend a few minutes going over the problems they did, and they share some of the struggles they had or some of the mistakes they made.  I then work a couple of interactive examples we do as a class.  Then, I let the kids who are ready start their assignment, and bring up the few that aren't ready to start come up to my table and we work in a small group.  And you know what I haven't heard this week?  A single groan.  In fact, I've heard a lot of cheers when we're calling grades and the majority of them made an A, I've heard collaboration going on where the kids are helping each other, and I've had almost every single student do MORE than they're assigned problems in order to get some extra bonus points and because they feel much more confident in being able to do the extra work.  WIN!!

Now I'm moving in to doing the same approach for reading and science.  I can't do it all in one swoop, but the kids know I'm making an effort to make their learning more fun and meaningful.  Of course, I still have a couple of kids that try and take advantage of the situation, and really aren't happy about anything that we do.  As much as I want to please all of them, I've found that I can't... but I can increase the positivity level and what I've quickly realized is that not one single time this week have I had a kid not turn in homework or rush through an assignment because they really couldn't give two hoots about how they do on it.  And that's not because of me, it's because of the other students in the class playing monitors to those students.  I've almost teared up hearing a student question another student about checking their work and making sure they didn't rush, or a student telling another student that they should be working on their homework instead of talking so they don't have to do it at home.  I've also seen a huge jump in student collaboration with actually working on stuff.  If a student is struggling, I've watched that student ask a table mate how they're doing it, and that table mate talking them through the process and then asking them if they understand.  It's pure magic, I tell ya.  

All this positivity is having a drastic impact on my classroom atmosphere and my student relationships. Each morning, I've been bombarded with kiddos wanting to give me a hug and every afternoon I've been showered with those same hugs.  I've had kids thank me for giving them such a fun day, thank me for helping them get through a problem they were having, or thank me for being such a great teacher.  We've laughed, we've joked around, we've sang Christmas songs, and it's been one of the best weeks in my teaching career....and the week isn't even over yet.  The groans haven't disappeared, but I'm much more accepting of the groans that I've now started hearing.  I've heard groans when I've told the kids it's time to stop working on something and I've heard groans when I've told my kids that it's time to pack up for the day.  Those are the type of groans I'll gladly keep.

All I know is that I've rekindled my love of teaching a hundred times over.  I am learning and adapting every single day, and that's exactly what I signed up for.  I never want to get stuck in my ways or be one of those teachers that isn't willing to change and adapt to the student needs.  As much as I wanted to be the teacher that wanted to empower and motivate her students, I'm quickly learning that I can only make that happen when the students empower and motivate me...and that's exactly what they're doing.

It's time for me to go, but I will say that I'm so excited for another day of fun, learning, and teaching.  

Have a great Thursday, everyone!!


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