Saturday, August 17, 2013

Evolving Education

While it has been a while since I have collected my thoughts and reflected on the status of education in my classrooms, I saw some amazing things happening in my classroom this past year. As seen in my previous posts, I strive to prepare students for their post high school future by promoting 21st Century Skills and focusing on the Common Core Standards. Both of these stress the importance of technology integration, problem solving, critical thinking, and supporting thoughts and ideas.

English students have been entering the classroom, going straight to the laptops, opening the classroom website and beginning the classroom activities before the bell to begin class even rings. Some students even complete the introductory creative writing blog post earlier in the day because they got caught up in their previous classes. Students have progressed from using Blogger to post their classroom assignments to the learning management system (LMS), Canvas ( where they post literary analyses to discussion boards and reply to the posts of their peers and post literary analysis essays to Canvas for online review.

In a recent blog post, students reflected on the progress of their writing from the beginning of the year to their latest literary analysis, and their responses are enlightening:
"I can now elaborate my thoughts in a more detailed fashion, accurately portraying my ideas among the facts I gathered from whatever we were analyzing and the literary criticisms online. Thankfully, my writing in general - the actual sound of my sentences - has improved a lot more."
"I seem to have a system going on now that I never had before. I will go and find my sources first, then when I find something interesting, I add it to what I'm writing and it makes citing things much easier. I feel stupid for ever trying to do it any other way. I used to just babble and go find credible sources that were nearly always irrelevant to what I was saying. Its sad that I stressed myself so much over doing that before I learned that writing can actually be enjoyable."
"I feel as if I have grown as writer and have [exceeded] my expectations. I think that looking back is a good thing. Seeing improvements in oneself gives needed confidence and satisfactory in moving forward with harder and more detailed writings."
"I feel like my language in my more recent discussion posts has become more scholarly and concise than when I started out the year. . . . I also think that I have gotten much better at fitting my support into my posts more naturally, so that it doesn't disrupt the flow of my writing."
"I find myself putting all of my ideas down and being able to connect them all without making it choppy.  In past writings, I was a boring writer and I got bored coming up with ideas.  When I would put my ideas down in my blog, they were all mixed together and would leave things hanging.  I am glad that my writing has evolved and I hope it keeps on evolving."
"Now I use literary criticisms more, which uses the thoughts of experts. Since I am using the thoughts of experts, this supports what I am trying to say. This has really helped me improve my writing. I also think that I have gotten better at citing my sources than I used to be. I am much more comfortable with using parenthetical citations because I now have to use them in every single thing that I write about."
"I can now elaborate my thoughts in a more detailed fashion, accurately portraying my ideas among the facts I gathered from whatever we were analyzing and the literary criticisms online. Thankfully, my writing in general - the actual sound of my sentences - has improved a lot more."
"Overall I think I am a way better writer than I was at the beginning of the year. As much as I dislike writing these essays I believe that they have benefited me and improved my skills as a writer."
"After reading my reflection blog from back in September, I can definitely see improvement in my writing. At the beginning of the year, I kind of had an idea of how to write in this more formal style with support, but I still had much to learn. . . . It is encouraging to see how my writing has improved over the months and I hope to continue to do so."
"I do not just skim the surface of a topic, but I can now actually make arguments about poems, and essays that I was not previously able to do. My analyzing while reading skills have also gotten better too. I am more confident in understanding what I am reading now, then I was in the beginning of the year. All in all, I believe that I am a better writer, and that my skills will continue to improve."
"By looking back on my writing just a few months ago, I have realized just how much I have changed as a writer.  I think the biggest difference is that I can write a lot faster and good information seems easier to put into words.  I guess that a lot of practice can really make a big difference."
I, myself, used these student posts as a means of self-reflection. Instead of assuming that they "got it," I was reassured that they all recognized what they were accomplishing and respected the process that I guided them through to improve their writing. My reflections have also prompted me to assess the process and tools that I had used throughout the school year. Synchronous discussions in Today's Meet chat allowed everyone to have a simultaneous voice and led to amazing discussions. Discussion posts in Canvas led to incredible academic discussions worthy of collegiate study. Using Facts on File databases as a reference tool for students to incorporate as support for their ideas in their essays, led to improved scholarly writing and better expression of ideas.
While teachers typically assume that we are "doing it right," reflecting on the tools and pedagogy that we used in our lessons is just as important as reflecting on the multiple assessments that we give along the way. Teaching comes with successes and failures, and finding what works is an evolving process in itself. I have not taught the same way every year - while there are similarities, there is always something different about the pedagogy and/or tools used that fits better with the students in the classroom. Reflection is key to making the right decisions to make the educational process more successful for the students.

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