Thursday, 28 July 2016

Notes for a new term

The end of the first semester has meant a bit of reflection about the successes and failures of the courses that have just finished, so that particularly the failures can make my this semester's courses better. In the spirit of so many blog posts and suchlike, I am going to do a top-5 list of things I can do better this time around.

1. Don't overcomplicate things. It is good to offer options to students and to give them freedom to choose or take their inquiries in the direction that appeals to them, however, in one of my modules I ended up assessing two different standards at two different levels, which meant four sets of marking and moderating. Not to mention the sheer logistics of differentiating my instructions to students! Madness. It is much better to do one thing really well, and have choice within that as necessary.

2. Keep the learning objectives in mind. No matter what you are teaching, you will have to report on it at some point. If you use your learning objectives to keep your teaching on track, it also will make the reporting both relevant and easier. (This doesn't mean 'teach to the test', that is something else again, because what a test is, is and should be completely different from learning objectives.) Learning objectives are what your students are supposed to be learning, so shouldn't that be what you (I) are teaching?

3. Mark as you go. I am a shocker for leaving everything till the big main assessment, and then having all of my classes with marking due in the same week. And marking is not my favourite part of this job.  Even though all of the work that students are doing throughout the course is relevant, and there are some good, assessable activities amongst them, which won't even take that long, I just somehow always seem to forget that, and end up at a point where if I were to mark everything that I originally intended, it would take me three weeks longer than I actually have. So, do lots of small bits of marking, and don't procrastinate, and even, plan small bits that you will mark within a larger class or activity and then, do just that bit. (I'm being aspirational here, I know, but it's a plan...)

4. It's okay to do teaching. A lot of what we do is inquiry based, and student choice and voice are really important. But to begin a new course or class, actually students do need some context, so that they can find out what they don't know, in order to find out 'the answer', or an answer. And sometimes, some information, via some sort of text, and then some questions about it, equals scaffolding! Seriously, this definition only just occurred to me right now. I am so pleased with myself. Because I like teaching, and making students think about stuff they never would have themselves, and I like to take their brains and make them hurt, just a bit, and this is because one of the things that is most important to me is doing the action of thinking. Students are not always going to know what questions to ask, but you can lead them towards those questions.

5. Do what you love. The best classes are the ones you are really involved in because it's what you are really passionate about or interested in. Students know that too. The teachers I remember are the ones who really loved their content, so that even if I hated it (Animal Farm and allegory in 7th form English, anyone?), I still responded to it. That's as true now the classes are called year whatever as it was when they were primers, standards and forms. So the stuff you geek out on as a person - and we all do - should be the stuff you teach, simple as that.

I have a plan now, and at nearly the end of week one, I am achieving it so far. We'll see how the rest of the term and semester go.

Just as an aside, isn't it funny how so many years of experience make you think there is nothing left to learn, but then you start to do things differently, and the learning starts all over? I much prefer the continually learning version, it's a lot more fun.

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