One of the greatest challenges in my job is writing comments three times a year. Each one has to be about a half of a page and is supposed to capture that student in my class. What was it like to teach her? How did she respond to the variety of activities that we did? Was she helped or bored by them? Was she willing to tackle the tasks before her or did she shun the work? And the most important part of all, what did I learn about that girl that is different from all of my other students? How is she unique?
Every trimester, I work on new strategies to record the events to the day, so that I have an effective record of what actually went on. I have done everything from writing extensive notes after each class and assignment to copying every piece of paper each girl produces. I’ve had charts and grids, folders and files. And while all of that is important and a good jog for my memory, it is really not what I focus on when I sit down to write.
At those times, I simply close my eyes and remember. I try to picture that specific student in front of me. When I can see her, then I can write. In truth, most parents are less interested in whether or not their child can organize information to build an argument – a skill that I teach them – and are more focused on whether or not I know their unique and individual child. It is capturing that special spark that is always my goal. Sometimes I can get it, finding the phrase that freezes an instant that somehow epitomizes that student. Those are the comments that make me smile.
This year, to help me understand them better, I added a Reflection piece at the end of the term. As part of each students reflection on the term, I had them tell me what they wanted and did not want to hear in their reports. It was so interesting, because they could so clearly identify the areas where they heard the same comment over and over.
“I know that I need to speak up in class, but everyone says it, and I am trying. If you would not say it, I would be really grateful.” It was easy to write for her, “Annie is working hard on sharing her ideas in class and should be proud of her efforts.” By asking for each student to help in the process of showing their parents who they are, I learned so much more about each individual. It made it possible for me to avoid areas that would have led to increasing frustration and negativity, and it allowed me to communicate that I wanted to hear them and to partner with them on this learning journey. The process became more about affirming their actions, small and large, and letting them identify what they had accomplished and what they needed to make as their goals.
For those of you who read the post about the students giving me a grade, I took one more step and told them that I was going to let them grade me again at the end of the year. They get told that they have to grow and change every trimester, so I am holding myself to the same standard and am going to try to change along with them. I am reviewing their comments to me and starting to adapt what goes on in my class. More on that later!
I thought you would like to know that I stumbled across your blog this morning when I read the comment you left on Larry Ferlazzo’s blog “One Way to Help Students Who Have Shut Down.” I thoroughly enjoyed your honest, thoughtful reflections about your experiences in the classroom. This post in particular really resounded with me and I would like to try this. You are absolutely right that our students know our teaching much better than administrators. This is a wonderful way to empower them especially if as educators we then use the information to improve our teaching and they see this. Though as you mention, it is a bit terrifying. We have just come to the end of a grading period this week and I think I will create a google docs form to have my students fill out. I teach online so I don’t see my students and it can be especially difficult to know how to help them or what they find confusing. Thanks for your inspiration and courage!
It was a wonderful experiment for me! I hope you learn as much. Teaching online creates different issues. Good luck! Thanks for the comment.
Sorry I posted my comment on the wrong post. It was meant to go on “Getting a Grade”
I am a student of Dr. Strange’s at the University of South Alabama. He has assigned his students, teacher blogs to follow. And what an interesting and informative one I got! This post was rather intriguing to me because I hope to soon be a Special Education teacher, and I wonder all the time about these children and all the testing that is required of them. Did you observe any special needs children? Are they required to go through the testing too? It’s a shame that the people who require all this testing of students aren’t required to observe their “coping techniques” like you have. I feel that lots of children have huge potential, they just don’t all test well (I unfortunately was one of these students). I hope one day their would be more ways to ‘check’ a child’s comprehension of their school material other than pencil and paper test.
I look forward to following your blog!
Thanks for the comment, Tracy. I love hearing from the students in your class. The group I was observing was not Special Needs. I think moving forward, we as educators, will have to come up with better ways to assess what the students are learning. Lots of important thinking to be done there!
Oh goodness that was suppose to go under “No standard response to testing”. I think I may have hit the comment button at the bottom instead of the top. I apologize!
My name is Katherine and I’m a student in Mobile, AL. I really have enjoyed reading your comments about your class and I have learned a lot from your blog. I will continue to keep up with your blog because you have expressed great points in your blog that all teachers should use. I’m happy that you chose to have your students reflect on your teaching. When a teacher can have his/her students tell the teacher what they can do better it helps the teacher to grow and the students know that they are helping that teacher to grow and will feel proud to help. It’s also nice to have the students tell you what they don’t want to continuously hear from you or others because they have heard so much already. I get to evaluate my professors at the end of the semester and I always look forward to the evaluation. I hope that my professors take time out to grow when they read the comments from their students. Thank you again for having such a great blog and for providing me with all of this great information.