Monthly Archives: February 2012

Blog Post #100

Wow! This is Number 100!

I started this journey of writing about my classes and my own learning in a digital world two years ago. I think if I had known that there were going to be 100 posts to follow and then more beyond that, I might have been to intimidated to start, but like most challenges, it was mastered one single step, one blog post, at a time.  Each one has not been too much to do, and so I have stuck with it, thinking about my students and their lives and my teaching with it strengths and weaknesses. I am grateful to all of the people who have read what I have written and especially to those who have left comments.  It has been a wonderful conversation and has caused me to not only reflect on my practice but to push it to be the best that it can be.

I have found that writing this has linked me to a global network of educators, educators who are passionate and dedicated. Teachers do not have to blog to be dedicated, but I have found that the ones who are writing are also regularly pushing themselves to make what happens in their classrooms be the best that it can be.  Every day someone is taking a chance, trying a new strategy to improve the learning in their classroom better and to engage their students more. It isn’t the same person all of the time; it is a community of adventurers. Sort of like a flock of Canadian geese, each of us taking a turn at the front, breaking the wind and leading the way, then moving back to be one of the followers. We are all moving, all trying; sometimes it is groundbreaking and sometimes it is merely staying true to the vision and moving forward.Writing this blog reminds me that I am part of that community, that I am not alone in these endeavors. Reading other educators blogs does the same thing. I learn from them, and I share with them.

I have tried to share both my successes and moments of wonder as well as the challenges and moments of defeat, the problems for which I can’t find a solution or the days when the lessons just go all wrong. That is the life of a teacher. We never have full control over what happens in our classrooms. Students enter with all of their own energy and needs, plus the impact of the earlier parts of their day. They may have had success or been in a fight with a best friend. Whatever has happened to them comes in to meet the lesson that we have planned. It is our job to orchestrate it as well as we can, giving attention to each student as much as we can, and creating a learning environment for them all at the same time.

It is all a journey, one of wonder and laughter, one of discouragement and pain. I am grateful for the push to reflect on what I am doing that writing this blog has given me. It forces me to think about what I have done and what I am doing with a keener eye. It is definitely a milestone to have reached 100. I am looking forward to sharing the next 100 with you!

Memorization in an Ungraded Classroom

As I have written before, I believe in memorization. It is an important skill, and while learning it, students learn a lot about themselves as learners. The first part of the process of teaching memorization is to introduce a variety of strategies for learning the required facts. I love teaching them to create songs, do a dance, write it in the air, whatever works for them. This year, when we got to the point where I focus on this, I had a completely different experience than I have had in the past. In other years, I had them read and annotate a text. We discussed it; they took notes. I taught them some strategies for learning the information and gave a quiz. It was pretty straight-forward “school,” usually a moment of simple success for the girls. There was no need to make judgments or defend their ideas. They simply memorized and showed control over the information, an important History skill.

Now, enter the world of No Grades. The beginning was similar to past year’s, but then it all began to shift. It was the first “quiz” of the year, where there were true Right and Wrong answers. They were clearly agitated by the very fact of the quiz. “This class doesn’t get grades. How can you give us a quiz?” I explained to them that the quiz was a first step in working with the information, but that until they had learned it and memorized it, they couldn’t move onto the next step. The quiz was simply to show them if they, in fact, knew the facts.

I set the quiz up online and allowed each student to take it 4 times if necessary to get it all correct. They took it and the first time, many of them got fewer than 50% correct. The online quiz told them that and suddenly they were furious, at me.

“We aren’t supposed to be graded! It’s not fair!”

When I probed a bit, I discovered that because they weren’t getting a grade, they felt comfortable reading over their notes a couple of times as a way to study. Without the pressure of a grade, they didn’t feel the need to verify that they actually had learned it well enough to demonstrate control over the facts. It wasn’t really that they were being lazy; they just had a situation that wasn’t following the rules as they knew them. As the only ungraded class that they have, it is natural that if they have to make a choice between the graded quiz in one class and the ungraded work in mine, they would choose to put their attention towards the graded one. That is how they have been taught.

Their work for me felt comfortable and safe, and therefore studying by reading their notes over a few times seems like enough. No pressure, no panic to succeed.

Suddenly they were faced with a percentage that they could easily translate into a grade, and they were angry and felt betrayed, in some way.

“I thought you said we weren’t getting a grade.”

It took some hard conversations to work through to a place where together we began to create an understanding that there can be safety while there is learning, that the work of learning, ongoing and daily, still needs to happen. Some of the work will be fun and feel easy, and some of the work will be challenging and call for real effort. Unfortunately, memorization and having control over a body of information is the latter.

I gave them a week to take the quiz again; most of them had it memorized and completed within another day.