Student Reflections on Teaching

The student-taught lessons are coming to an end in our US History class. After teaching, I asked students to reflect on the following questions. Below each question I’ve posted some of the student responses.

Did your lesson go according to your plan? If not, how did it vary? Was this a good or bad thing?

My lesson went pretty accurately to plan. There were a few times I needed to ad-lib due to the fact that some things took longer than I had anticipated. I did not get to send out the game I wanted everyone to play, and I did not get to show my video, but since the debate was going well, I asked another question for them to talk about because they seemed interested. It wasn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing, I just observed it as an obstacle that everyone is eventually going to need to overcome because not everything is always going to go according to plan.

My planned lesson ended up about 5 minutes early but I quickly thought up the idea of quizzing the students on “what food came first” based on the food timeline they had all looked at for their hw. Definitely ended up being a good thing, because it brought the class back to a more standard learning style (after the making of strawberry shortcakes), while still keeping the class fun and interactive.

The picture taking from the magazine took a lot longer than I had anticipated, so I didn’t get a chance to do the last couple of things I had planned. I don’t think this was good because the beginning was mostly reflection and I wanted to get into the video and scenarios.

Do you felt you engaged the students? How could you tell?

Sometimes engaging the students as difficult in the conversations because it wasn’t a very controversial topic. But I feel like I did a good job working with that, asked each person so say the major thing that hit them from the reading. Also, I think that giving every few people an event and putting it on the board in a timeline forced everyone to think and participate. I thought the game was a good way to participate as well.

Yes, I did. I felt like bringing candy was critical, primarily because when you announce people will be rewarded for their participation, it instantly spiked interest. Most of the people were talking during the debate that I started, which made me think that the people were interested in the topic I asked them to debate on. Also, people were talking and raising their hands whenever I asked questions, even though through the homework I learned that everyone did not particularly have an interest in baseball.

Teaching

What would you do differently if you were to teach the lesson again?

First of all, I would have picked a topic that was more interesting to the class. Baseball was interesting to me, so it made the class very easy to teach, and made it possible for me to change the plans on the fly when something unexpected happened. I would have picked a topic that more of the class was interested in because it would have potentially led to more questions back to me, rather than just a couple of questions from the students, and a lot of questions from myself.

I would leave more time for discussion. I feel like that’s what everyone gets the most out of because it opens up different ideas and perspectives. This was also a topic that people are interested in talking about, so everyone was generally engaged during the discussion.

I would probably ask people to close their computers, because I realized they weren’t necessary, and was the source of some distractions. Also, I would try to figure out a way to bring more debate into the class.

What did you learn from teaching? How might you be able to apply this learning in other contexts?

I learned that teaching is a lot like putting on a play or a performance. Even though you are up there presenting to your friends and classmates, they mostly just stare blankly at their computers if you are not asking them direct questions. Teaching has to be difficult to constantly keep 16 and 17 year olds entertained for a block of time. I think i can apply this to other contexts when I am working with younger students for tutoring or volunteering and also in public speaking, be sure to keep the information straight forward and the important things at the beginning.

I learned that it is harder than expected to willingly engage everyone in a topic you find interesting. I also think that I learned that I need to directly ask questions to an individual and not the whole class. I think it gave me more respect to the difficulty that teachers have keeping a class engaged, especially when they are forced to teach on something that is particularly boring.

I learned that it is frustrating when people don’t listen or participate. From now on, I will definitely try more to minimize side conversations.

I learned that people are active when the topics are things that they are interested in, I could try to get people to relate to topics in various ways so that everyone can be engaged.

It’s pretty hard to keep everyone engaged unless the topic is really interesting. Also it’s necessary to keep debate going for the length of the whole period so that was a little challenging. I think being able to keep discussions going is important especially for job interviews and college interviews. They look for a person who is friendly and can keep a conversation, not someone who answers with one word.

Choice, Choices, Choices

I get overwhelmed by choice very easily. In fact, one of the reasons I like being a pescatarian (vegetarian + fish) is that it instantly reduces my choices at restaurants. As much as I like feeling in control, I don’t mind when particular choices are unavailable to me because it means less decision-making stress.

Sheena Iyengar’s keynote about choice at NAIS Annual Conference 2011 has me thinking about the kinds of choices I give students. (Check out this cool graphic recording of the keynote.) She noted that people generally perform better when given choice (although this was nuanced a bit based on individual characteristics), but that too much choice can be paralyzing.

In my classes, I often employ a choices + suggestions model. Those students who get overwhelmed easily by choice can operate within the pre-defined choices, but those who feel restricted by those choices still have the autonomy to suggest alternate choices. As a teacher, it also reduces the choices that I have to make. I can think carefully through the options I initially offer students and then consider the alternate requests rather than having to think through requests by every student. The choice of topics for the Shift project worked this way.

Another way to provide choice such that students feel empowered rather than overwhelmed is to allow either choice of content or mode of presentation/demonstration of learning, but not necessarily both in the same project. For example, in a recent project, students had a choice of characters from a book to an create a glog that portrayed a page from the character’s imagined scrapbook. In an earlier project, groups all had to represent seven cultural universals in their utopia, but had a choice of forms/genres (comic, recipe, postcard, journal entry, etc).

Iyengar noted that leaders don’t give people the choices that they would prefer, but the choices that the people themselves want. For me, this underscored the importance of getting feedback from students on the things which are important to them and the areas in which offering them choice has the greatest likelihood of helping them feel empowered.

What choices are you willing to let students make? What are your concerns or hesitations in giving choice?

The Beloved Teacher

For my birthday, one of my former students, now an eighth grader, gave me a wooden box in the shape of a book. She painted the title The Beloved Teacher on the cover. This by itself would have been wonderful, but the box has a little drawer and inside were small pieces of paper. On the slips, the student had asked other students to write words that describe me. They wrote: sweet, professional, ecstatic, amazing, awe-inspiring, wonderful, articulate, sensitive, awesome, literate, understanding, enthusiastic, beautiful, intuitive, funny, and brilliant. What an incredible gift! The challenge for me often is to believe the things about myself that the students believe about me 🙂

Gift