This School Year Is Almost Over – Here Are My Reflections About 12 Changes I Want To Make In The Fall

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Before one school year is done, I always try to create time to reflect on changes I want to make in the following year.

I find that it’s critical to do this exercise while things are fresh in my mind (this post is the latest in a series on year-end reflections – check out Anonymous Evaluation Results From My Intermediate ELL Students and Here’s A New Writing “Twist” I Plan To Add To Peer Tutors’ Responsibilities Next Year When Working With ELLs).

We’re adding several additional ELL classes next year. This development will benefit students and me in several ways, including not leaving me with multiple multi-level classes where I end up being overstretched and not being as good a teacher as I could be. Of course, this change will also create pressure on me to provide professional development assistance to other teachers, but they’re all longtime colleagues and friends, so I won’t mind it much.

Here is what I have come up with for each of my classes so far:

ELL NEWCOMERS ENGLISH CLASS

I’ll be teaching our Newcomer’s English class, which will also include students who, because of various challenges, didn’t advance as quickly as we had anticipated/hoped this year. Here are some of things I plan on doing next year, which are different from what I’ve done over the past ten months:

Quite a while I ago, I posted about the great work of Claudia Leon and Margaret Montemagno, and the ideas they shared about teaching ELLs at this NY Times Learning Network post, How to Use Interesting Photos to Help Students Become Better Writers. Claudia has shared some of the student hands used in that lessonand she’s given me permission to post them here. They’re great! I’m adding them to The Best Ways To Use Photos In Lessons.

  • In addition, expand the PWIM to create more opportunities for me to use Freire’s Learning Sequence so that students can talk more about the challenges facing them and their families.
  • Depending on the starting time of the class, do more visualization exercises (see Best Posts On Helping Students “Visualize Success”). A substantial amount of research shows that visualization is helpful to ELLs (and everybody else). I recently began doing it again regularly with a very large class right before lunch and I also think it is hugely successful in getting everyone calmed down and ready to learn – I regret not starting it earlier this year. I’m not so sure I’d use it earlier in the day when students, as many high school teachers know, tend to be a bit more focused and less tired from the school day.
  • Have a system in place for peer tutors to “catch-up” new students on the Social Emotional Learning concepts they have missed AND more strongly emphasize the tutors’ role as mentors. Though I always begin the school year with a heavy emphasis on SEL, my ELL class, like many ELL classes around the country, regularly welcomes lots of new students throughout the year. For example, my Newcomer class has ended the year with sixteen students who weren’t here on the first day of school (while only having had two who began the year not stay).. I have always created systems for new students to review English language instruction they missed, but have never thought the same about SEL activities. Of course, SEL is always going on, but I think if new students get at least some “catch-up” on key ideas, it might help me be in a less “reactive” position, especially if peer tutors can also provide ongoing support .

ELL US HISTORY CLASS

  • Put a much stronger emphasis on helping my ELL students become more skilled and confident presenters. I did a lot of this during the year, especially by having peer tutors work closely with them (here are the guidelines the mentors used). However, I did not make as much time for it as I should have. I need to be less concerned about “covering” topics and more concerned about teaching skills that are transferable to other situations. As part of this, have students create online games to “test” their classmates on what they learned from the presentations (see below under my TOK class).
  • Here, too, have peer tutors help create more personalized instructional materials, including Critical Thinking Dialogues.
  • “Mix-up” the kinds of activities we do – a lot. Though students clearly enjoyed my World History class this year (I’ll be posting results of their anonymous evaluation), we did a fairly standard routine throughout the year. I was just juggling too many classes and too many students to do much else.
  • Have peer tutors review and evaluate student notebooks. Each of my ELL World History students had an “old-fashioned” standard paper notebook – they clearly preferred writing in them instead of having a digital version. They primarily used it for three activities – writing a daily oral language question/answer we did at the beginning of each class period, which they shared in small groups with peer tutors and then some would say it in front of the entire class; writing three things they learned from each Brainpop video they watched, which was their warm-up; and writing a one-sentence summary they wrote of each page they read in our textbook. Though everybody did it, I never really looked at them. Giving peer tutors some guidelines about what kind of supportive and “critical” feedback they could use when regularly reviewing them could make student notebooks a much more productive learning tool.

IB THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE CLASS

IB, in their (lack of) wisdom, completely revamped the TOK curriculum last year in the middle of a pandemic when most of us were trying to adapt to distance learning. So, I had already prepared tons of new materials and lessons that had gone well last year. I was confident that they would work well in a face-to-face setting, too, and that proved to be the case (I’ll soon publish the results of an anonymous student evaluation of those classes).

So, I have few changes I want to make in this class.

But, I do have a few:

  • Adapt more assignments so that students can do video projects. They really enjoyed the ones we did – creating modern versions of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and creating commercials using fallacies.
  • Eliminate all homework and give students time to read and create presentations and online games to “test” the class on what they taught. In the past, I have had students read chapters from the TOK textbook as homework and give presentations in class. I started doing the same thing this year, but it became clear quickly that it was too much when combined with other IB (and pandemic) pressures. Instead, I began giving student groups a couple of days of class time to read the chapter (they divided it up between them), then a day to prepare a presentation about it, and another day to practice and create an online game using their material and, finally, a day of presentations. Sometimes we would do presentations in front, which would take two days, while other times we did them in small groups. We were short of time near the end of the year, so students “jigsawed” Areas of Knowledge chapters – each group doing a different one. I was very pleased with how it went and want to do it this way from the beginning of the year. It means we have less time to do a practice TOK essay at the end of the year, but I think it’s still worth it.
  • Organize my TOK Google Classroom by Themes and Areas of Knowledge, instead of by week. I received that feedback from last year’s classes, but didn’t do it. I heard the same thing from this year’s classes. It’s time to make that change.

Those are some of my reflections.

What are you going to do differently next year?

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