A quick outline of how I've been running the bulk of my classes this year. I run a full flipped classroom, meaning that I deliver little direct instruction in class, rather I pre-record my "lectures" for the students to watch. Sometimes that happens at the beginning of the cycle, sometimes in the middle, depending on the inquiry (or Explore) phase.
I use what I think of as a modified Standards-Based Grading model, where I still give 100 point grades (as this is what parents and students most readily understand), but I don't count practice problems, etc for a grade, I just grade something like 50 standards based assessments and the occasional bigger cumulative test.
For most of this year, I've also been allowing self paced in my classroom. What this means is that students have an outline of things they need to get done, some optional, some not, and target dates. There are also some other deadlines that are a little stronger, but those are typically weeks past the target dates to accommodate for students who need a bit more time. It also allowed students to work ahead if they chose to, or to take an extra day or two as needed to get the material.
I also have a pretty generous retake policy (I think) as I allow students to take any of the SBG assessments over twice, for a total of three attempts. It is not the same assessment each time, I have multiple versions of each of these.
My goal behind all of this is manifold, but to shorten this I'll bullet point my reasons for making these big changes (gradually over the past 3 years):
- As a parent of 3 young boys, I believe that as much as possible, home time should be home time. While the videos are supposed to be watched at home, this 20 or so minutes two, maybe three times a week doesn't seem too excessive to me.
- Chemistry is hard, and if students have to struggle at home, they often don't get past the first problem.
- I am much more concerned that they learn the material at all than they get it right the first time. If a student bombs a test the first time and there is no chance for redemption why learn that material other than for the final?
- I want students to learn to manage their time and learn at a pace that is comfortable to them. From the very beginning of my first forays into "flipping" or "21st Century Ed" or whatever buzzword we're calling it this week, I wanted it to be about the students taking charge of their own learning, being as student centered as possible, while still under the umbrella of my state and county standards.
I suspect that all of this sounds like the party line to both those in the party and out. And I'll be honest, I really believe it. I want my students to be able to acquire knowledge and to be able to apply it. I didn't switch over from being a largely lecture based teacher to a constructivist (still not sure I'm that) or 21st century teacher or whatever. I was a very successful lecture based teacher for years, with a lot of students that tell me I inspired them to go on to careers in engineering, science, and medicine. I suspect I could have remained that way and still influence a lot of students in a positive way. A fear has nagged me all along that folks who want to try out "new" (not sure that they are all new) methods of teaching have a tendency to run down teachers who still teach the old way. That's ludicrous as I had a lot of amazing teachers and there was no SBG, videos, workshop model or any of that.
Back to my current crisis of faith. I sort of want to go back to the old way, because the new way is driving me nuts. A lot of my kids love it and rave about it to visitors to our school, which are frequent. I talk to prospective parents, community leaders and educators about my methods fairly often. But I look at my gradebook and see a lot of Fs....to my friends who don't believe in grades, I have a lot of students who don't know the material either, who don't produce amazing projects, who just want to work while I'm standing over them and then go back to watching videos on their ipads (not chem videos!). I spend hours upon hours grading retakes, mostly for the students wanting to go from a C to a B or a B to an A, rarely from the students failing.
Here's the kicker, it is largely my fault. I teach at a pretty high flying school. I love this place with everything that screams teacher in me, I love the kids, the staff, the gosh-darn buildings. We have some amazing rockstar teachers that really get a lot out of a lot of the kids. Almost none of them do retakes, I know maybe 2 or 3 that do SBG. One flips in a manner somewhat similar to me.
So if you are a 14 year old kid, and you have a 10 point assignment due for French class the next day and an assessment for Chemistry that you could take the next day if you weren't ready, which would you do. Never mind that as an adult you know that the assessment in Chem is worth 100 points and the 10 point assignment might be meaningless busywork. Never mind that you want to be an engineer when you go to college. What matters is that the French teacher doesn't take late work and the Chem teacher just wants to check your work personally to see if you did it right. And if you did, then you can take the assessment, but you don't want to take it anyway, so you put it off.
I'm totally a victim of my own policies taken to their logical extension, do what you have to for now, put off what you can put off.
Yes, I put in deadlines, but if you've put off 4 assessments and try to cram them in, what happens...you bomb them all, because you don't know squat. No big deal, because you can do retakes....only you forgot to do the retakes, or never studied to prepare for them, so you do worse the 2nd time. You'd like to do it the 3rd time, but you have an English project due, so it falls by the wayside.
To forestall some of the obvious, yes, I have good relationships with my kids. I make every effort to speak to every student every day about their progress, to nudge them, admonish them, to pull them into my sort of office and let them know this can't work. They assure me they will do better, then don't.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't my first rodeo...this year marks I believe the 13th year I've taught Chemistry I, and the 3rd year I've been in full flip mode. I know that even the best teacher doesn't reach every kid in every class every day, despite all contrary intentions. As a friend of mine says, sometimes it is hard to get between a student and their F, even when you love them and work hard for them.
I'm really just so frustrated and I don't want to wait til next year to change things up. I love the kids I have now, and don't want them to miss out on a single thing because I was beholden to a philosophy, as right as I might think it is.