First quarter grades closed last Friday and grades were due today. I have written previously about the uneasy relationship between learning, time, and grades. It felt strange to me in effect to say, “Time’s up!” on learning. But I became more comfortable as the actual grades recorded seemed accurately to reflect a felt sense of how each student performed as a learner in class.
Additionally, the effect of the impending end of the term on student effort was interesting. Late work came pouring in, the request for extra credit went up, and students wanting to see me after school increased. I have realized that having a more or less open-ended late policy did neither me (lots of correcting to do at the end) nor the students (work haphazardly done just to get it in) a favor. I have since revised that policy to require any late work to be submitted on the Tuesday following an every-Friday posted progress report (our system does not have 24/7 access for students…something we are working to correct). Having learned from the first iteration of a late policy, I hope this latest iteration is the right combination of structure and flexibility.
I took the end of the quarter as an opportunity to give my first iKnow My Class survey (gulp). As many of you know, iKnow My Class is a classroom level engagement survey that asks students to weigh in on their perceptions of their own efforts, the teacher, and the class overall. It is a survey I helped design and have spent a significant amount of time teaching others to use. I felt the anticipatory butterflies that many teachers shared they had when doing iKnow. What did my students think of the job I was doing? Were they engaged? Did they feel like I was making an effort to get to know them? Do they know I care if they are absent? This mild anxiety was overshadowed by curiosity and the sure knowledge, based on the experience of teachers I had worked with, that the feedback and subsequent conversation would improve my teaching and, above all, my students’ learning.
I prefaced taking the survey by saying now that I had finished evaluating their first quarter performance, I wanted to give them an opportunity to evaluate my performance. Since the results are in real time, I was able to pull up questions I wanted to focus on initially—though the entire report is worth closer study—and ask what specifically I could do to improve. The conversation was formative both for me and the students. The results affirmed my sense of how I was doing, but provided actual data and concrete suggestions from the student’s point of view. “Tell more stories.” “We prefer Google Docs over Kahoot for quizzes and tests that count.” “Your slides could be improved by breaking up some of the information” “Please post the slides so we can follow along on a device.” “It helps when you write the homework on the board instead of just say, ‘Check the class website.’” These were all great, practical suggestions. Ones I can implement immediately.
While I did this individually in each class, I will share some of the results in the aggregate (n=85). I was encouraged that 86% of my students agree they feel comfortable asking questions in class. I told them I was hoping for a 100% on this question, as I believe the ability to ask questions is critical in any learning environment. We deal with some profound issues in Theology. While this is a positive result given that, I invited students who could not answer affirmatively to see privately me with suggestions. I was less encouraged by the result that only two-thirds of my students (66%) agreed that “This class challenges my thinking.” I want to unpack that further with them. Is the class too easy? Is it not relevant enough to be challenging? Three-quarters of students felt I was developing positive relationships with them, but this, too, is a result I want to be 100%. Finally, I am trying not to be devastated by the result that only 37% of my students agree that we are discussing issues that are interesting to them. Oye. I discussed the issue of relevance in Theology a few blogs ago, but I hoped I was doing better than this. If I am honest with myself, there is far too little creativity in what I am doing. I need to bring the outside world in far more and direct the students’ attention and intention far further outward to their world and culture.
So overall there were some things to celebrate given that I am a first year teacher for the second time and many things to improve upon. I got high marks for my use of technology in the classroom and low marks for my organizational skills. Nearly all my students know I expect them to be successful and far too few realize I know their hopes and dreams (sorry, Russ!) I do know that the point of iKnow is neither to pat myself on the back nor slap myself on the forehead. It is to provide a forum for students to be my partners in the learning environment. I know I felt the partnership more strongly for taking the risk of quantifying their opinion and hearing qualitatively how I could improve. I believe they felt a deeper sense of partnership as well. This much is certain: tomorrow I will be a better teacher for having listened today.