Saturday, December 6, 2014

Six Roles for the Teacher, Five Roles for the Student: A Gentle Reminder from My Syllabus

It's DECEMBER! And that famous Seuss quote gets stuck in my head, repeat on "my goodness how the time as flewn." Because it has. The first day of school floor wax is dull, scratched and stripping away. Desks are in disarray. Pencils aren't sharpened. In fact, the pencil cup has only a battling few bruised #2's, lead broken, erasers peeled off. The end-of-semester weariness isn't just apparent in the stamina of our school supplies. Students straggle in late. Teachers make extra pots of coffee. Administration gets snippy about paper usage. IT'S TIME FOR A BREAK!

And then my fear comes alive. Break!? Wait. What?! Only 10 classes left?! No. It can't be. I haven't covered this? And I haven't covered that! Am I even on track or will we fall flat? (Sorry Seuss fans.) And now I feel it. I've been trapped in the rat race of daily classroom chores: planning on-the-spot mini-lessons and detailing clear structure for better management. I have lost focus on the overarching answer to the goal "what are we learning?"

We've just reached a milestone in English IV: submitting our final Senior Project papers for grading.  As their teacher, with this deadline comes a lot of thinking ahead. Yet it's so important to think back. Are we on track? Have we met learning goals? While reading submission letters for their papers, many students noted how helpful going through an extended writing process was. These students have never committed a full quarter solely on writing one piece--moving between drafts, conferencing with each other, writing peer reviews...over and over again. And while consciously I worry about quote-getting to all the curriculum-end quote, my intuition while reading their letters, and my understanding of the roles we play in the classroom, make me fully aware that we are, indeed, on track.

While together my students and I write classroom protocols and expectations the first week of school, I still (must be the teacher in me) list out in my syllabus (be it they are buried on page 3)
the roles I expect as the lead learner in the classroom. A commitment to not only what I promise my students, but also what I seek from them. 
  • Ms. Daugherty’s role: 
    • I will…
      • provide you with deeper insight to improve your growth as a student; 
      • help you diagnose and respond to your own learning needs;
      • help you write learning targets and goals;
      • lead the class in creating common scoring guides;
      • offer guided instruction in class to help you improve on future assignments;
      • and provide descriptive feedback to you through written notes and conversation.
  • Student’s role: 
    • I expect you…
      • to self-assess your work;
      • to track your own progress through detailed records;
      • to contribute to setting goals;
      • to act upon feedback and assessment results to do better next time;
      • and to believe that you can achieve a high level of personal learning. 
And while we may have rushed through our poetry unit, and may not have gotten to Macbeth, these gentle reminders of our roles in class exceed the boundaries of content. These roles emphasize to me that learning doesn't matter if we cannot stop, respond and react to what has been accomplished, which in turn guides what we accomplish next. Isn't this the essence of learning? With that focus in mind, for the last 15 minutes of our final this semester, I plan to stop with my students, review our list of roles, and reflect on just how far we've come. Who knows what possibilities may be next.