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Reflecting on the End of the Year: Successes and Failures

Written by Daniel Hart
June 09, 2014

The kids are all excited, despite the copious amounts of tests we keep throwing at them. The teachers are on edge with anticipation, caught between being thrilled at the prospect of summer vacation and being nervous or annoyed about how the APPR post-assessment tests are being carried out. And me, I’m just trying to keep going and make it through while taking grad classes and struggling with the end of my first year teaching. But I don’t want to miss this opportunity to reflect and look back on what I did that worked and what I need to improve upon.

SUNY Geneseo’s School of Education has a conceptual framework that encourages teacher candidates to learn how to be Reflective Practitioners. Indeed, I find this idea echoed in my graduate studies so far as well. It makes sense for teachers to constantly evaluate and reevaluate their teaching practices, especially considering how drastically the world is changing around us. We must stay aware of current events, adapt to new literacy practices, and engage students from various backgrounds.

I regret not giving my students more freedom from the beginning. In order to create a classroom that teaches critical literacy, I should have allowed my students to have an interactive and formative role in their own schooling. By the end of the year, as my students were working on their personal narratives, it occurred to me to offer them the chance to turn in the narrative in any way they wanted to: whether it be a poem, a song, a prezi, a video, or whatever. I did this to engage them on a personal level, allowing them to pursue something that interested them. But I also did it to encourage them to at least hand in something. My students have a tendency to not follow things through to completion, often resulting in failing grades. This problem is amplified by the fact that they don’t always see the value in writing essays in the first place. I found that for many of my students, this was a great way for them to express themselves and engage in forms of writing that they valued. However, I think too much freedom can be scary and therefore ineffective. I hoped that by giving my students freedom that they would surprise me by turning in a vast array of pieces that show their unique personalities, but it didn’t happen that way. Asking them to jump from A to C like that without any instruction on how they could do it or what tools they could use did not make things easier. Next year I need to make more of an effort to scaffold new literacy practices into the curriculum to show them how they can and should feel free in their writing.

Although this position has been difficult for me, I think I made the best of a tough situation. I came into this class two weeks before April Break, giving me about 45 instructional days left in the year to do what I wanted. The classes were unruly, and every teacher in the building told me that my predecessor had extreme difficulty with them. It took many weeks to gain their trust and it’s only now at the end of the year that I feel I finally have most of them on my side. If I had started the year with these students, I would have created a different classroom environment and been able to get to know my students on a deeper level. I look forward to being able to do that in the future once I have my own classroom full time and now that I realize firsthand how important it is. 

I am having my students write a reflection piece at the end of the year, asking them to think back on what they liked and what they didn’t like. I’m also going to encourage them to think critically about how they can improve for next year and how they can make the most of their summer. Along those lines, I’m wondering if anyone has any suggestions for projects or activities for students to do over the summer if they feel like it but in such a way that it doesn’t seem like work. I thought about this because the Genesee Valley Writing Project at the University of Rochester hosts a summer camp for middle and high school students over the summer. Of course, this kind of writing intensive activity may not be suited for everyone and some students might be drawn to other interests. And I’m reluctant to give them canned district reading lists because, although they might be helpful in guiding students who have the initiative to guide themselves, it seems disingenuous to give to everyone unilaterally. Does anyone have any input on that? Reflection can be personal, but it also helps to receive feedback and suggestions from others who are more experienced than I am. I hope reading this entry can inspire you to look back and revisit some of your successes and think about how you can make your failures into a learning experience. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this subject.