Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Goodbye First Year, Hello Summer!

Last night, while eating dinner with my roommate, Brittany, it was brought to my attention that I should start up on my blog again. At first I thought it was a crazy idea. This is my summer for goodness sakes! I want to be lazy and do nothing school related!

But then, today, after waking up to an empty apartment and no where to be at 6:50 a.m., I began to think that maybe this blog would be a good thing to continue through the summer. Maybe it would rub off on me, and I would actually update it throughout the school year... though I make no promises!

So, it has been decided. I will start up on my blog again this summer with the hopes of actually keeping up on it. Surely my second year of teaching will be MUCH easier, right?? :)

To start the summer blogging, and wrap up my first year, I sat back and thought about what it was I wanted to be different this next year. The sad news is, they took my AMAZING classroom away and placed me in what I like to call, "The Shoebox." The classroom is quite small. Sad day. This being said, a lot is going to have to change if we all are to survive...

I am sure you will see and hear about some of the changes that are coming as my blog continues through the summer. But to start off this process, I asked my wonderful 7th graders (who have now left me to be 8th graders... sob!) to complete a reflection activity for me on the last day of school.

If you don't do one of these activities as an educator with your students TRY IT OUT! I know some teachers avoid these types of things, simply because they are afraid their students are going to be rude, and at first, I was nervous. But here are the facts: I had 125 absolutely normal 7th graders this year who completed 4 reflection activities and were very honest and sincere through them.

It is a great way to see what your kids are growing through and where you can continue to grow. The actual reflection was simple. By this last one, the kids had done three, so they didn't even need direction. So, how does it work? Very simple.

**Note: If you want to skip the steps, go for it. I put them on here for future use through the Master Teacher program I am now part of. The funny comments are at the bottom. :)**

Steps to a Productive Reflection Activity:
1. Have a guided worksheet made up: Don't give them a blank paper and say, "Write!" They will get all flustered and just give up. Be very explicit in what you want them to give you feedback on. Here are some example questions I use every time:
        a. One thing I learned about (insert your topic here) was...
        b. My favorite activity in this class was.... because...
        c. My least favorite activity in this class was.... because...
        d. If you were Ms. Forster, what is one thing you would have done differently in class? (this       one always cracks me up, though they sometimes give very insightful thoughts...)

On the end of the year one, I added some more, for example "What words of wisdom would you give Ms. Forster?" This had some pretty great answers.

2. Actually give them time to do it, and set the tone: Help them to see that what they say now will impact students to come. With my first reflections, I read what they wrote, and it affected their class, but this last reflection actually doesn't impact my current students, it impacts next year. Everyone wants to make a difference and your students will feel good that they had a say. Making sure they see it as a serious activity will also be beneficial. Encourage them to be honest (I always tell them I won't hurt them if they disagree with me... Well, at least not when we are in school. They find it humorous, but get that they can be sincere).

3. Actually read them: Really take time to read what they have to say. Your classroom is only successful if you include your students 100%. It is their room too. Oftentimes, they would write things I didn't even realize I had done. One student wrote on a past reflection, "I really appreciate that you patted me on the back and smiled the day my parents gave my dog away." I hadn't even known the dog had been given away. Wow. Another student wrote, "We can tell when you get frustrated because your face changes. Try to not make your face change so much." That is something I needed to work on.

4. Bring up discussion: There are going to be a couple things you and your students may disagree with. For example, a majority of my students said they didn't like the Gallery Walk activity and felt like they hadn't learned much from it. I saw, from their work, something quite different. So, I did a short class discussion with my students. Turns out, if I would just change a few things with it, they would have felt much better about it. So we changed it, and the next one was a success.

5. Don't take it so personally: Ok, we are human, and you will take it personally sometimes, but the trick is to not make a big deal out of it. Perfect Example: The last reflection I did this year, I had a student who was having a rough day. He came to my class frustrated and made some poor decisions. By the time he got the reflection, he was livid. He made a big show, filling it out, bringing it up, and he proudly stated, "Read this miss." So I read it. He had written, "You Suck" as the answer to every question. I looked at him, while he grinned, and could just feel the class waiting. I could have flipped out, could have screamed. Instead I simply smiled and said, "Glad you got your feelings on the reflection, but can you back them up with any evidence?" His reflection was actually a reflection when he turned it in later.

There are going to be students that you might get at a bad place or time when you do these, but remember: They are kids. They have good days and bad days. Look for those reflections that build you up. Keep them for a day when things are tough. And as for the kids who struggle, use it as a discussion tool to break down some walls.

I couldn't do this without sharing some of the more humorous things I got on my final reflections. Reading them the last day had me tearing up, because I had to let my first year classes go. They didn't leave without their final say, though!

When asked, "What words of wisdom do you have for Ms. Forster" here is a snapshot of what I got:

- " Keep working hard, you baby teacher! You are now a toddler!"
-"If a student acts up, set them free... to the principal's office!"
-"Please be kind to the 6th graders... They are crazy, those poor kids."
-"Want quiet kids? Pay them money!"
-"Drink less pop. I mean it. You will die. Not that you are fat!!! You will just die."
-"When life gives you lemons... squirt them in your student's eyes!"
-"It is hard to stay dry in a swimming pool. Keep this in mind over the summer."

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