Thursday, October 07, 2004

Progress? Progress.

So, I'm helping Mr. Kelvin teach his sixth graders how to write a lab report. They did a lab with marbles - to see how momentum gets transfered - which we did last year. He is still not the greatest at taking them through things step-by-step, so some parts of the lab did not set them up particularly well for writing the lab reports, but it will be okay. I came in and did a model lesson with his first period class today. I used the overhead projector and walked them through the process of writing a lab report. They finished about half of their first draft in class and are to do the rest at home.

I think the lesson went fairly well, although this is not exactly how I would have done it if it were my classroom. Partly, I didn't prepare as creatively as I should have because I'm not feeling so hot, and partly it is different because I would have had a long-term plan for teaching them about lab reports, and the first one would have been done as a PowerPoint presentation with a partner. Then I would have had them do individual lab reports with most of the work done in class, and later I would have had them do individual lab reports with most of the work done at home. We call this scaffolding. You provide a lot of support at the start and slowly leave them more on their own.

I talked about this with Mr. Kelvin but it seems like he needs to learn a lot of it by experience. When we discuss things I do not always see him act upon them in his teaching. Learning to teach takes time, and I am okay with him finding his own ways of doing things. At the same time, it's frustrating to discuss a particular unit and the problems students tend to have and the solutions I've found for those problems, and then watch him make those exact same mistakes and encounter those exact same problems. It is especially frustrating since it affects our students' education! Then again, I've certainly taught any number of topics badly, and the kids turn out okay in the end - you're not damaging anyone irreparably if you screw up how you teach force and motion! (Thank goodness).

Taking the sixth graders through their very first lab report during the same week as I am proofreading the eighth graders first lab report of the year made me realize just how far my eighth graders have come. Their first drafts are really, really good! I told them today how proud I am of their work. I'm having that experience again of seeing that a few students made a conceptual leap more or less on their own - between last June and this October, they figured out what kind of thinking I want to see when they write a Conclusions section. It's a combination of lots of practice and work and the gradual maturing of their brains. Also gratifying is that very, very few students are making serious formatting errors or leaving sections out. They know what's expected of them, and it's all fine-tuning from here.

In counterpoint to this academic growth, the eighth graders are in some kind of phase where it's like their teachers are speaking a foreign language: they don't seem to hear, comprehend, or follow directions. All day long I am answering questions that I just answered. I tell them where to put things away and they put them someplace else two minutes later. I give my signal for quiet and attention, and I have to remind them more than I do the new sixth graders! And this is not just one or two kids, it's nearly all of them. All the teachers on the eighth grade team noted this same trend, so we agreed to make a special effort to praise and reward good following of directions and to penalize poor following of directions. It helped a little during last period today. My colleague's theory is that eighth graders get into this hormonal phase where they just do not take in certain kinds of information very well; she remembers coming home each day in middle school remembering every social thing that happened but not one thing from any class, though she wasn't trying to ignore her teachers. Hmmm. I was a pretty focused kid. I'm not that patient with kids who need me to say the same thing eleven times before they hear it.

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