Saturday, September 17, 2011

Is it Worth the Battle?

Four weeks into my journey of creating a student driven classroom I have one thing to say: It Is Extremely Difficult!  At the same time I keep in mind the word TRUST.  As I stated in an earlier post, Dr. Metzger trusted his graduate students to take the reigns.  In that same spirit, I remind myself everyday that I do truly believe that my students are capable and that if I stay the course, provide the foundation and not allow the skeptics everywhere to pollute my vision, the students will make it happen.  My heart tells me this, it is my head that I have to shut up on a daily basis.  Since this blog will be documentation of my journey with this process, I want to acknowledge the difficulties I have encountered thus far.

One of the great changes and great challenges has been starting a standards based grading system.  I believe that to truly have a student driven environment, evaluation must be standards based because then everything is driven by students proving they have learned the content standards.  It has enabled me to align every activity to a standard.  I throw out anything that does not provide a valuable opportunity for students to practice and eventually prove they know a content standard.  It also allows students an opportunity to not waste time on things they already know how to do.  They can provide proof of understanding to me and then spend their time on standards they need to master.  Students have multiple opportunities to prove knowledge and time is of no concern.  I do not believe in punishing students for taking a longer time to learn something.  

The challenge of implementing this is immense.  By the time students reach middle school, they are used to not having to be responsible for their learning.  They turn something in, it gets graded, and they are "done".  I have found that students resist taking responsibility for their learning.  They have not been asked to do so in seven years and now that is exactly what I am asking them to do.  This system that is new to students has created great anxiety for them.  The students who are used to striving for and getting the A are baffled by a rubric score for each standard.  They just want to know what their overall grade is.  They are also not used to having to explain their thinking and provide evidence of deeper understanding rather than just regurgitating information.  The kiddos who are what I call "willful non-performers" are uncomfortable because they can't just take the D or F.  I am in their face poking, prodding, asking, and making them provide some sort of evidence of their learning.  It is the students in the middle that seem to immediately embrace this system.  They feel that they finally get a chance to prove their smartness and they are relieved that although there is a pacing guide for the course, they have a second chance and will work hard to prove they know a standard.  

So, I TRUST the process, the students, the parents, myself.  We are in an uncomfortable spot right now.  Interestingly, the atmosphere in my classroom is energetic even though the students are uncertain.  I tell the students daily that I trust them to make responsible decisions.  My classroom is turning into a place of inquiry, and collaboration.  The best part is that they do not look to me for the answers, they are looking to each other.  As Dr. Metzger did with his students, I am teaching mine that we are a community of learners and I am not the all knowing powerful OZ.

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