Sometimes I struggle for things to say here – well, no, I struggle as to what I should say here. I by no means want to have a breakdown of everything that happens, and I want to say something useful for my own cataloguing and for the reading of others.
I say this because I feel like I need to bypass any sort of discussion about one of my sections – the juniors – that is going exceptionally well. I feel like I know the literature we’re studying, and I’ve been relatively successful (I think) at finding ways to engage students. (Technology especially helped with that today.) I want to recognize that I am doing well, by my own assessment and by that of my co-op, but I need to focus on my problem course: AP.
I know in part why I’m at a loss: I have never had any exposure to AP courses of any kind before teaching this course, not even in high school. (I graduated from a small high school of only about 300.) We are also doing research papers, and it’s been so long since I learned how to do research papers that I don’t even remember what we learned there or how it was structured; research is simply second nature to me. Worse yet, I was taught research papers in half a semester or so – we’re doing it in about three weeks, possibly slightly longer than that.
Teaching research papers is tricky in part because it’s so individualized – you don’t teach content; you teach skills, which should then translate into student ability to perform the tasks necessary to complete the final product. So you can teach how to take good notes (and the different types of notes), proper citation in whatever format – we are of course using MLA – how to put together outlines, how to use note cards, and so forth. My main problem is that I am having a lot of problem figuring out how to plan each individual day in such a way that everything builds effectively and so that class time is fully utilized to complete tasks.
Today I taught note taking, and I made use of some technology (which the seniors are amazingly bored with already, and I’ve only used it twice!). I had a PDF that showed information for source and note cards, and I covered material regarded the types of notes and the danger of plagiarism (including an anecdote about our lovely Vice President, which may have been lost on them since, well, he got to be VP anyway). I had a fair amount of information, but it just didn’t work like I had hoped – one class got through the material in an appropriate time, and the other class went through it like it was nothing and had a ton of time left over. It’s almost as though I ought to plan twice for this course, which seems unnecessary. There should be a way to make one lesson work with both – I just haven’t figured out how yet!
I’m trying to get back to the idea of teaching skills, though, and so tomorrow will be an attempt to focus back in on the basics of what we’ve been trying to do with note taking. I’ve located a source on college tuition and the economy – what I think should be a relevant topic for them, since they are almost universally college-bound – and we will use that to figure out what information would be relevant from that source given a topic (economics and the availability of college education, perhaps). I think I will also forgo technology for a little bit with this class, mostly because I think they won’t appreciate the work it takes to use it effectively. We’ll stick to the simpler things – probably just the whiteboard – but I will get the students up and out of their seats, and not just by moving them into pairs. I have to be thinking more creatively for the seniors; they are anxious, not really wanting to put forth much effort in their last semester of high school, and certainly not all that receptive to me, I think. This is a sharp contrast from the juniors, who seem to “get” me and have basically accepted me as a substitute for Mrs. Buske (although certainly one that is far more green, so to speak).
I hope that this is a reflective moment that I can turn into a turning point for this class, because I sorely need it. I’m not really failing with this class, but I’m not really succeeding, either, and I will not let this pull down my overall teaching here. I have high hopes that I might be able to work in this district, and I am accordingly motivated to excel at all of my teaching as a result of that. Knowing that my lessons aren’t really working is half the battle; now I need to set forth my plan of action and execute it.
On that note – off to plan! Here’s to tomorrow, a new day and a new chance to learn what will work.