It’s been a whirlwind of a school year for me. As a first year teacher, I’ve experimented with different modes of instruction and classroom practices with varying degrees of success. I always appreciate a chance to take a step back and reflect. EdCamp ECT gave me that opportunity. It was a small, relaxed gathering of educators mostly from Eastern Connecticut. Talking with veteran teachers, I realized just how far I away I’d gotten from my core values as a educator. My teaching philosophy and this site are devoted to contemplative practice and learning. In reality, my classroom is more direct instruction than collaborative learning. Don’t get me wrong, I orchestrate group activities and inquiry based projects daily. But I am a long way from built-in contemplative practice, where students collectively and individually reflect on their learning.

All of this to say that EdCamp ECT reset my course and inspired me. A reading teacher from Massachusetts, Brenda Dunn, shared her weekly “Dear Teacher” reflection letter assignments with us. So simple and brilliant! Once a week, she has her students write her a letter about what they’ve learned that week from their close-readings and conversations. She uses the letters to inform her instruction and provide feedback to students. This contemplative practice, for her and for her students, was a manageable way to gain insight.

Naturally, the wheels started turning in my mind: “What would this ‘Dear Teacher’ assignment look like in a math classroom?” Starting to get excited, I brainstormed with the teachers at my table. We agreed that it would work well in a math classroom with some additional guidelines. I shared my frustration with student mastery and comprehension of domain-specific vocabulary. A contingent of my students was performing below proficient on this part of my assessments. This assignment seemed like a good way to bolster their mastery of vocabulary. I proposed that students would be required to use a minimum of five vocabulary terms from a provided list in their “Dear Teacher” letters. Requiring this vocabulary use of students adds value to the insights I gain from the “Dear Teacher” assignment because I will observe their thought processes and be able to tailor instruction to meet individual needs/misunderstandings. A second conclusion we reached was that the assignment could use some more pizzazz. Buying an assortment of postcards from E-Bay, we decided would be the best way to add character and grab student interest. I think my students would enjoy picking a postcard on which to write their reflection. I will write another post about how it goes come December/January.

I also brought up a practice I’ve found inefficient in my class: the error correction log. My intent, from the jump, was for students to reflect on my narrative feedback and their mistakes. My implementation, however, is flawed. I spend 20 minutes or so after giving the assessment back. During this time, students record mistakes/corrections. Both the log and the test then go into their student portfolio. The whole process is passive for them and I want to change that. Diane Herr, a¬†science teacher from Waterford Public Schools, gave me some invaluable advice. She has the students discuss their errors in groups and make corrections on a separate piece of paper. Such a simple alteration with such drastic impact, it takes passive recording of corrections and makes it an active experience for all parties. Barbara Gokey, a teacher from Enfield Public Schools, brought up an issue she had with this practice: the bored students who didn’t make any or many mistakes. Her approach was to have enrichment work that challenged them. Blending these two approaches, I think, will prove profitable for my classroom and my students. I’m excited to give it a try.

I’ll be posting about more takeaways in the near future, for now, this will suffice.¬†

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