December: Loving Portfolios, Tolerating Logistics

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December, 2019.

At the end of every semester, we end instruction two weeks early. Students prepare portfolios, which is our school’s performance based assessment (based on the work that schools in our network in New York do). Instead of semester finals, they review the content and projects they’ve learned and reflect and present on their knowledge.

There are many changes this year. It is decided that all 9th through 11th grade students will do an oral defense and present their knowledge of one class to a panel of teachers and students. 11th graders at our school have done oral defenses for the last few years, but it is a new (and exciting) model for 9th and 10th graders. At the same time, I am mostly out of the classroom. Whereas I formerly sheperded advisees and students through the process of writing essays and answering questions, I now find myself covering classes and recess so that teachers have a prep period.

I love Portfolios and I guess I tolerate structures and logistics, so it’s actually not a bad deal. I get a chance to spend time with students in both mathematics and science. I know a few students from observing various classes and this provides a better opportunity to get to know students. Nothing motivates students’ names like having to get attention and redirect students.

At the same time, it’s a fascinating insight into what non-classroom teachers do while teachers are teaching. During the 2nd week of Portfolios, students spend one period a day at recess so that teachers can have their prep. This involves coordinating with our T-10s (security guards) about who goes where, especially when it’s raining or almost raining. It involves trying to think about logistics of how and when teachers drop off and pick up their students (a conversation which I am reminding myself to revisit next semester before Portfolios so we can build some shared understanding on what the process feels like for all people involved). It involves chasing students and making sure they don’t go off campus or hide where they’re not supposed to be. Quite a few students remark that being at recess, on a blacktop with a chain-link fence feels like prison. I have no answer to this (though I think I’d rather be outside on the blacktop. Though not if it’s raining. Which it does.)

As a coach, I also get the opportunity to sit in on some of the oral defenses. I spend the first day trying to float through the classrooms of the teachers I coach who have less experience with oral defenses. They all do great, as do our students. Even for students who aren’t 100% ready (and many of them are at least appropriately nervous), they show up and try. One particular group of students does a great job lifting each other up and giving positive feedback – “You tried your best and I know you’ll do ever better next year when you know more English. Keep going!” (paraphrase)

Beautiful Disaster or The One with the Mess

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I am very off-and-on about how well I document my lessons. About once a month, I’ll frantically leave Google doc comments on everything and then forget about it for another month.

I don’t remember this lesson (lifted almost directly from a lesson 2 years ago) going this well 2 years ago, but it felt like students were having solid conversations while acknowledging that some students had already learned formulas for area (and often couldn’t remember why they were derived the way they were) and some students were just making sense of things.

Photo: “Mister, we left a mess on your board.”

Some days (when I remember, lately), you can’t even pose pictures as amazing as the ones the kiddos accidentally leave. There’s some thinking around the area of a circle and connections to half squares and formulas. Feat. the flyswatter from the flyswatter game (Show pictures of shapes on board. Say the name of a shape and watch the kiddos try to swat it. Get lovingly scolded by the Instructional Coach because the class next door can’t focus while your squirreliest class is celebrating victories over correctly identifying a pentagon versus a hexagon).

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