Thursday, 11 December 2014

Thinking Critically in the CHC2P Classroom

One of my favourite professional development experiences is getting to listen to and work with Garfield Gini-Newman. One of Gini-Newman's areas of expertise is critical thinking, and I always leave his sessions with new ideas.

Our criteria for a perfect society.
In October 2013, I attended a workshop put on by Gini-Newman that focused on asking questions that make students dig deeper, as well as focused on coming up with criteria to best answer the questions. In our CHC2P class, the third unit looks at 1945-1982, and we focus on the creation of the perfect society. Last year, with my class, we brainstormed the elements of a "perfect" society, then created a value line on which to place examples from Canadian history. Each student had their own value line, and was responsible for researching various people and events from the time period. Students would then use the criteria they came up with and determine the person or events location on the value line.

Full on image of the value line.

It was a failure. Students didn't have adequate research skills to truly  understand the various topics, and I think they just placated me by writing down their topics on their value lines. The students' final projects were terrible, to be blunt.

This semester, I decided to take a different approach. We still brainstormed a list of criteria that was necessary for a perfect society. Instead of students having their own value lines, we created a class value line along one wall in the classroom. After learning about new topics, we discussed where each topic belonged on the value line. To help students understand the chronology of the unit, the topics were categorized by prime minister, with the exception of Joe Clark (sorry Mr. Clark).

Notice the pink lined up with the green.
The FLQ Crisis was moved up on the value line.
One of the best parts of the value line was the ability for students to change their minds about the location of a specific event. For example, as demonstrated in the images, students originally placed the Korean War and the FLQ Crisis as -2 Moving Towards Imperfect. After we did some more learning as a class, they decided that while war and terrorist attacks certainly don't make a country perfect, the two events needed to be moved up because some good came from them.

Additionally, not all students agreed the placement of certain topics, and in their final paragraphs, they are able to move topics to others location along the value line.
Notice the pink in the sea of purple.
The Korean War was moved up.

Another bonus to the value line is that it makes a counterargument much more visible, as one of my colleagues pointed out. Some of the students wanted their thesis to be "Canada became a perfect society during this time period." All I had to do was point to the value line, and remind them of the topics in -1 and -2. This visual helped them to rewrite their thesis so that it was accurate. I was able to add a layer to the assignment by having students address a counter argument since it was so visible to them.

We are still in the initial stages of writing our final paragraphs, but from their rough copies, students have selected good examples in support of their arguments, as well as a solid example to support their counter argument. I've had to give some explicit feedback around the explanation, as the students are not clearly explaining how their selected topics have moved Canada towards a perfect society or away from one.

Overall, I think this has been my best job in teaching this very long unit, and soon I'll find out how well the students learned.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Beaten Down and Exhausted

This post comes after yesterday, where after my second period class, I went to a dear friend and colleague's classroom and broke down in tears. I told her that I hated my job. That I hated teaching. A profession that I had dreamed of joining since I was a young girl.

Do I really hate my job? Do I really hate teaching?

No, I don't.

Yesterday's words were those of a teacher who right now feels beaten down and exhausted. A teacher who feels powerless and undervalued. A teacher who feels like she is working so hard, but is never good enough. A teacher who thought that she would never by disillusioned by education, at least not so early on in her career. A teacher who is crying right now as she writes this because she is ashamed and scared of her feelings. A teacher who last week started a jar called "My Jar of Happiness". A jar where she places little notes about the good things that happen to her at school. A jar that operates (hopefully) as way to remind her that she doesn't actually hate teaching. A jar of stories to remind her that what she does is meaningful and useful for her students.

I sincerely hope that I am in the minority, and that these feelings are just a blip in my career. But right now, these feelings have been bogging me down for almost four months, and I feel alone, despite not actually being alone. These feelings make me think there is something wrong with me. That they're further proof of my failings as a teacher. I wonder where I went wrong. I wonder when these feelings will subside.

I am working on reframing my feelings. Reminding myself that as long as I am doing my best, as long as I am trying, as long as I am learning, that I can't ask any more of myself.

And while I hope that I am in the minority, I hope I am not alone. I hope that other teachers have felt this way, but that it passes. I hope that teachers with years of experience can tell me that there have been lows such as this in their careers, but it does indeed pass, and things get better. I sincerely hope so.

I don't hate my job. I don't hate teaching. I am doing my best. I am trying, and I am learning. I can't ask myself for more.