Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflecting on 08/09

Before I really get into my plans/goals for the 09/10 school year, I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on the past year. 

Goals and Results 
Prior to the school year starting, and as it went along I had a number of goals.  I'll discuss them below with a review of how they worked out.

'Malinconia. L'ultima partitella (the last match of+the+summer)'

  1. Get more face-to-face time with my students (I work at a distributed learning school--students work at home on the curriculum that we provide):  In the 07/08 school year my colleague, Jodie, ran a humanities class for her grade 8-10 students and I could see the benefits of this weekly face-to-face time; it allowed for discussions, one-on-one tutoring, and an opportunity to speak to students about their progress.  So for this past school year Jodie and I offered a general high school class for 2 hours on Thursday mornings.  Students were encouraged to attend, but for many students it was optional.  For other students at risk for failure the class was mandatory.  The benefit to this structure was that we had weekly face-to-face time with the students who needed it most.  The drawback was that with the large number of students present, all at different levels and at different points in their programs, it became difficult to conduct effective lessons.  I think that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks though.  In my experience one of the key factors for a student to succeed in a distributed learning program at the high school level is good communication with the teacher.  These face-to-face classes facilitated this.
  2. Improve communication with students:  I've written about the communication aspect before in this post.  This year many of the courses I was responsible for were paper based which meant that my kids were not in a Learning Management System (LMS) with built in e-mail.  I wouldn't have thought this would be a problem, but a surprising number of students do not have their own e-mail accounts that they use regularly--I guess they rely more on IM and sites like Facebook to communicate.  Partly to address this, Jodie and I (ok, it was mostly Jodie) set up a 'Student Lounge' in WebCT.  Most of our students take at least one course in the WebCT LMS; enrolling all of them in the 'Student Lounge' meant that it was easy to send out batch e-mails and it was easy for them to e-mail us.  We had other plans to showcase student work along with some general discussions.  Those didn't materialize, but I definitely had more students contacting me with questions than prior to the 'Lounge', so I'm pretty happy with the results.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to conduct labs at our school with support:  There are some virtual labs that my students do, but there are also a good number of traditional labs the students are expected to do.  To do a lab at home on your own can be frustrating.  Let's face it, even in a typical classroom kids get frustrated because they don't get the 'right' results, or they are unsure what to do.  This year my goal was to have time during some of the weekly high school class (see #1 above) to help students with labs.  This was not a big success.  I was able to do a couple of labs with the kids, but because the students start at different times and end up in different places in the course, it was difficult to choose a lab that all students were ready for.
  4. Improve my weekly Elluminate sessions: In the 07/08 school year I started doing weekly Elluminate sessions.  One week was for science and the next was for math.  We met for 30 minutes for each grade.  I gave a mini-lesson reviewing old concepts and introducing new ones.  Then there was time for questions from the students. I started out this way again in 08/09.  As usual the problem is that very quickly the students get spread out in their courses, so preparing a mini-lesson becomes difficult.  Over the course of the year the sessions shifted more to being a straight tutorial.  I find Elluminate to be very useful to help students with their math.  It is difficult to answer math questions over the phone or via e-mail, but using the whiteboard feature in Elluminate allows you to write out the math symbols easily and have the student help to answer the question.  For next year I think I will spend more time recording mini-lessons so that I can build up an archive that students can access as needed and use the Elluminate times as straight tutorials.  I have to work on attendance too.  The sessions are not mandatory and attendance is not always great.  I'll have to look at ways to improve this.
Future Plans
Those are the main goals I pursued this year.  If you have any thoughts on how I can improve on these areas, I would love to hear it.  I plan on posting again soon with my goals for next year.  I hope to make this an annual event: posting goals prior to the new school year and reviewing them once the year is over.  If you already do this, do you find it useful?  If you don't, would you consider it to be helpful.  As always, thanks for reading this!


  1. Claire,
    Kudos to you for going public with your goals. Your work is very complex with so many variables. It's admirable that you keep the kids need for connection and community foremost in your mind. I think you are right about kids using IM more than email. Have you considered something like Edmodo? I am thinking about it, but haven't tried it. Archiving your Ellumuniate sessions sounds like a great idea to give kids something to refer to.
    I haven't published my goals, but I will take up the challenge. Great idea.

  2. @Jan, thanks for commenting. I have not used Edmodo before, but I'll have to check into it. I did have a student this year, who was traveling extensively, ask if we could communicate through Twitter as opposed to e-mail. He seemed to think that e-mail was quite antiquated, and wondered if I was more "with it" than his other teachers and would use Twitter or Facebook :-)

    I have been archiving my Elluminate sessions for the past two years, so my goal this year is to archive just the mini-lessons, and not the tutorial parts. I think many of the students were reluctant to participate knowing that the sessions were recorded.

    I look forward to hearing what your goals are for the new school year.


  3. As a parent, it's wonderful to peek into the annual summer reflections of a teacher, and I sure appreciate the openness. Why should it be so rare to hear a teacher report that something they tried hadn't work out as well as they had hoped? This is fantastic.

    How do we get Kathryn doing this too?

  4. @Jeremy, thanks for your comment! It's a tricky thing to get comfortable with putting yourself out there, warts and all. So far my experience has been very positive; I get so much great feedback it's becoming addictive! As for Kathryn, I keep trying to get her to catch the blogging bug. I know she really enjoys how you share your daughters' learning on your blog. Perhaps there's an angle here we could work on together to get her going...

  5. Ciao Claire,
    I discovered the page on the trail of my picture link, and now I am a reader of your blog. I work with teachers in Italy, we often find a gulf between educational plans and their fulfilment and I try to discover what doesn't work. Education is difficult and wonderful at the same time.

    Cristiano Corsini (corscri)

  6. Hi Cristiano,

    Thanks for leaving a comment! It sounds like you have interesting work in Italy. Where I teach in Canada, there are also gaps between where we want to be and where we are.

    You have some fabulous photos and I'm so glad you've chosen to use creative commons licenses.



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