I wasn’t expecting it, but one of my favorite things about working with the students at District Q and District Y is reading their comments on the Google Forms we use to log our independent reading. At Former School, I rarely assigned independent reading outside of class … but at Former School, we were together for 95 minutes a day, every day of the week. With the alternating day schedule at District Q and the rotating drop at District Y, we don’t see each other every day, and we’re together for an hour or so at a time. It makes sense to do some independent reading when we’re not together, especially for the intermediate and advanced groups.
To avoid the feeling of endless grind that homework assignments can bring, I’ve been asking the Latin Family to take a set amount of time but let the amount of reading vary according to what they can do. After 30 minutes, they stop and record how much they could read, a few details, a sense of how much they understood, and ideas about what went well or how they process could be improved. “It is really hard for me,” B said over the weekend, “but I like the fact I am able to read some of it to get the main idea. Makes me feel like a real Latin student!”
I was really glad to see that, B! And as I read your comment, I realized something important. The independent reading, the log, and the self-assessment are all important tools of coaching for growth. They give us the time and the privacy and the kinds of interactions we need to help the students at District Q and District Y move from a fixed mindset about “knowing” Latin to a growth mindset about developing proficiency.
I’m not sure I knew that would happen when we started, but I had a strong feeling that the independent reading process would help.
At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure what kinds of outside work I’d ask the Latin Family to do. At Former School, “everybody” knew that homework was a self-assigned thing. If you needed to re-read a story, you did that; if you needed to study vocabulary, that’s what you did. But with 95 minutes a day of face-to-face class time, beginning and intermediate Latin Family members rarely needed to spend much time outside of class. Besides, Ms. X and Mr. Y had plenty of things for them to do … endless copying of definitions from the textbook, for example, and piles of worksheets and outlining the chapter. Ms. X and Mr. Y firmly believed (or at least said they believed) these tasks would “get them ready for the Great Big Standardized Test” … but I always wondered if Ms. X and Mr. Y assigned such tasks because “that’s what you do when you’re a teacher.”
I don’t know “what you do” if you’re Ms. X or Mr. Y at District Q or District Y. And even if I did, would “what you do” apply to a virtual space? So instead of falling back on “what you do” or deliberately reacting against “what you do,” we’ve had the space and the freedom to develop routines and procedures for ourselves. I think that’s helped to build a sense of ownership … and it’s definitely helped with the process of coaching for growth.
I “just happened” to see Jackie Gerstein’s post on that topic over the weekend. As I read it, thought about it, and participated in some Google+ conversations about it, I kept coming back to the beliefs and reflective questions in the infographic. I try to ask such questions regularly, but it was good to see all of them in one place … and it was good to see how, even when I wasn’t consciously considering all of them, they’d shaped the way I designed and (with help from the Latin Family’s comments) redesigned the independent reading process and the logs. In the beginning, we struggled with communicating expectations clearly; on both sides, we had some unexpressed expectations that were probably interfering with the communication. Once we’d resolved those issues, I really did set out to normalize learning from mistakes and taking risks; that’s an important part of the work I do with any branch of the Latin Family, and the old familiar strategies worked pretty well. With smaller groups, and with the opportunities for interaction that the virtual classroom provides, it was easier to get more of us involved, more of the time … and since everybody has (and uses) district-provided email accounts, it wasn’t hard to be in touch with anybody who seemed disengaged. Authentic feedback? That’s a natural part of the Tres Columnae Project approach, especially when we began sharing our Minor Assessment product drafts. Resources? Scaffolding? Time and resources? We had a pretty good system in place anyway, and we’re improving these features together. Praising effort? Seeking engagement? Considering and using best practices? Again, we started out pretty good, and we’re getting better.
And the fact that we are getting better … that’s a powerful affirmation of growth in itself, and so are those questions I ask each day about “what did you like best” and “what, if anything, would you change.” I struggled with exit tickets in a physical classroom; I love the idea, but it was hard for me to use them consistently, especially when Powers That Be tended to make announcements on the intercom in the last few minutes of a class. That’s less of a factor at District Q and District Y, but it’s also important that we can give and receive asynchronous feedback. That seems to deepen the responses and improve their quality.
I wonder what other discoveries we’ll make as we continue coaching for growth, and as we take turns giving and receiving the coaching. I’ve learned a lot already from these joyful learning communities, and I’m eager to see what else we’ll discover in the days and weeks to come.