Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Self Reflection-Action Research Question 2014

By Marie Clevering

In the past two months, I have begun my first year teaching third grade. Earlier in my career, I taught primarily middle school students, with a focus on fifth and sixth grades. 

First Impressions

I learned rather quickly that no matter the age, all students face similar struggles. At the beginning of the year, I may have even thought “Oh third grade. It’ll be so easy after teaching middle school.” Not so. Third grade has its unique challenges, and is forcing my approach to dealing with students to evolve.

Sarcasm is no longer a go-to strategy for working with a student with a good sense of humor. Third graders also are aware of some current events, but do not have the ability to talk about them in any depth or detail. And third graders take a long time to write down their homework. A long time. A very long time. I also realized quickly that students have a LOT of questions. These questions aren’t necessarily important, or a question that needs to be answered right away, but the students think they are. 

I don’t want to come off like I don’t enjoy my seven and eight year olds. I do. They are excited to learn. They are proud of their accomplishments. They love listening to vocabulary songs, love doing art projects, and love to read. It is an amazing age where children are just starting to become more aware of their community, and to develop their character. It is a great time to work with children to help make them life long learners.

Behavior Motivation Formats

At the beginning of the year, I struggled with what I wanted for the focus of my research. I felt like I needed an entire year to become acclimated with the elementary model. But, over the past month, it’s become clear that there is a place in my classroom (and other upper elementary grades) for motivation around self-reflection that can be tied to incentives for improved behavior.

In the past, third graders at my school were in one classroom all day. If they were off-task, their names were moved along a very public ladder that started out at “Doing Great” and ended with “Take A Break.” Sometimes, extra recess was given to the entire class for being particularly compliant during transitions, or when listening to directions.

I found the past approach problematic for multiple reasons:

1)  Students in the 3rd grade at my school are now departmentalized. This means that they travel between a science/math room and a humanities room. This is in addition to going to gym, art and elective. It’s a packed day where students engage with different teachers, different classrooms and different rules.  Having a system in only one room just doesn’t work.

2)  Giving incentives and rewards to the entire class for doing well is a great idea. I have used this approach many times before, and I will continue to do so. However, if it’s the only way of making sure students are motivated to learn and follow directions, it falls short during independent work time and discussions in small groups. This model is awkward because the students who are always doing the right thing become increasingly frustrated with students who have a harder time following directions.

SHOW Grades

I wanted something new and better. I wanted students to be held individually accountable for their daily work and behavior, and be rewarded for their good decisions in the classroom.

The result: Scholarly Habit Of Work (or SHOW) Grades.  It is a system based off of the following concepts:

·     Grit
·     Zest (Enthusiasm)
·     Participation in classroom discussions
·     Being Prepared
·     Being Steady (try not to wiggle!)
·     On Task
·     Working as a team

It’s a lot of components. It’s a lot to ask of eight year olds. But I’m hopeful that it will have a positive effect on their learning. I also hope that self-reflection on these concepts will inspire better character in my kids both inside and outside the classroom.

How SHOW Works

SHOW Grades are student-driven. Students reflect each week on the seven components, and grade themselves on a scale of 4,3,2,1. This is a holistic score that includes all the classes for the whole week. (This is clearly a stumbling block I’m working on: it’s pretty hard to remember as a 31 year old adult what yesterday was like, much less an eight year old trying to assess their entire week!) Student’s self-grades are then reviewed by a teacher, and modified as appropriate.

If students are on the higher end of the rubric scale (either a 3 or a 4), they receive an extended recess period of about 15 minute. If students receive a 2, they receive half the extended recess. If students receive a 1, they do not get any extended recess, and have a one-on-one conversation with the teacher about ways to improve.

Research Goals

This research project has many goals. I want more accountability from my students. I also want to foster a more reflective classroom where students learn how to think about how they have acted. Also, I want to tie this research to literacy.  Besides the writing that students do when they reflect on their behavior for the week, I also want to bring in current event stories of students who show grit and teamwork to get a solution done. 

I’m also in the process of collecting data each week on students’ reflections and self-assessments. I have found a dramatic increase in the scores reported in the self-assessments (with teacher approval). From the first week, which was just three weeks ago, to last week, the class average for receiving a 3 or 4 went from 70% to 90%. Also, after an anonymous survey, over half the class agreed that SHOW helps them become better students. These are very hopeful, encouraging signs that some of the SHOW components can be successful. We shall see…

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