This week I had my first formal evaluation by my principal. Of course, I was evaluated six times during student teaching, but this is just a bit different. The stakes are higher. I’m not just trying to show my cooperating teacher and supervisor (whose opinions I valued A LOT) that I am ready to be a real teacher, but convince my principal - who took a risk hiring a fresh newbie over some seasoned veterans - that I’m good enough to keep around a while longer.
In order to show some of the range of my teaching (and, to be honest, hit as many points on the rubric as I could), I borrowed and adjusted a Salem Tea Party lesson from some of the other 7th grade teachers. The lesson was student-centered and exploratory, giving kids the opportunity to become a character from the Salem Witch Trials through individual, pair, and whole class interactions. I didn’t get in as much whole-class accountable talk as I would have liked (which, seriously, the kids use all of the time without much prompting from me), but hopefully my evaluator heard the good conversations going on in the pairs as he walked around the room.
After the students had the opportunity to mingle around and gather notes about all of the characters, my Day 2 objective was for students to be able to analyze the relationships between characters by creating a concept map. One of my classes is ahead of the others, so I tried this with them first.
Before they began, I told them that the lesson was going to be an experiment. They played with the idea of a character map for a while and some kids were able to make sense of it, but my spotty instruction made it hard for them to understand what they were supposed to create. As I saw the lesson devolve into confusion and frustration, I invited the pairs who felt successful to come up to share their creation and their thinking. I think the sharing helped clarify some of the relationships for the class, but I knew that not all of the students were at that point yet. So I thanked everyone for trying their best and promised I would think of a new way to accomplish our objective.
As I stewed in my thoughts, I realized we could use a ball of string, passed from character-to-character, to represent the complexity of relationships between the characters involved in the trials. And the students could then write about what we created.
The making of the web in class yesterday was really powerful and some students had loud “a-ha” moments once they realized what was happening. This pumped me up for reading their writing about the activity.
As I continue to sift through their responses, however, I am noticing their inability to explain, in writing, how the web represents the connections between the characters. They say that it does, but struggle to break down the metaphor...
So I guess all of this is to say, first, that I am thankful to have multiple opportunities to experiment and try a lesson until I get it right. I am not stuck in a scripted curriculum and I am able to plan whatever I think will be best for the students. On top of that, even though concept mapping didn’t work out so well with the first class, I was able to revise and try again. This is comforting for a first year teacher still trying to know what I don’t know.
Second, metaphors (and kinesthetic, visual activities) are powerful learning tools, but the students had difficulty elaborating on this learning. Now I know that I have to more explicitly teach the processes and possibilities of metaphor. In 7th grade, thinking about thinking is hard work, but I’m excited to help my kids get better at it.