This week I stumbled upon a quick way to do a some reflecting on lessons that quick, easy, and I actually use. Want to skip to the hack? Scroll on down.
My teaching schedule has me teaching Algebra the first three periods of the day. I like it a lot but if I think of anything I need to do or change over the course of a lesson, I need to make a note of it. By the time I’m done with my third show of the day, all I’m thinking about is getting to the bathroom and getting something to eat. If I leave it to my memory, it’s not going to get done. Processing my teaching is not going beyond thinking through what happened.
Written reflections on lessons is something that I have to do when I’m being evaluated or being considered for something like PolarTREC (I will cover that in another post). It’s one of those disciplines that is helpful but time consuming. Due to the latter, it rarely happens as a matter of practice in my professional life unless it is a requirement. This past week I stumbled onto a hack (yes, that term is overused) that at least gets me a little closer to something that looks like a regular chance to process my teaching.
So rewind to this past Monday. When class started, I had my Algebra students doing some practice on their Chromebooks while I handed back quizzes and talked with individuals. From there, the plan was to kick out some notes on graphing exponential equations but as I was about say, “close your Chromebooks,” I had a thought and said, “Before we wrap things up, head over to Desmos.com.”
I had students type in y=ax and graph it. We talked about how to include the slider for a. And then I instructed my class to take two minutes to change the value of a and discover what values seem to be significant. It lead to a relatively deep discussion about the shape of the graph, exponential growth and decay, domain and range, and the workings of Desmos. I then clicked over to my SmartBoard file and we discussed things a little more formally. When first period ended, the discussion we had was so rich I needed to remember to make a note of it for next year.
Here’s the hack: So on a whim at the end of class, I open another copy of my SmartBoard file for the day on my laptop and saved it as, “Exp Growth Decay NEXT TIME,” or something similar so it would appear next to file from this year. I pop a slide at the beginning of the file so I am sure to see it next year and started to type the experience of the discussion, what questions were helpful, and the like. Not a lot – three or four bullet-points – two minutes total. But it was enough to process things a little for myself and get a few more ideas for second period.
I kept the file open for the rest of the day and tweaked things as we went through things over the day. The next day as I was heading into first period, I saved a secondary file on my laptop and kept it open for tweaks and insights for next year. Instead of discussion, it was vocabulary changes that made for better understanding. Typed it in for my prep for next year. I don’t have to think about revising stuff this year. By having it written out to make the changes next year, I will have the chance to reflect on things and pull in the experience of the rest of the unit into the revision.
I optimistic that next year these comments, processing, and hints will make for crafting better lessons next year. At the very least, I’m finding the practice of immediately reflecting on what impromptu discussions, comments, and ideas that are helpful to my classes extremely helpful.