Sunday, July 31, 2011

Summer School Lessons

I just finished my first Summer School class ever, and let me tell you, it was one of the best teaching experiences I've ever had. I realized a few days ago that my favourite class is usually whichever class is in front of me, and this last class was no exception.

What I want to quickly jot down here are my personal highlights about this last month of teaching.

  • Students hand wrote every single assignment
The school I taught at didn't have wireless, and the classroom held one 'teacher station' computer. So, students wrote every assignment- save one- by hand. In my regular school, I've been campaigning (I call it campaigning, the dictionary would call it incessant whining) about getting our school equipped with a wireless network because for God's sakes, Burger King has a wireless network and we still don't? I'm definitely pro 1:1. So it came as a minor shock to admit that I think part of the reason for the students' improvements in their writing was due in no small part to the fact that they were putting pen to paper. I know there's an anti-cursive murmur out there, but I can't get on board with it, not after this month.
  • There were 9 students in class
Does this really need any kind of discussion? 9 students, 4 hours a day. Every day I could look every single one of them in the eye, ask a question, smile, tease, whatever. Every day I could (and sometimes did) collect one or two assignments and had them covered in feedback and returned the next day. Could I duplicate this with my normal assignment of 200 students? Ha. That is actually the sound of me crying.

  • Every time I assigned a piece of writing, I wrote one myself. 
Before the course started, I had just finished reading 'Write Beside Them' and it was like getting written permission to be a better teacher. I don't have the same circumstances as Penny Kittle in that I teach both writing and reading texts, but I made sure that at least one third of our day was dedicated to the writing process. I intend to keep this habit up when I return to my regular classroom because it was transformative for me and oh yeah, for the students too. Silent Reading became my favourite part of the day. We responded in Quick Write form to everything from YouTube videos to the tragedy in Norway. I shared my work and my challenges, and then they shared theirs. I learned (or relearned) that part of making a safe place for sharing in the classroom was not just expecting trust but showing it too. And I learned humility, when I shared what I thought was a brilliant first draft essay on happiness based on Alden Nowlan's "Glass Roses" to one of my students and she said it was 'just ok'. 

  • I forgot to give Unit Exams
This may sound facetious, but it's true. At about the three week mark I realized that I hadn't yet given a single unit exam, simply because we were too busy doing other things. And at pretty much that same moment I realized how useless and needlessly distracting unit exams have been for me. Series of rhetorical questions to follow: Am I anti measurement? Yes, probably, and especially as I get older (Har, har.) Would I rather my students spent their time at home reading, relaxing or enjoying their lives instead of stressing out about mystery exam questions and what the resulting number will be? Absolutely. Can I get away with not giving unit exams in my regular school? We'll see. I can be awfully forgetful.

So there you go, best month ever. I am a total teaching nerd. And now to enjoy August and to think about ways to make the 10 months of next year a lot like the month I just had. 


  1. I love this reflection. A few years ago, I taught summer school and treated it like an experiment to try what I hadn't tried in the classroom. I found similar things: that I could smile and tease with the "bad kids," that they learned well when I took the time to write alongside them and that they didn't need the unit exams.

  2. I really enjoyed your post-for me I enjoyed the opportunity to purely teach with not all the regular interruptions-I was able to make my classroom wireless by simply installing a wireless router myself very cheaply and what a Godsend it is especially since at summer school I had six ipads... enjoy August...P.S. Alden Nowlen-long time since I have read his poetry

  3. Thanks for the comments! It's funny how attached I've been to the idea of needing wireless to function at my fullest potential and then this month that just faded away in the face of just teaching the kids that were in front of me. It was fun, and next comes the challenge of making the 'experiment' work in my regular classroom!

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