Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Is the problem flipping, the new curriculum, or both?

With the early success of the review unit, I was excited to get started on the first full unit. It is called "Challenges in Teen Life" and I thought that with the flip we would be able to get so much more accomplished and the kids would be able to do so many fun things with this unit.

When I passed out the unit assignment packet, there were plenty of wide-eyed looks. I kept reminding them that these were all of the assignments for the entire unit - 5 weeks. The unit assessment was going to be a video project done in a group. I began the unit by having the students choose either a Judge Judy format or a Jerry Springer format. Then I divided up the groups. I wanted to have some amount of say in the formation of the groups so that no one person was left out, and I also didn't want to have a group that was totally composed of weaker students. Everyone had some of their friends in the group, and almost everyone was happy with how the groups shaped up.

Then I went over the highlights of the assignments and due dates. I made sure I pointed out when the assessments were and what would be on them. We also discussed the new format of the assessments. There would be two benchmark assessments and one unit assessment for each unit. The benchmark assessments would be on vocabulary and a grammar concept. The vocabulary would be in fill in the blank format, not just a regurgitation of a list. The students all nodded and got to work.

When the day of the first benchmark assessment came, I knew something was wrong. I was about to hand out the assessment and I was asking if there were any last minute questions. Students asked me to define to ostracize, to define to conform. These were words that were on their vocabulary list. Not only did they not know what they meant in English, but they were only now asking me what they meant!! How do Juniors not know what these words mean?

That was only the beginning. I had no sooner handed out the quizzes that the students started to look like deer in headlights. They started asking for hints, for a word bank, and my favorite "could I please tell them one this word means?". I had given them practice worksheets for the vocabulary that were in the same format as the assessment. Many of the questions on the assessment had come directly from the practice. I told them all to do their best, and I was confident my reign of "tough and mean" teacher would continue.

The assessment grades were a disaster. Yes, I did have a few As - there are some students that will always get them. However, most of the grades were Fs, and not just Fs, low Fs....37, 26, 14. I was really shocked. What went wrong? Was it me? Was it the flip?

After the I handed back the assessments, I talked to the students. It would seem that many didn't really study, and the ones that had studied did it right before class. And yes, in my effort to use vocabulary that would enable them to discuss teen issues, I clearly went over their head.

Luckily, my plan had always been to allow the students to retake the assessment if they needed to. So, I chalked it up to experience and knew that the next one would be better. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The next one was a little better, but still more than half of them were Fs. Worse yet, many of the students didn't take advantage of the retakes, so the grades were in the toilet. We were six weeks into school, and I had kids planning on dropping at semester. What was I going to do to make this better???