Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Response/reaction to Mr. Krause's Experiment

No, Anne and Karl aren't the only ones reading your posts at AHS. And, maybe surprisingly, you aren't the only one trying this experiment at AHS. I'm going to "Cliff Note" my experiences here, but would love to talk more with you about how it is going. Some of this is for you and some is for me as this seemed like a good place to write out thoughts.
For the last 8 years in Law, an elective 2 day a week course that examines criminal law in Colorado, I have set up the course almost exactly as you seem to have done. The only "real" grade has been the cumulative project that asks students to utilize the processes, procedures, and examples provided through class and apply them to their experiences with law. For some, those experiences are first hand. For most, they come through the experience requirement (insisted on by students about a decade ago) that requires that each student do at least one of the following: (1) act as an attorney in our Mock Trial where they spend eight weeks working with local defense attorneys and prosecutors as they prepare for a trial held before Judge Gerald Rafferty in his District 18, courtroom, (2) go on a ride-along for a night with Arapahoe County Sheriffs, or (3) spend a day at a criminal court sitting in on trials and hearings. Obviously, the first option requires the most time, but it is the one most want to do. Many students do all three. The project then asks them to utilize their experiences to make conclusions regarding our system in Colorado from the perspectives of citizens, taxpayers, teens, jurors, participants in the system, potential victims, etc. Along the way, there are a few other “point moments” so that there is something to be seen by parents and an eligibility quest. But as stated in the course expectations, numerous discussions with students, and at Back to School night and conferences, all we do is geared toward one project of choosing a path and showing what you have learned. Rarely do I have a student who chooses to not do one of the experiences (which counts for 10% of the grade, thus, not doing one is a choice to get a B). Rarely do I have students not step up to the plate with a meaningful project. Rarely do I have anything but As. These aren’t gifts in the end as the students tend to see the positive nature of this challenge. Given that you have juniors, it makes sense that none of your students have yet to have seen this experience and I cannot wait to have students next year that have already experienced your class.

A few years ago, I decided to take my challenge to the A.P. Government course. Unfortunately, my master plan fell on its face in A.P. Government. Or maybe it was just “that” year. Or maybe it was because of some other realities. In my mind, A.P. (at least government) is an old school program that, at its heart, only requires students to regurgitate the info they have explored. At best, they ask for some analysis. In an attempt to do more, create relevance, and find ways to apply what we learned, I had grandiose plans of a class that would see the tests as a means, not an end. They would see learning for learning. And in the end, the AP results would follow. After a decade of A.P. averages ranging from 3.6 to 4.3 and scores that rarely if ever fell below a 3, I felt confident that I could still do the “easy” work getting them ready to regurgitate while they interacted with the political world. The grade was more or less guaranteed as an A due to a reliance on test corrections to relearn material, essay corrections to work on writing, and the “relevance” project that all but a few did very well on. But test results plummeted to an average that was unacceptable and twice as many 1s and 2s in one year than I had seen in a decade. So back to the drawing board with the help of the class that, in my mind, understood politics and issues, but could not do the detail work of A.P. government.

Things like readings quizzes were suggested to get them to read more and better. They suggested note-taking strategy sessions and then point-based tests of how ell they take notes in and out of class. They suggested that laptops ONLY be used with specific focus and not for regular note-taking in class due to THEIR inability to focus on details while they multi-tasked (even when the multi-tasking was positive!). They suggested that the relevance project go away because, for some, it was so good that it took all of their limited time and focus.

Some suggested to me that the real reason for the failure in government was that I had expanded my classes from 24 in one section to 170 in five sections. And while that does mean a wide range of abilities and experiences and probably a smaller percentage of “government geeks” in the course, I refuse to believe that these students couldn’t continue to perform as prior classes had. I had always had non-traditional honors students (ie. students that hadn’t come through our honors/AP classes) in the class and they had done well. Based on the positive changes (tests results bounced back to where I would hope them to be – although we’ll continue to push for better) last year, I have another conclusion. A.P. Government wasn’t the place for my experiment. Not yet. I still believe in limiting the focus on the grade and still do some game-playing with it to help them see it as a means and not an end. Yet the semester grade still occurs half way through a full year course that has a true cumulative test. So for students and parents, that semester grade is more than a means. And they overwhelmingly told me that I had to make it so that the A was not a given in order to push them harder.

I hope your experiment works. I hope it catches fire. Maybe with more of a culture developed around that type of challenge, I will be able to revisit it later. But for now, those well-publicized test results leave me doing it a little bit at a time.

Good Luck.


Post a Comment

<< Home