In both the 8th and 10th grade, I have noticed quite a few cases of individual growth, and a lot of growth throughout the whole classes. With the 8th grade especially, this poetry unit that we have been working on has been the first unit that I have designed and taught by myself, and I have noticed us all growing together as a community of learners.
Steven – A Case Study of Student Growth
When I first met Steven at the beginning of the year, he seemed like an average 8th grade student. He participated an average amount in class discussions, and got by with just the amount of work he needed to complete in order to get a B. Steven often sat next to his best friend, Pedro. Both Steven and Pedro were always able to understand what was being taught in class, and brought a decent amount of background knowledge to class, but they also both would spend most of the class distracting each other with side conversations.
As I began to take over as lead teacher in the classroom, I made a point to never pair Steven and Pedro together in any group. Doing so would ensure that both would goof off, make inappropriate jokes/comments, and distract themselves and the students around them. Neither would do any work, and I would constantly have to walk over to the two of them to remind them to stay on task. Despite my strategic groupings, the two often found a way to sit near each other. I’ve often had to separate them, or even stand between the two of them so that they could not look across the room at each other to have a side conversation.
The first major assignment that we completed together after I took over as lead teacher was A Midsummer Night’s Dream Portfolio. This assignment asked the students to reflect on their experiences in reading/understanding Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and on their experiences actually participating in a production of this play. During the play itself, Steven had taken on the role of Egeus, the father of Hermia, who is one of the four lovers in the play. He was one of the first to have his lines memorized and definitely excelled on the stage. Yet, when he turned in his Portfolio at the end of the unit, he did not have all components completed, and it was clear that he did not put as much effort into the portfolio as he could have. I had each student complete a reflection of the assignment, and in his reflection, Steven admitted that he did not work as hard as he could have.
As we transitioned from finishing up the Portfolio assignment to the poetry unit, I began to notice some changes in Steven. Over the course of the poetry unit, I watched as Steven began to move from a solid B student to a student who reached for As. Steven began participating more in class, and providing more insightful commentary on the poems that we read.
The keystone of our poetry unit was an Anthology of original poems written and edited by both 8th grade classes. As the students wrote drafts of their poems, I paired them up based on how similar their drafts were, thematically or stylistically. Steven’s poems happened to pair well with Amanda’s poems—and Amanda is one of the hardest working, “highest flying” students in the class. As I grouped them together, I honestly did not even consider the influence that Amanda could have on Steven, but when I watched them
working together in class, I saw a shift in Steven. As he worked on polishing the final drafts of his poems and designing the anthology page with Amanda, I saw a student who cared about the quality of his work.
Most importantly, I have begun to see a shift in Steven as a member of the classroom community. He has consistently stayed after lunch to help clean up the classroom, and often offers to help teachers. He has begun to be more engaged during class discussions, contributing with incredibly insightful comments. Steven came to me at one point and mentioned that though Pedro was one of his good friends, he often was frustrated by the fact that Pedro would constantly distract him in class and make it harder for him to focus. I reminded Steven that he could always tell Pedro to talk to him after class whenever he felt that Pedro was keeping him from being able to focus. After this interaction, I began to notice Steven doing just that—more often than not, when Pedro tried to distract Steven from his work, I noticed Steven telling him to stop.
As we move on to new units, I am hoping to see Steven grow even more as a student and member of the classroom community. He has definitely grown from average to high flyer over the course of this poetry unit, and I hope to push him to keep taking pride in his work.