Monday, September 6, 2010

The Finish Line?

I don't know at what point yesterday I was going to finish the 8-mile run goal (which actually turned into 8.45 according to, but it was long before I passed back in front of my front door to finish.  Maybe it was when I reached the half-way point, and felt pretty good about what I had been able to do so far.  Maybe it was when I climbed the last big hill about two miles from the finish and knew that it was fairly flat the rest of the way.  Or maybe it was when I set the goal of running 8 miles way back when in the spring.  Maybe the actual creation of the goal pre-ordained the fact that I was going to finish it.  And that is why I have decided to have my students write down their goals for the year, what they are willing to do to achieve them and what they are going to do to achieve them. 

I see those two things "willing to do" and "going to do" as distinctly different, but not opposing, forces.  For me "willing to do" suggests that "yeah, I would be willing to do these things if everything else works out for me," whereas "going to do" suggests "this what I WILL do to achieve my goals."  Maybe the difference is a subtle one and maybe I am being to philosophical for high school sophomores, but I don't think either is true.  All students need to be introspective and work through the reasons that they do things.  What they do can no longer be something they do "just to get it done" and move on to whatever comes next.  Thinking needs to be a process for them, as it is for all of us, and the only way to get better at the process is to practice doing it. 

Will this exercise in goal setting help my sophomores become better students?  Undoubtedly, yes, as it force them to write down a more "permanent" record of what they hope to do.  Consistent reflection on it will help them to stay on course and make their own subtle corrections along the way.  Could their goals change?  Sure, based on what evidence they have collected along the way, but even then their goals will have to change at their own initiative.

My goals for the year for my students are fairly straightforward.
1. I want for each of them to become better thinkers, to be able to examine all of the different pieces of evidence from the history of the United States and try to make some sense of who we are as Americans.
2. I want for each of them to become better writers.  Those people who have told them that this new creation called the "Internet" will lead students to read and write less were selling them a false bill of goods.  If anything, the Internet requires these students to be better writers.  They have to be able to get their point across more quickly and more persuasively than ever before.  They have to provide the reader with something worth reading. 
3. I want for each of them to become better citizens, not just of the United States, but of the world.  These students need to try and figure out what it means to be an American, what we have stood for, why we have stood for it, why those things that we once stood for have changed and why those changes happen, before they can go on and figure what America's role in a constantly changing, shrinking, and flattening world should be.   They need to understand that the choices we as Americans make an impact around the world and the choices they make should be well-thought out and reasoned, not just "because."

My job as the teacher is to provide them with opportunities to practice these things.  So my personal goals for the year are:
1. To provide more opportunities for my students to discuss their own thoughts on the documents and pieces of evidence both with their classmates and with me.
2. To provide more opportunities for an authentic display of their knowledge.  This is more than just discussions and answers to questions on tests.  These are tangible things that the students themselves create out of the research they do and the things that are running around in their heads.
3. To provide more feedback to my students in an effort to help them formulate a clearer understanding of what they are writing.  This is not necessarily about the validity of their arguments, but about their way to create one and convince others that what they are saying has value.

If all of these things happen over the course of the year, then it will be one of the most successful that I have ever had as a teacher.  But, then, maybe this year will be successful because of going through the process of sitting down and setting these goals for myself and my students.

1 comment:

Jenna said...

One, I agree - goals are necessary. Two, You run?
Three, How come you didn't have us do this last year? I want to blog! All we had was nicenet and you stopped using it halfway through the year!
Four, you made a spelling mistake... "too philosophical", not "to philosophical". ;)
Oh, and five, I'd say last year is going to end up being your most successful year. ;) ...For most of your students at least. :)