Teachers Implement Unique Teaching Methods

Teachers+Implement+Unique+Teaching+Methods

Students in Upper School (US) English Department Head Ariel Duddy and US English Teacher David Scrivner’s junior English course, Travelers and Transients, progress beyond peer editing and participate in workshop-style classes.

After reading poems by Langston Hughes, Jericho Brown, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sherman Alexie, and other American poets, students created their own poem representing America. Ms. Duddy said in past years, students chose topics ranging from politics to gender. In shifts, each student submitted their poem for classmates to read before discussing it in class the next day.

Ms. Duddy said the vulnerability of the workshop environment led to meaningful peer feedback.

“The workshop creates this community where you want to be generous and thoughtful and help your classmates create the best poem they can that really identifies their voice, knowing that you’re going to be in the hot seat later down the road and want that same sort of response from your classmates,” she said.

Ms. Duddy emphasized the element of continual progress and improvement.

“The workshop style is really to encourage people to say, ‘I have a draft, it’s not done, and I need to continue working and thinking and reconsidering,’” she said. “A workshop works best with someone who’s open to allowing their poem to evolve from where it began—it’s a starting point, not the end point.”

Will Rice ’22 said he valued his classmates’ feedback.

“There was an interactive element to it—it wasn’t just a teacher leaving comments on a Google Doc,” he said. “I liked that my classmates were giving me feedback, too.”

Several senior electives also run in a workshop format, including the Fiction Writing and the True Stories and Personal Essays courses.

 

In Upper School (US) Math and Computer Science Teacher Amelia Mattern’s Advanced Geometry Class, students create their own definitions and theorems rather than learning them from a textbook.

Dr. Mattern said she was discontented with the “under challenging and dry” manner in which she taught geometry prior to this change, and her inspiration for running her class this way came from a course she took in college.

“We wrote our own textbook, so it was a very visual class, and it was really engaging,” she said. “I felt like I learned the material at a deeper level than some of my other classes, so I wanted to try it here.”

This summer, Dr. Mattern received a curriculum grant to develop this idea after proposing it to US Math and Computer Science Department Head Chip Rollinson.

She decided what topics should be included in the textbook, designed homework prompts and examples, and created problem sets.

Students experiment with definitions, theorems, and proofs of concepts for homework and in class, justify their choices until they agree on the meaning of a term and record it in their Google Doc textbook.

Assessments, also unconventional, come in written and oral formats; the latter involves a one-on-one conversation with Dr. Mattern about a concept.

Dr. Mattern said there has been a range of reactions to this self-directed class. Some students have embraced this new method while others were hesitant, she said. In the end, she said, all her students showed enthusiasm in the discussions because of opinion- based aspect.

“I think if you had told my students when we started the class that they would get into heated, passionate debates about how they should define a line, they would have scoffed at me,” she said.

Advanced Geometry Student Rose Fahy ’24 said she retains information better because of the way the class is designed.

“With building our own textbook, I’ve gained more of an understanding of geometry instead of just memorizing whatever is put on the board during a lecture and forgetting about it a week later,” she said.

Additionally, she said, she doesn’t feel like she’s competing with her classmates.

“We all work together, building off each other’s ideas, which can take a lot of the pressure off,” Rose said. “We know it’s [okay] to be wrong about something because it will just spark another idea that will send us all in the right direction.”

Dr. Mattern said if the course prepares students well for the December exam, she plans to continue with this method in future years.

 

Instead of the A’s and B’s many students see on assignments, seniors in Scientific Ethics, taught by US Science Teachers Michael Chapman and Anthony Moccia, see phrases like, “Leveraged scientific knowledge to aid themselves.” The class, driven by a philosophy of student agency, equips students with an arsenal of self-reflection techniques to grade themselves.

Two years ago, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Moccia introduced a grading process where students review their own work and assess their growth as learners before assigning themselves a grade.

“Students gain a sense of true agency by being able to captain their learning ship and master their learning waters,” Mr. Chapman said.

The class has no letter grades until marking periods. Instead, Mr. Chapman and Mr. Moccia give students feedback on whether they are beginning, developing, meeting, or exceeding one of five competencies: leveraging scientific knowledge; reflecting on their learning experiences; analyzing and applying equal theories; presenting their logic and reasoned viewpoint to respond to problems; organizing their time and collaborating with peers.

For each assignment, students write short reflections on Mr. Chapman and Mr. Moccia’s feedback. At marking periods, students write a letter or create a video explaining what letter grade they think they deserve, and Mr. Moccia and Mr. Chapman compare that resolution with the one they come to and further discuss with students if necessary.

“Many grade-centric students enter the classroom, and not being able to constantly track their progress with a specific number grade is jarring for them,” Mr. Chapman said. “This makes the student-driven grading process even more powerful since these students deeply reflect on themselves as learners, and many have come out saying this has been the most powerful course for them.”

Annie Stockwell ’22 said the process has been informative. “I appreciate the amount I can learn from looking over previous work,” Annie said. “I can track my progress and see where I grew.”

Charlie Druker ’22 said his attitude has shifted more toward self-improvement.

“It’s a refreshing step back from the grade-focused classes where there’s a constant stress about your exact number grade at that current moment,” Charlie said.

Mr. Chapman and Mr. Moccia plan to continue this grading policy in future years.