On the Heals of Summer – A New Semester

The new semester begins barely days after the summer term ends.  I feel mostly ready for classes this week – there are always details and adjustments I can continue to make if I let myself; yet, it is important to take a few minutes to reflect on what I learned from teaching this summer’s online course before it fades into a too-distant past.

One course, the middle grades English Language Arts methods, was a hybrid with a blend of face-to-face meetings, email check-ins, and asynchronous online engagement.  Even though it was a short, 8-week summer term, we created a community of learners who learned a great deal from one another.  The presentations, interactions, and conversations challenged each of us to consider the middle schooler at the heart of instruction.  Informal feedback seemed to indicate positive responses to the overall course design, which demonstrates that necessary changes from the previous summer have moved the course in the right direction.

This was the third summer teaching the second course, the young adult literature with a methods focus.  The first summer was a complete shake-up finding a new professional text as the anchor and developing genre explorations through choice literature selections.  The second summer built upon the lessons learned from student feedback with changes to some novel selections and the sequence of assignments.  Students responded positively to this second iteration of the course — its design, the choice YA literature selections, and the assignments — at least informally.  It seemed to be moving in a good direction.

The course as it has evolved first asks pre-service candidates and current teachers working towards master’s degrees to learn “who” would be in their classrooms by interviewing teenagers and posting the transcripts on our discussion board.  The cross-interview analysis requires candidates to consider the reading and writing interests of these teenagers as well as suggest a book for one of them with a book talk.  Other assignments have the candidates engage with writing as they would have their own students do in the classroom. They collaborate on Google Docs on scripts that have different book characters “talk” to each other in other settings (talk show, alternate endings – based on Jennifer Buehler’s Teaching YA Literature). Through Google Classroom, a popular platform across school districts, candidates post summaries of novels and connect to one another’s posts through questions, comments, and possibilities for classroom use.

Enter this summer.

Throughout the summer, most candidates had shared with me the difficulties they were having in balancing this class with their work and family responsibilities.  Many candidates told me how burnt out and stressed they were with having a final, required course before their student teaching capstone internship in the fall.  I met with a candidate who shared how his initial confusion and frustration changed after he acclimated to the rhythm and flow of the assignment schedule.  This did not seem to be true for others.  Surveys indicated negative feedback with pacing, texts, assignments, instructor availability – nothing seemed to work well for the few candidates who submitted the formal Student Evaluations of Instruction.  These surveys are anonymous, but notably no graduate students responded.

After receiving the SEIs, I emailed each candidate for feedback on the course so that I can improve its design and my role in instruction.  I am particularly interested in hearing the voices of the unrepresented graduate students.  Though the feedback anyone provides at this time will not be anonymous, I hope they will share honestly in order to guide me in further improving the course.  However, I do wish concerned and stressed-out candidates had reached out to me early in the summer.  Perhaps my lessened role in this course compared to their previous methods courses with me was off-putting.  I wonder if we had not formed the necessary relationships during the fall and spring semesters to maintain the connection they needed at this pivotal point in their program.

I am a reflective practitioner who will consider all feedback, anonymous or not, as I begin this new semester.  It is my job as instructor, program coordinator, and university supervisor to develop future teachers.  My job does not end in the classroom; it only begins there.