Friday, February 3, 2017

The Benefits of Varying Class Structure

Currently, I am preparing for a test in one of my AP classes. As I was studying, a thought came over me: The difficulty of the class has grown exponentially while the year has progressed. My stress levels reflect that, the same way my grades and work levels do. Naturally I wanted to find a common factor or at least a reason why I suddenly feel overwhelms.

I’ve been taking mental notes what we’ve been doing in class and I’m surprised this didn’t hit me sooner. The structure of every class is as follows:
            1st – Video for either thirty minutes to an hour
            2nd – Teacher explains video followed by lunch
            3rd – Fill in blank worksheet about specific topic
Two aspects of this schedule stick out to me; the uniformity of class procedures and the constant use of videos and worksheets.

When a class falls into monotony, so do the students. Every class is the exact same and it wears us down. It may be comfortable to have an unchanging structure every day, but eventually disengagement starts to set in. We stop putting forth energy and we start blindly going through class. No excitement is ever built from constantly repeated activities. There is a simple solution though. Just by switching up our class agenda (whether it be marginally or significantly), my teacher would be able to regain our attention. After spending so much time utilizing the same classroom components over and over again, a shift would be welcome. That brings up another question though. What can my AP teacher do to spice up class?

When there are a group of people together, chances are the amount of interests everyone has will vary greatly. Try asking those with similar interests how they express their passion. Answers will spread even further. It’s no different than when there is a collection of twenty or more students in a room, but I know that’s common knowledge.

It is unrealistic to ask teachers to craft individual assignments for students, based on personal work methods, however there has to be a happy medium. In my opinion, my teacher misses the mark when it comes to reaching that medium, and many of my fellow students agree. This is not an attack on our teacher; it’s just our perspective on a class that is not working for us. Her heart is in the right place having us watch videos. On the surface, it makes sense. Our generation of students is a digital one. We have more technology at our fingertips than ever before. In showing videos to us, I’m confident our teacher was trying to connect the information to us in a way we are comfortable with. Attempting to find a different way to do conventional work is commendable, however this idea just happened to fall short.

As my class was watching the most recent video picked out for us, I observed the room. Maybe one or two students were actively paying attention. Almost the entire rest of the class was on their phone, talking amongst themselves, or flat out sleeping. Even me! I decided evaluating my classmates’ focus was more enticing than watching the video. To me, that sounds like disengagement.

In a way, I feel bad for my teacher. She clearly tried to reach out to us in a medium that we enjoy, and it just didn’t work. With the guidance of Troy Hicks, Danielle Devoss, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, in “Because Digital Writing Matters,” I believe I have pinpointed the potential issue. Watching a video and filling out a worksheet with obvious answers does not fully involve us. Our teacher integrated technological tools into our classroom, but attached nothing to them. That is a key misstep.

Digital resources “demand a highly participatory culture” (Because Digital Writing Matters, 2010). Students prefer active assignments. We would much rather be doing something than be told how to do it. It’s almost a clich√© at this point; but kids sometimes need to make mistakes to grow from them. Incorporating a digital element in the classroom shouldn’t remove the interactive aspect of work. Technology has created a more involved social climate just through widespread television and mainstream social media websites. It loses its purpose when it’s offered to students with no clear purpose. Now, that issue could just mean my teacher needs to be more transparent about what the work accomplishes, but that’s a blog post for another time.

One reason I think I am not doing as well in my class is because in a way, I’ve lost my teacher. The personal element of the student-teacher relationship has been replaced with alternating YouTube personalities. It’s impossible to ask a YouTube video for more clarification. Now, obviously I can just reach out to my teacher on my own time, but with the worksheets assigned being so specific to the video I can just skate by in class. It’s only when I’m out of the class that I face trouble. Studying is next to impossible when your whole comprehension hinges on tidbits from a video and nothing more. Our class, as a whole, struggles because “access to tech tools won’t ensure… [we] learn” (Because Digital Writing Matters, 2010). We still need a bridge between the cyber world and the living world. My recommendation to her would be take one or more of these guiding suggestions and integrate them.

If work must be created in conjunction with the videos we watch, it should be more centered on overarching topics, as opposed to questions like “who made the YouTube video?” This would prepare us for chapter tests, AP tests, and essays in a much, more efficient way than the current model.

The videos do not necessarily connect with all of our class’ members either. I don’t know whether it’s because people are more kinesthetic learners or they prefer reading over listening or something else. There are a multitude of reasons YouTube may not entice students, however some students may enjoy the videos. No two students are the same. Just as I said earlier, ask a group of twenty how they learn and you will get twenty completely different answers. Rather than playing videos for the class, our teacher can offer a variety of options in an effort to reach out to as many different types of learners as possible.

Another way to engage the students is to avoid the video altogether in favor of a more interactive activity. Well thought out games, group projects, “act outs,” and more can positively impact a classroom environment. A common theme between these options is the ability to gain life experiences. That’s why I’m a big fan of them - they don’t just teach for a test. Videos and blank worksheets “cannot measure many of the important qualities needed to enjoy life or succeed in it” (Setting the Record Straight, 2004). The alternatives (mentioned and unmentioned) above invite students to grow team-building, enhance leadership skills, and teach students about social cues.

In the near future, I intend to have a meeting with my AP teacher to discuss my newfound struggles with the class. I believe just by making some slight changes, our class’ experience will become much better. We don’t require a drastic upheaval of her lesson plans; it would just be beneficial if different elements are put in place to keep us engaged. I will definitely update this blog as the situation unfolds, but I still think she will be receptive. Like I said, her heart is in the right place, but the class just needs a couple of tweaks to reinvigorate us.

Thank you so much for reading the opening post to my blog! I would love to hear any thoughts (in agreement or opposition), any suggestions you have, or any questions you may have. I will continue to update this on Fridays as the year progresses. You can follow me on Twitter @TheSammer88 for live updates from me. The hashtag #BowTieBoys has been compiling my thoughts and my partners’ thoughts, so be sure to check that out if you want to hear more from us.

Bracey, Gerald W. Setting the Record Straight (Second Edition): Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in the U.S. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004. Print.
DeVoss, Da√Ćnielle Nicole., Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks. Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.


  1. Thank you for this amazing reflection Sam. As an educator, I think the often the only way to know if our choices are truly having an impact is to ASK - unless of course we are lucky enough to have students such as you willing to SHOW us the impact of our instructional choices reflected from YOUR eyes. So thrilled that you have started a blog to share with the world!

  2. ADVOCACY at its finest! I've said it before in our conversations with Susie, but you are the poster child for what we hope to inspire in all our students.

    In regards to the content of your first post, I couldn't agree more with your thinking. As an educator for nearly 20 years and someone with ADHD, the idea of doing the same thing over and over creates a major unease for me. As you mention, it's is honorable that your teacher is attempting to connect with you and your classmates through video. If she is intent on using video, I am wondering how it might feel for all involved if she gave you a theme or topic and asked you and your classmates to find them. Then, instead of worksheets, use the video as a launching point for a discussion, debate, individual/group activity. Technology for the sake of technology doesn't make any sense.

    I am so eager to hear how it goes with your teacher when you sit down and talk with her. I imagine it to be a beautiful outcome.

    I'll second Mary in saying that I'm thrilled about your blog and that your sharing your voice!!

  3. Wow Sam! What a powerful piece! Your voice is such an important one in the educational world right now! The student voice, a compassionate, curious and honest voice. How can we, as teachers, meet the needs of our students without hearing their voice? Thank you for being vulnerable and getting yourself out there for the good of all of us. Hopefully many educators are reading and will realize how important student voice, choice and relationships are to their teaching. Bravo!! Here is to many more wonderful posts!!

  4. Sam, you bring good thinking/talking points to the table. 1) It IS easy to get into. Rut w/ teaching. With 30 plus students in one class, it's impossible to meet all needs at the same time. We look for ways to make it easier for us. Us? Wait, it's supposed to be about them!
    2) We must always remember our purpose! Troy Hicks, Julie Johnson, Kristin Ziemke all will say tech is no good if it doesn't work for you to reach the students.
    3) JOY should be part of learning! If the school day isn't fun, students won't want to be there. Period. We must find better ways to reach out to our students. That being said, it sounds like your teach does mean well, but needs to switch it up a little.
    Thank you for your post. Makes my Saturday one of reflection. What will I do differently on Monday?

  5. Sam,
    I love that I "know you in real life" because that better helps me understand both your passion for learning and your post! YOWZA! What a great post and such a "reflective" posture that not only clearly identifies a problem but also presents a solution!

    It's such a pleasure to "see" you on the #G2Great chats and hear your voice. YOUR ideas do matter. Your thoughtful and respectful post will help you resolve this issue!!!