Sunday, October 13, 2013

What Makes Mr. Aion's Class Different?

In order to complete Mission 1 for Explore the MTBoS, I have been frantically trying to figure out what makes my classroom different than other classrooms.  Many of the things that I came up with are things of which I have no reason to be proud, or are out of my control.

So I asked my students.

Earlier in the week I gave my kids a half sheet of paper and asked them to write down what made my class different.  I told them not to put names on it because I wanted honesty without fear of consequences.

I had to clarify the question a few times because several students put "it's dark in here" or "it's colder than my other classes."

Sifting through the feedback, I found a few themes that kept coming up.  A few of them were expected while others were not and warmed my heart.  I was actually quite worried that my geometry kids would say they loved my class and my pre-algebra students hated it.  I do worry that I don't treat my different classes fairly because of my own biases about ability, effort and content.  For the most part, the students who claimed to hate me and my class and everyone I've ever met all did come from my pre-algebra class, but even they were the exception.

Here is a random sampling (without edits).  Feel free to skip to the bottom when you get tired of reading them.

This class is different from my other classes for many reasons. I think you should feed us. This is my favorite subject! Its so funny in here man! but back to the food. If you fed us, it would be better. You don't let us go to the bathroom. I have to go! One more time though you should feed us because we are hungry.

I think Mr. Aion's teaching can help when don't understand, but it more quiet he allows us to work with partners. <3

We can't go to the bathroom...THAT SUCKS. You get mad over the dumbest things.

This class is different because in here we have double periods and it's really hard but the good things is that you teach us good and you don't take nothing from nothing so this about the best class of the day.

This class is different because some people are stupid in behavior wise. People are slow so we have to work slower in the class. :-) One thing I like is that you are fun. One think I don't like is that you scare me lol! just saying.

This class is strict but other than that Mr. Aion is a good teacher i learn faster in here then in other classes But he does yell to much also we can't go to the bathroom also he scare me. I hate when you smack the desk with your stick. This class can be fun at times This class can be boring but I don't care cause i'm learning.

The teachers are so rude they don't really try to go over things like you. You could explain the problem. This class can be fun but sometimes this class can be despressing because of the work. I need to step up my game and this class with be ok for now! <3 :)

This class is really hard to me. I can't seemed to focus it's hot. I don't mind you yelling. I try to focus but it don't work. I know I'm going to fail. I try not to think of it but :-( But I like you even though stricted but I like you. I need to ask for help. I think this class is fun. I tink this class more educational your helpful. The other classes are difficult to

Mr. Aion has a good sense of humor. He makes math fun. We can't go to the bathroom. He be livin life to the fullest. He is just super honest.

Whats bad I that its cold in here and Mr. Aion does not let us S.L.E.E.P

Push us to learn more math stuff

The teacher is nice 2 the kids. 

What sets Mr. Aion's class apart is that I learn about more than just geometry, and it's done in a way that's not opening a book and doing a certain amount of questions.

Our teacher enjoys our company

Mr. Aion's class is cool because we talk about stuff that is not math. We also do fun projects like the thing with the house building. But we also do enough math to learn the material.

You don't care about if we are 100% on task or not. You share some of your life

Mr. Aion gets happy to teach us. He's good with making sure we aren't put in awkward positions and we're clueless. He fixes problems. He has creative ideas for what to do in class.

Mr. Aion's class is different from my other class. The work in our other classes isn't as difficult as Mr. Aion's work. Mr. Aion expects alot from us and wants us to try our best. In some of my other classes it seems like the teacher could care less if we passed or failed.  Mr. Aion's class differs from my other classes.

I like Mr. Aions class because he puts teaching in realistic terms. Instead of just lecturing or just giving us dependent work, he teaches us and makes it easy to understand by relating it to every day life.

Mr. Aion's class is fun because we talk about random things other than geometry. He makes learning more interesting than the other classes. My other classes are not interesting, they are boring.

There are others, but I'm sure I've bored you away.  Overall, they were positive with some common themes like being interesting and the work being challenging.

I like to think that the topics in the discussion I led at EdCampPGH about the importance of being silly have informed my teaching and made my students more comfortable in my classroom. Student perception is everything. Even when it's not accurate, it informs their worldview and changes how they interact with their teachers and their lives.  There were several, especially the ones about yelling, that I immediately thought "I certainly don't do that ever."

But it doesn't matter if I do or not.  What matters is how the students perceive it.

My take-away from this is that I'm moving in the right direction.  I'm nowhere near where I want to be, but this feedback is a good indication that I'm getting there.  Especially with the student perceptions, I need to be more conscious about how I interact with them.  I need to think more about how a student is perceiving the way that I speak with them and the kinds of demands and standards that I put on them.

I will (probably) not change my stance about the bathroom, but I will continue to bring it outside resources and topics that interest them.

This was a difficult mission for me and I don't have confidence that I completed it to the satisfaction of the community.  I'll try better with the next one. :-)


  1. If I were you I would be ever so pleased with these student comments. When my daughter was in third grade she told me that she didn't like her new teacher.
    me: "Why?"
    her: "She yells a lot."
    me: "Does she ever yell at you."
    her: "No but she just yells at the class"
    me: "So does she yell like the?" I proceed to raise my voice and yell at her.
    her: "Oh no mommy. She doesn't yell at us they way YOU yell at us."
    me: "Well, what does she do when she yells at you?"
    her: "She tell us what to do."

    Perception matters, and I know your students aren't third graders, but it seems to me too that you are on the right track.

    Just starting this year, my new policy and that of the other sixth grade teachers is no bathroom breaks. They all know this, but they still ask. Will they ever stop asking?

    1. Going to the bathroom is a learned behavior. I know when I can and when I can't use the bathroom, so I've trained myself to go when I can. The students can do the same. I'm not asking them to go 9 hours without a bathroom break, but I was in school once too and I used "can I go to the bathroom?" to actually mean "Can I go wander the halls for a bit? I need a break."

    2. The thing I worry about with not allowing bathroom breaks, especially for grades 6-9 is the girls who are going through the experience of first getting their period. For some girls there is no problem, but for others, it's a horrible horrible time. I'd hate to see it happen that a student asked to use the bathroom, permission was denied and they ended up bleeding through their clothes onto the chair - It happens. Personally I never would have told my male maths teacher "Oh please sir I'm frightened that I might bleed through". (sorry for the gross topic, but it's worth considering)

    3. Tegan, I'm with you 100% on that. Over the past several years, I've gotten pretty good at telling the difference between knowing when a kid is trying to get out of class and when there is something else going on.

      I have several female students who have said "I'm on my period" or something like that and I always let them go. The goal of the restriction is not to be harsh or unreasonable, but to teach them the responsibility of taking care of personal business before class starts. There are always exceptions and my female students know that if that's the issue, then I let them go.

  2. I have to pee.

    "What we do doesn't matter nearly as much as how kids experience what we do"

    Excellent job recognizing this and working to create an effective learning environment where students are not afraid to be honest with you (and you're not afraid to be yourself)!

    1. Our perceptions form our reality and how we interact with people. We sort of understand this for ourselves, but I think, too often, we forget that it's the same for the students. When you think you're being fair, if they perceive that you aren't, it needs to be addressed.

      Thank you.

  3. I loved your idea of asking your students. I can tell from your tagline that you really care about teaching and want to figure it out. Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than anyone. I know I am! It's obvious that your students know you care about them. I didn't blog about why my classroom was unique because I couldn't think of anything. Now I think maybe I'll ask my students!

    1. I think I'm going to do this on a regular basis. Maybe put a box in the back of the room for comments and questions, or a board with post-it notes.

  4. Thank you for being brave enough to share their responses - the good and the not so good. It is interesting getting their perspective on things. For some students, the temperature of the classroom may actually be having a significant impact on their impression of the class as a whole. I wonder how different (or the same) the responses would be if you asked your students again later in the school year. Thanks for sharing!

    1. If I had temperature control, I would use it. Sadly, my room is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It also doesn't help that the student who complain about the cold/heat are almost never dressed weather appropriately. If you're wearing a tank top in December, of COURSE you'll be cold! When my room was 85 a few weeks ago, kids in hoodies were complaining about the heat.

      I do plan to ask them near the end of the year and see how the responses differ, if at all.

  5. Something I have learned is that in order to be successful you have to actively solicit feedback. You are better off knowing the truth than not knowing the truth. Once you know, you can do something about it.
    In my work with the marching band, I spend a good amount of time coaching the trumpet section. Starting this year, at the end of our sectional rehearsals I have been asking the students to rate it on a scale of 1-10. At the beginning of the year 5-7 was a common score. However, the most recent time we had a sectional, I got 9's and even one 10. I attribute this to listening to their feedback and making adjustments as needed. I learn just as much, if not more, than they do each time I work with them. For I have also learned that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to others.
    Obviously, not all feedback will be helpful, so I look for patterns. If all the trumpets are telling me the same thing, I am more inclined to consider what they have to say. I read a saying once that goes, "if one person tells you that you're a horse, they're crazy. If three people tell you you're a horse, there's a conspiracy in the works. If ten people tell you that you're a horse, maybe you should buy a saddle."
    Think of feedback, particularly of the negative variety, as information for "improvement opportunities."

    1. You're absolutely right! There will always be kids who love everything or hate everything no matter what you do. I don't like doing the scale because it can be so arbitrary. I much prefer something that they have to explicitly explain what they like and don't like. It helps me, but it also may help them to clarify their thinking as well and realize "Hey, this isn't all bad!"

  6. Wow...I just had a "DUH" moment. I've been thinking about the same thing over the past week and never even thought to ask the people who could easily help me answer that question: my students! Thanks for the idea. I'll definitely be doing that this week!

    1. The one suggestion I will make is be very careful about the wording of your question. I should have talked about the emotional, mental and educational atmosphere of my classroom rather than temperature or lighting. :-)

      Kids can be very literal.

      When you do survey then, please blog about it!

  7. love reading student comments, very insightful and always partially truthful. Have you tried using the hand raised approach for silence and group points?

    1. I've been avoiding points for anything as I move more and more towards standards based, but when I want the class to be quiet, I either whistle, or I stand in the middle of the room and wait. The kids notice that I'm waiting and hush each other.

      Or I grab my yard stick and they shut up quickly. They all hate when it gets slammed on the desk. By November, I won't have to slam it at all.

  8. I used to survey the students at the end of each year. I don't know why I stopped that. However, I think it is a great idea to survey the students now so that I can make any changes during this school year with the students who made the comments rather than have those changes affect a new set of students next year.


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