This is a guest post written by Amanda Bray Cody.
Since I first started teaching fifteen years ago, I have spent my summers traveling, mostly by car, to each of the “lower 48” states. All of the time spent on the sometimes-monotonous roads gives me time to reflect on my past school year and to plan for the next one. I take a small notebook and a mechanical pencil for jotting down my ideas. Many times, I have found myself wishing I could ask my students for feedback. After all, they were the ones who were testing the great ideas I’d produced during the previous summer’s contemplations.
During the school year, I had noticed that the students’ thoughts about a lesson didn’t always match up with my evaluation. The books I thought they found boring—these often had the most profound impact. The lessons I thought could have gone much better—these were often the ones students wrote about in their final journal entries reflecting on their most memorable parts of the class. I needed to make their thoughts part of my thinking in order to chart my course for the next school year.
It also dawned on me that I couldn’t wait until summer break to begin reflecting on the countless activities, discussions, stories, novels, and lessons that had engaged my students during the past year. My solution was to start at the beginning of the school year by creating a folder to use in preparation for the next year. It wasn’t just a binder full of handouts and lesson plans. It became a journal of sorts—a reflection on what went well and what needed a little tweaking. I included students’ opinions and reactions as I observed them during a task. My folder now contains everything from printed articles to copies of student reflections, and even scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes.
Now, when I load up the car for my next road trip, I’ll be packing a wealth of information to use as a guide for my reflection and preparation. When those questions start popping up—What did the students think of the lesson? What did I want to change once I saw them engaged in this topic? What topics do I want to explore further?—I’ll have the road map right at my fingertips.
Amanda Bray Cody is a middle school educator and children’s book author from Frederick, Maryland.