Thursday, September 22, 2011

Being Clear About Expectations of Students

Today I reviewed students' research portfolios with them before they processed their first roll of film for the year.  When the class was over I had learned more than I had expected.  By observing their interactions, processes and how they wrote I learned quite a bit about their academic,  intellectual, developmental and and social level and my own teaching.

 Today was 3 classes of photography; 2 intro and 1 Photo II / Honors combo with an independent study student working in the room as well.  So let me reflect on the positives of this learning day.

Photo II Hurray!! Their first roll of film for the year and they all came out well composed as well as exposed.  I guess they remembered how to get proper exposure, focus and how to process negatives from my instruction in last year's intro class.  No social drama! Students bonded at the processing counter as they helped each other keep time for various steps in the process, and they made good decisions on what images were best to enlarge.

We began the class by reviewing the photo portfolios they had each created form gathering images by subject from  prior to shooting their roll of film.  Students were to find a good and a bad photo from different categories and critique them.  By doing this they were encouraged to inquired about what equipment a photographer used and how they captured the shot.  They also had to make judgements about the quality of an image and what could make that image stronger.  At the end of their inquiry they were to write a final summary addressing what they learned and how it would help them with their own photography.  Well, lets just say their summaries were not very deep or reflective.  On most of the reflections I wrote comments that asked "like what?", "How?", "please explain", "What image are you referring to?" and "Why do you think that?".  I read many "I learned a lot form this assignment", but not so many that articulated what they learned.  Students could easily pick out information to answer specific seek and find questions, but when it comes to thinking about the images critically, as to be able to articulate what they could observe or learn from the images individually, or as a whole, was not a class wide strength.  I wonder why this is.

I have some theories on that.

Theory 1 - State SOLS training.  (Standards of Learning)

  • The class is primarily seniors taking average courses with some in honors academic courses.  They have been brought up on taking state standards of learning tests in academic areas.  This means they were taught to seek and find facts and regurgitate what they read or were told by their teacher.  The've learned how to skim, but not so effectively that they know when to look further into something for better understanding.  They've been programmed to do things quickly as to be able to move onto something else.  The problem with this is that they don't allow themselves the time to absorb and think about the information that they have gathered.  That's one theory.  I still think it's more than that.  
Theory 2 - Laziness is another aspect of this picture.

  • Some just don't want to put the time into what they are doing for what ever reason.  Students may think the assignment is just another "busy work" assignment that is delaying what they really want to do, which is to take pictures.  
  • Then I wonder, did I not explain the importance of what they were doing?  Did I not explain why they were doing this activity?  This leads me to theory number three.
Theory 3 -Ineffective preparation by the teacher.

  • I explained the project but not the purpose of the project.  It seems I wasn't to successful in communicating why they were looking at these cactagories of images and critiquing them.   The purpose what to investigate how other photographers had created images in different categories so that they could 1 get some ideas on things they could photograph, 2 try and figure out how the photographer shot the image so that they could learn through observation, and three articulate what they thought were characteristics of good and a bad photograph.  I expected them to be able to draw conclusions and synthesis what they researched into a clear expression of what they learned form the investigation.  MAybe I used the wrong terminology.  
  • Maybe the directions should have said "From investigating these different photographs explain what you now think makes a good photograph.  What are some of the qualities in the "good" photographs that you can utilize when creating your own photographs. (Be specific)  What are some of the characteristics in the "bad" photographs that you found which you would not want to repeat in your own art?
I realized that many of my students did not get out of this assignment what I had hoped they would.  Yet, even with saying that, I also think that they may have gotten more than they are able to articulate at this time.  I had 3 out of 16 students "get it."  Their final summaries articulated what they learned and even reflected that their opinion of the assignment changed once they got into it.  One student wrote that at first they thought it was just some busy work, but then after more time looking they realized that there are some images that make you want to figure out how they did that and that it was hard to put in words why an image worked and why it didn't.

I told the students that it was interesting that some of them chose the same image to critique but one put the image with the "good" examples and one with the "bad" examples.  When I asked why I was answered with "because people have different perspectives."  Good answer.  After a bit more discussion I instructed students to look back through their portfolios and re-write their final critique.  Their grades improved after the re-write.

Next year when I do this project again I will give more specific instructions so that the students can reach the best outcome.

My next two classes moved slower for me but not my students.  The students didn't need my help much.  I guess that's a good thing.  It means I've taught them what they need to know in order to create what they want.  Now I must stand back and give them the time to create.  This can be, and was for me today, hard to do.   It was nice to have 2 classes back to back where students were focused on their work and enjoying it too.

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