Sunday, March 31, 2019

Student Thoughts on the Student-Paced Unit

In March I facilitated a student-paced unit of instruction for the chemistry of solutions with my high school sections of Honors Chemistry. Two days after the completion of the unit, with their work evaluated, I asked the students for feedback. Here is what they told me.

The top chart shows the grades for the last quarter (pre-self-paced unit) and the bottom chart shows the grades for the self-paced unit. I was looking to see if grades were about the same or better or worse. It looks like they were a little worse in the self-paced unit.

For the graphs below, 4 is always "strongly agree" and 1 is always "strongly disagree." For the comments below, I chose the student comments that represented an idea that showed up a lot or provided special insight or just something that really resonated with me.

Understanding Expectations

Forms response chart. Question title: The materials my teacher provided helped me finish my lessons on time during the student-paced unit.. Number of responses: 117 responses.
My comment: They knew what needed to be turned in. These questions show that the organizational structures worked.

Best student comment:  As long as you are personally responsible you can easily see what you need to complete and what you have yet to complete. Simple.

It was hard to tell what 'assignments' had valuable information in them that I should make sure to know for the quizzes and test. I tried to complete all of them, but a lot of the time I was getting information that I wouldn't end up needing to know for anything.

Learning Chemistry

My comment: 73% of students earned an A or B in the unit but only 50% of students thought the materials were helpful. *scratches head*

Best student comments: I personally needed more notes. I felt like a lot of the learn activities were meant to be practice, but the only real background I got on the lessons were from taking notes in the book (which isn't really an effective way to learn how to do math in chemistry). These notes also should have been required to complete so that the teacher knew which students actually understood it and were good to go and which ones needed some correcting before they even attempted extra practice.

Using only a couple resources, it was hard to understand certain concepts. However, once I used all the resources, I was able to understand the majority of the concepts.

Voice and Choice

My comment: I'm not sure they all knew what I meant by multiple pathways. One student asked during the survey.

Best student comments: I didn't like how there were different paths because I would feel pressured to do everything given to us to understand the concept fully. So I was doing twice the work I needed to. 

I thought there was a lot of resources provided to help people understand the topics, and people had the ability to choose what would benefit them the most.

I liked how you provided required things and additional activities to help. For example, the videos were very helpful for me personally. If you were to do this again, I had the idea to have a "pathway" where you could sign up for 10-15 minute meetings where you could have 1 on 1 talks with the teacher during your mod if you needed to. Then there would be more structure between teacher and student and you'd know for sure your questions would be answered that day.

 My comment: This was one aspect many students agreed that they enjoyed but some still said they preferred if the teacher creates the pace and those who can't keep up come in on their own time and those who are ready to move on just have to wait.

Best student comments: If I finished a topic earlier than the rest of my class, then I was able to move on without them

Although I ended up shooting myself in the foot on topic 3 due to spending too much time on topic 1, I liked the concept of spending as much time as needed on a certain topic.

I did like pacing myself better. I think in part it was my fault for not managing my time properly. However, I do think there should have been more required assignments and more "due dates" so that I could plan my schedule out a little better and would be more driven to complete things in a timely fashion.

This was the best feature of the self-paced unit, because I was able to go as far as I felt I needed to understand the material, regardless of what my peers thought about. 

I'd rather just receive everything that everyone else gets and have the same material to study so i'm not at any disadvantage and get the opportunity to receive help from a classmate that has the same materials. 

My comment: I admit that I was a little disappointed at this result, but not really too surprised. On the other hand, students don't enjoy all kinds of things that adults make them do for their own good.

Best student comments: I liked spending more time on the things I did not understand and I was more confident on quizzes if I could take them when I was ready and take my time.

Chemistry should not be self-paced because it is much easier to learn as a class with so many complicated formulas.

I liked the self paced unit because it gave me freedom for what I wanted to do for the lesson; however, I averaged a lower score for the unit as compared to the other units taught by the teacher, so I would rather not have a self-paced unit.

I would not do this again if I had a choice. I felt underprepared due to not fully understanding what I was trying to learn.    

I liked the self-paced unit, it made class more fun and flexible. I would look forward to chemistry every day because of the self-paced relaxed class, but somehow I still felt motivated to do well as a challenge to myself.

My comment: I think it's interesting that more than half of the students think it would benefit them but most (73% above) did not enjoy it. I also think the answer to this question shows they were giving really thoughtful, sincere feedback. I appreciate their honesty and candor.

Best student comments: I think traditional teaching has worked very well for me in the past and I very much would not like to learn like this again

College is going to be like this, so overall it has helped, although I didn't like it.

This experience has allowed me to understand what I need to do more, when learning the math of a self-paced unit, like taking more time to understand the math problems more thoroughly. 

What did students like MOST about self-paced

  • I was able to do every piece of study material provided to ensure that I had enough practice with the material to take the quizzes or test. I was also able to take the quizzes whenever I felt ready.
  • If you didn't feel ready for a quiz, you could just take another day to study without harming your grade.
  • that I could decide what my homework each night would be so I could leave more time-consuming homework (like reading and taking notes) for days I was not very busy or for the weekends
  • I liked best that we could learn the material on our own terms and that there were extra assignments to help us learn the topics so if we were confused we could do those to help us.
  • I liked that I was able to go at my own pace. During a traditional unit sometimes we have to spend more time on a topic that I understand, so it was nice to be able to move on to another topic.
  • I think the labs in the unit were quite helpful. A good visualization of what we were learning in real life.
  • I liked the self pace unit. It gave me opportunities to work in a group I felt comfortable asking questions in and I was able to assist in labs without feeling like I might mess up.

What did the students like LEAST about self-paced

  • It was hard to learn material without the teacher standing in front of the class giving directions and helping us through the unit
  • Since everyone was at a different spot it was sometimes hard to collaborate with peers and ask them questions because they were always busy doing something else.
  • the uncertainty and stress of whether I would finish in time (even though I kind of already knew that I would have time, I have a habit of stressing myself out for no reason)
  • What i liked least was the lack of an authoritative figure. Its nice to have a tea her there to kind of "hold" your hnd when learning something that is new and challenging.

The unit could have gone better if . . .

  • asked the teacher for help everyday.
  • Given myself more time to study for the test
  • Truly worked to understand the material.
  • Asking for more help when I didn't understand something would've been beneficial for me as there were times when I did not understand the topic/material I was going over. 
  • Asked for more instruction and help, and also taken more time to read the book and do the optional assignments rather than just the required ones, but the time was not always there to do this.
  • Managed my time better and taken more time to help myself understand topics that I had originally underestimated.
Overall, I am pleased with the honest, genuine responses that my students shared. I didn't share the many comments of students who referred to the unit as "self-taught" because it was never meant to be that. When students asked for direct instruction, it was provided, but some students either didn't choose that as an option or felt there was a barrier to asking for it. We all learned some things about how my students learn and how they perceive learning. Moving forward, it will be important to think about how to take the best of this self-paced unit and merge it with what they want in a more traditional setting.