Continuing on with my discussions from this year’s end-of-course surveys, I collected responses from Honors Chemistry students last week. On the whole, their comments and ratings were very similar to those from AP Bio, though there were some noticeable differences:
- Out of 45 students total, I had 30 respondents to the survey this year. The vast majority of students enjoyed the experience of being in my course. These students felt that the course prepared them very well for the “next level” of studying science, and they were grateful for both the Standards-Based Learning system that we use in Honors Chemistry (their first experience with this system), and the copious resources that are in place to help them succeed. That's all good stuff.
- Whereas AP Biology did not, in the aggregate, rank any of the statements I provided them with as lower than a 3 (the mid-line between a strongly disagreeing 1 and a strongly agreeing 5), Honors Chemistry felt a little differently. Among statements that ranked as sub-2 were “Provides clear, understandable explanations” (2.96), “Is responsive to student concerns” (2.92), “Provides adequate pacing” (2.92), “Makes positive statements” (2.82) and “Demonstrates patience with students” (2.14). Well, okay then.
- Student comments were similarly evocative of the change in responsibilities that accompanies the move to Honors Chemistry. Generally speaking, students who took advantage of the many resources on offer, and did the elective, outside-of-class, work that I provided were very happy with the course. Students who didn’t expressed regret to that end. Students also indicated that they felt that I was sometimes less than approachable when they needed help. Multiple students expressed the sentiment that they were not comfortable asking questions in class, because they felt that I would be terse (my term, not theirs) in my replies. I am certain that I can easily come accross this way (it might even be a conscious instructional choice, depending on the particular instance).
Looking at the pattern of responses, I notice that they are mostly related to the Honors Chemistry “learning curve”. The movement to Honors Chemistry from ninth grade Honors Earth Science is historically very difficult for some students, and I think that’s largely what is shown in these ratings. Pacing, patience, and the clarity of explanations are all tied together. The course is incredibly fast-paced to cover the entire amount of curriculum. This is largely by design, as students will be moved into either the AP Physics curriculum, or an accelerated Regents Physics curriculum next year. In this way, Honors Chemistry serves as a measuring post to help students understand the level of independent effort, and personal responsibility that will be required should they move on to AP Physics. If pacing is an issue, my hands are largely tied, as we only finished the course 1 week ago.
Our Honors Chemistry population has also expanded dramatically over the past five years, moving from two sections, to three, and then (for the past two years) four. I think there is some evidence to suggest that we are moving too many students in to this Honors level. For another, though I taught a population of 45 Honors Chemistry students a curriculum that covered both the Regents core, and the additional information needed to take the SAT2 subject test in Chemistry, I only had 3 students elect to take the exam. Certainly, no one is a bigger fan of allowing students the freedom to take Honors Chemistry. And I’m not trying to suggest that these lower ratings are entirely due to factors external to my instructional style, but at the very least, perhaps we have not done enough to allow students to recognize early on in the year that they might be happier moving “down” a level to an accelerated placement in Regents Chemistry. It will be interesting to see how next year’s students feel, as we move back down to 3 sections.
I did globally address the positivity issue with my classes, overtly telling them all that I know that the work they are doing in our course is among the most difficult that they have ever done in a science course, and that they should all be proud of their efforts. I reiterated how much I enjoy working with them all, and pointed out to them that if they were getting an “impatient” vibe from me, it was only because I expect a tremendous amount from them as Honors science students, and I am certainly capable of forgetting to let them know how great they are from time to time. Many of them didn’t need me to say it, but a few did, and I think it’s a good idea to remind our students how great we think they are every once in a while, anyway. I also reminded them that as they move forward in their scholastics, they really should try to feel confident enough to let their instructors know what is working for them and what isn’t. As a teacher it can be very hard to know that things aren’t going like you think they are when all you see are smiling faces, happy to jump through all the hoops you put in the way. I think it’s a good reminder that even though the Honors science student doesn’t typically manifest issues externally, they are by not means exempt from the same sorts of discomforts and uneasiness that is an inseparable part of learning how to be an adult.