Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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End of Year Reflections by Students in a Student-Centered Class (Guest Post)

Hot Air Balloon Rally, September 2014. Copyright: svetlana57

Today’s guest post is by educator Kelly Garner (@GarnerRockstars). Her End of Year Reflection caught my attention on Twitter because it demonstrates that her classroom is exceedingly, if not bravely, student-centered. I asked her to share her students’ reactions to the school year in a guest post. Here it is:

In today’s classrooms there is a mindshift. We are preparing students to enter a world that provides them with opportunities that will demand that they can problem solve, collaborate, communicate, fail, and succeed. We have to focus on creating personalized learning environments and instruction for our students. We must allow students to practice making choices. In my class, students can sit where they want, choose their own research topics, decide on their product, and how they will share their learning with others. They complete many projects throughout the year, and I consider myself a facilitator of student learning.

At the end of every year I take some time to reflect with the students about the school year. This year our reflection led to some great discussions of their favorite projects. Some examples were creating a film for iPadpalooza Youth Film Festival, TIGER Talks (mini TED Talks), Backyard Getaway PBL, using the MakerSpace, 3D printing, creating Kahoots, and more!

I could tell you the things that students learned, but more importantly I wanted to share some of their feedback. Here’s what they said:

“I learned how to research better and how to have better time management.”

“I learned to open up more and that it is ok to ask questions.”

“To be creative and to believe in yourself.”

“How to be responsible.”

“We learned that you can’t take words back once we say them.”

“That things are not always easy.”

This learning can not happen without the opportunity to move beyond worksheets, grades, and confined rows of desks. We have to provide students with choices and opportunities to fail. We shouldn’t assign a grade to students when they are “learning” content. In my class, I don’t assign grades or use a scale system to assign a value to their work. So in turn, the students don’t receive any extrinsic motivation. Therefore, I asked my students, what motivates them to work in my class. Their answers were:

“I can research and learn without worrying about a grade.”

“I get to make choices here.”

“I am not told minimums or given a box to work in.”

Two of my favorite projects this year were the youth film projects and TIGER Talks. For the youth film projects, students were given the opportunity to work independently or in groups. We invited a storyboard artist, Mark Bristol, to come and share filming and storyboarding techniques. During the project, students had to create storyboards, participate in peer review, receive feedback, and edit. The process is long, but the finished product is rewarding. They collaborated, created, and had many ah-ha moments. As a result of their hard work, four of my student groups moved on to the semi-finals. We had many successes and many fails. One of the most important steps in any project is reflection. This is a must and will provide the most successful learning experience for students. We also viewed and critiqued the semi-finalists, which led to a discussion of what they were going to do differently next year.

Another great project this year was the TIGER Talks. Students were allowed to pick a topic that they were passionate about and create a 2-3 minute talk that they memorize. They then create a slideshow, using pictures, keywords, or quotes. The finished products were remarkable. Students stood in front of parents and peers and talked about topics like World War II, Jump Roping, Stop Smoking, Dinosaurs, and more. They were AMAZING! Public speaking is a skill that we can’t practice enough. They were excited about this because it was their topic, their passion, their voice!

I want to end with a few more statements from my students about their reflection of the year. I asked them what would they tell their teachers, if they could tell them anything:

“Why do teachers tell us they are getting us ready for life, when in fact many things I am taught I will never use in life?” 

“Why grades? I know this is the only system we have right now, but we need to find a better system.” 

“When I do an assignment I am concerned about what grade I am going to get.” 

“I would tell my teacher that I would like more advanced work because my regular work is too easy.”

“I would tell my teacher I am bored of doing worksheets.”

“We need to learn more soft skills, not just facts.” 

I challenge you to reflect on your school year, write down your ah-ha moments. As you prepare for the next school year, think about opportunities to give students a voice and choice. How will you create a personalized learning environment for your students next year?

Need ideas for writing your own end of year reflections? Read our blog post. Also, share your comments and questions about Kelly’s post below this post.

How to Build Effective Collaborative Groups

ssin action_groupworkFor many educators, the resolutions that really matter are the ones they make in August in anticipation of the new school year. Maybe you’ve resolved to integrate more technology resources into your instruction. Maybe you’re determined to tackle some classroom management issues. For the sake of this post, let’s say that you’ve decided to make your lessons more student-centered.

So, how does the sage exit the stage? Create conditions in which students build skill and knowledge while you assess progress and maintain an organized and productive classroom. Take a look at “Groups, Projects ,and Presentations,” a component of Social Studies in Action: A Teaching Practice Library, K-12. Although the series centers on teaching Social Studies, the practices illustrated and explained in the “Groups, Projects, and Presentations” video are relevant to all academic subjects and grade levels.

In the K-12 classrooms presented in the video, the spotlight is on the students as they work collaboratively toward common goals that require problem solving and decision making. Their teachers encourage students’ active involvement in their own learning in ways that reinforce and personalize knowledge.

The video points out key factors in planning and implementing students’ collaborative creation of projects and presentations:

Creating Group Structure: What teacher hasn’t planned a terrific group project to see it go horribly awry (one student shoulders all the work or nothing gets done at all) because the group dynamic wasn’t right?  5th grade teacher Kathleen Waffle (5:06) starts her planning by assessing which of her students are natural leaders and makes sure one of those students is in each small group. Her groups are heterogeneous, not only because students who have learning challenges benefit from group support, but also because all students benefit from learning to value the different skills group members can contribute to the project as personal strengths emerge. She remixes groups every four to six weeks so that students learn to work with different personalities, just as they would in the real world.

Setting a Purpose: Setting clear, purposeful goals that keep the students focused is a key factor in the success of groups projects. Teacher Rob Cuddi (12:45) creates a set of essential questions. These anchor students’ research and discussion as they work in small groups. Cuddi also uses the questions and student responses as an assessment tool. The students respond to the questions in their journals at the beginning of the project and again at the end.

Rubrics, often student-created, also help provide purpose.

Determining Team and Individual Roles: When students work in collaborative groups, they all share responsibility for a successful outcome. It’s also important that students take individual responsibility for their learning. High school teacher Tim Rocky (19:04) gives individual team members specific roles: reader, recorder, facilitator or process keeper. Most importantly, he doesn’t assume that students know how to work effectively in small groups. He asks a “fish bowl” group to model the process while he provides feedback and guidance.

Creating Assessments: Assessments (21:19) like scoring guides or rubrics not only provide purpose and focus; they also make assessment or grading less arbitrary. They give teachers concrete evidence of student progress or point to areas in need of improvement. You can also assess by listening to group discussion. You might hear something that signals a group’s need for your input on its process or for additional resources. Students may use rubrics to evaluate each other and to understand how their own work will be evaluated.

When you invite students to take a collaborative approach to group projects and presentations, you are giving them a stage on which they actively seek knowledge and own and share their learning. One of Osvaldo Rubio’s fourth graders (16:22) says it best of working with his peers: “They tell me what they know, I tell them what I know, and we put that all together and it makes a lot of difference…”

These teachers provide lots of practice for the kinds of collaborative interactions the students will encounter throughout their lives.

What kinds of collaborative experiences will you offer your students in the coming school year? We would love to hear your ideas for projects.