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.