Monday, 23 March 2015

Asking the Kids For Advice

We have had a lot of success in my classroom with students constructing their own learning by creating online courses, doing each other's courses, assessing each other through the courses and also assessing themselves. Giving the students this much ownership in their own learning was really empowering for them and allowed them to explore their understanding of the topics in ways that made the most sense to them.

We were wrapping up the online courses one day and the students were completing their self-reflection. A few students had already finished and were working on some independent inquiries of their own off in one corner of the room. As sauntered over to see what they were doing, which then became about a half hour discussion with us on the floor and more students joining as they finished to brainstorm ideas for our next unit about buildings and structures.

All it takes is a simple question. What would you like to do?

From there, we started to brainstorm different ideas for how we might build, hands-on activities and online programmes. I had one student who had been learning SketchUp quite a bit at home in his personal time and offers to lead some lessons about how to use it. By the following day, I had a full Google presentation sent to me with the lessons he had prepared.

My students even created what they thought would be a good summative task. They wanted to have to build a structure or building given a specific region with certain conditions they would have to adapt for. As they built, they wanted the opportunity to show their thinking and document the process. Finally, they wanted to share their building and provide a rationale for each of the components of their structure. This was essentially what I was planning on having them do themselves at the end of the unit but one thing changed that I wouldn’t have been able to give them - Student Ownership.

The students were empowered to create a summative that was their own, something they wanted to do. They are more likely to be engaged in this assessment and produce quality work because it was something they created. What I have learnt this year is that when I allow my students to guide our classroom, they always lead me down the path that will extend their learning most.

Monday, 16 March 2015

They Will Figure It Out!

I used to want to always set my students up for success. If a graphic organiser or two was needed to push them in the right direction, I would. If they needed to review, review, review, we would. If we needed specific tools to do an activity successfully one way, I had what we needed ready. It's not that I've stopped supporting them where they need it but now it's what they want, when they need it and how they want it.

What my students like to remind me every day, they (collectively) outsmart me any day of the week. So when I give them a task without a lot of parameters, they find a way to make it happen. Just like they did when they took over my class site or took it upon themselves to build class lessons or how they built their courses or support each other through their obstacles.

Today was no other. First thing on a Monday morning I told my students they needed to figure out a way to brainstorm different building materials for buildings and structures around the world. They could sort, write, create this brainstorm however they wanted but I was not going to be involved and they had to do it as a whole group activity. More than anything, it was a way for them to come together as a class to start the week but of course, they didn't know that.

We have worked really hard as a class to develop our abilities to work as a team, create diverse teams and try out different roles. We have talked about not always working with your friends, highlighting each other's strengths and supporting each others' areas of growth. We've talked about planning, process and final products. Most importantly we've talked about how their voice as students matter.

So today when I said go. I had one student tell me they needed time to discuss and brainstorm a strategy before they could begin. I asked how long they needed and got a response for 2 minutes. They discussed as a class of 15 different strategies to achieve the results building on each others' ideas. At the end of the 2 minutes, they had lined themselves up in numbered order, markers in hand and asking for 15 minutes to complete the task. In succession, they each wrote one idea on the paper and also shouted it out so others could hear before the next person took their turn. Fairness was a top priority for them and each student had 3 turns. In the last 2-3 minutes, they then asked for any other additional ideas that had not already been shared.

I could have led that discussion. I could've facilitated who was able to share their ideas and in what order. I could've asked them to write their ideas on a post-it or just raise their hand to share. But I didn't have to. It was fascinating to step back and watch them work.

It was certainly not the way I would've done it but what I've come to find is that they will figure it out. Whether I'm there or not, they will find a way to get through the challenge - independently or collectively. Sometimes you need to just trust your students, let there be tension, friction, moments of chaos and blurred lines. The clouds will clear and what you are left with is a result that was created by the students, that they are invested in and they can walk away from knowing they had a part in constructing their own learning.

The Educator Three Way Conference

One thing I wanted to really focus on doing this year was reflecting on my work more and documenting the process. The last few weeks, unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. It's not that I haven't thought about blogging and writing it down. In fact, I've actually created a list of blogs I wanted to write. But quite frankly it's just been a little bit crazy - but in a good way.

With co-organising our school fair, completing multiple applications, creating presentations for conferences, going to conferences, report writing, starting new projects with my students and trying to actually teach my students, writing sort of just feel to the side.

So it's time to start making time again. We make our students document and reflect on their learning through their e-portfolios, journals, self-assessments and peer assessments. We focus on the learning journey -- the process over product at times. It is more important about how you get there, the obstacles you overcome and the skills you develop that defines you as a learner. And yet as teachers, sometimes we forget the power of reflection it has on our own teaching and learning.  Reflecting on this blog has made me reevaluate a lot of what I have done this year. It has made me question how I do things and how I could go about improving what I have done. I make myself look at the same problem from a new angle. It's been a way to actual acknowledge how far my students have grown but even more so, me. By documenting my thinking, it forces me to actually think critically about my work. It's been a way to showcase successes and action plan for growth. I acknowledge the strengths my students bring to the classroom to make it what it is, while also seeing how far I still have to grow as a teacher. It's still

So as I think about sitting down tomorrow to do parent-teacher-student conferences at school, I can't help to think by this is my 3-way conference as an educator.  It is me as a student who is learning, changing, growing each day. It is me as a teacher who is creating resources, sharing ideas and reflecting on teaching in the classroom. Finally, the third member of my conference is my education community who allows me to share, provides feedback, support and suggestions just as a parent would. And when the end of the day comes, I know I can be proud of my students and their accomplishments, continue to push myself further and know that the support and inspiration of others never too far away.