Old Habits Die Hard

I haven’t always been the type of teacher I am today. When I think back to my first few years in education, I can admit that I was a super ‘teachery teacher’. Behaviour charts, staying in at recess, rewards&punishments, worksheets, tests… you name it, I did. If you walked by my class you would have seen students silent and on-task – not because they were engaged, because I used me authority and control to illicit compliance.

Over the years I have learned, unlearned and re-learned and as a result transformed into a teacher who now values student agency above all else.

… but every now and then, the old me creeps back in.

Yeaterday was a perfect example:

We are smack dab in the middle of a Unit of Inquiry about how scientific thinking can help us understand humans. At this stage in the unit we were using an “unconference” model, where students are empowered to sign up for help and support when needed.

E02AEB03-8439-4DDF-A09C-91193D554FF3CB454734-D635-49F3-8E0F-8CABDEEFF14A

Our deadline for literature reviews and completion of methods is Friday and although I have been supporting students all week to plan their days in hopes of meeting this deadline, there were 6 students who were nowhere close.

Feeling all the familiar feelings – the pressure to meet made-up timelines, the need to have all students at the same place at the same time, the need to “teach those kids a lesson” for procrastinating – I told those 6 that their day planning privileges were on pause until their method and lit review was done. I told them they would be sitting with me all day and could only leave my side when they showed me they were done.

Then I went home and all night had this nagging feeling of cognitive dissonance. I knew that what I had said and done was against our Studio 5 mission. I knew that I was infringing on their agency as learners. I knew I was being a hypocrite saying ‘it’s your learning, you own it, I trust you’ and then forcing them to sit with me until it’s finished. I knew that I was taking away their opportunity to fail and learn a lesson on their own. I knew I was using tactics of authority and compliance.

I knew I was back to my old ways of being a teachery-teacher…

So the next morning I shared all this with my students. I apologized. And I told them I was there for them if they needed help and support to meet the deadlines – but it was their choice, as it had been all along.

Their choice if they wanted my help.

Their choice when they wanted my help.

Their choice about how much help they wanted.

And guess what?

Each and everyone of them signed up for an unconference with me – most signed up for all my available unconferneces that day.

And guess what else?

Most of them asked if they could give up their recess to get caught up. Some even chose to take it home at the end of the day to make up for lost time.

I couldn’t have been happier with how things turned out! I spent my day supporting them to meet their deadline – not because they were being forced to, but because they chose to. And that felt completely different.

If I would have stuck with my initial plan, what would they have learned?

– that I say they own their learning, but when push comes to shove, actually I do

– that planning their day is only a privilege and I can take it away anytime I want

– that procrastinating is fine, because someone else will make sure they get things done

Throwing our that plan, and respecting their ownership over their learning, what might they have (hopefully) learned instead?

– that they actually do own their own learning

– that I am here to support them, not control or police them

– that in life when you procrastinate, sometimes you need to find extra time to get caught up

And what did I learn!?

– that those impulses towards control and compliance are deep rooted in my teacher DNA

– that I need to notice when my old habits creep back in

– that if I’m going to talk-the-talk of agency, I better be prepared to walk-the-walk of agency

– that if we always swoop in and pre-emptively save them, we’re stealing their opportunity to truly learn and grow

-that students truly are amazing … when we give them the space and room to be

Advertisements

Student-Written Reports

A while ago I read a blog post asking Should Students Write Their Own Reports? and of course my answer was a resounding YES!

But it was not until this year – where I had team of like-minded educators and the support of leadership and administration – that I was able to put this idea ino practice.

And, spolier alert, it was pretty magical!

In order to dispel the common misconception that initiatives like this one means saying to the students “go write your own reports” while teachers sit back, sipping coffee and browsing their facebook…. I will share with you our process, from start to finish, along with some honest reflections along the way about how it worked and what we will change for next time.

Here is what we did:

We knew that we really wanted students to take ownership of reporting their growth and progress to their parents for the first Unit of Inquiry, however we were also aware that this was likely the first time students had ever done this. So we thought long and hard (and spent many hours discussing) how we could support them in the process of writing their own reports. In the end, we decided to try guiding them through the writing process.

Step 1 – Pre-Writing

First we had students choose two Self-Management Skills and two Social Skills that they felt they developed as a result of our Who We Are Unit. Next,  we used the Visible Thinking Routine “Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate” to help students reflect on the learning expereinces that contributed to their development of each of those skills.

Generate: Students wrote down anything and everything that they had done within the unit.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.34.29 PM.png

Some students went through their Seesaw portfolios and others browsed their day plans to help them remember all their different experiences. They wrote each experience on a small piece of paper.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.34.11 PM.png

Sort: Students placed the learning experiences purposefully on a graphic organizer. The more that learning experience contributed to the development of a specific skill, the closer they placed it to the skill on the organizer. The more it contributed to their understanding of Who We Are the closer they placed it to the transdisciplinary theme in the center of the page.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.34.42 PM.png

Connect: Students drew arrows to show connections: between two learning experiences: between learning experiences and skills: between learning experiences and the transdisciplinary theme etc.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.34.55 PM.png

Elaborate: Students explained their reason for the connections along the arrows they drew.

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.35.05 PM.png

Secondly, we set up a Google Form where students could synthesize some of the ideas from the above brainstorm. We set-up the form so students could evaluate to what extent they developed each skill and so they could bring together the different experiences that developed each skill. We also had questions to allow students to evaluate their understanding of the central concepts of the unit, as well as begin to brainstorms their next steps as learners. eol gf

eol gf 2EOL gf 3

The Google Form was set-up to auto-format their responses into a Google Doc that they could then refer to when it was time to draft their comments.

Step 2 – Drafting

To help students take their ideas from the brainstorming stage and turn it into comments that would be understood by a reader, we set up a graphic organizer with guiding questions.

eol template

Students then used their VTR and their automatically formatted Google Doc mentioned above to write a first draft of their comments in the boxes.

EOL draft

Step 3 – Revision

Our big focus for revision, was organization and transitions. Because students wrote four separate responses in the four boxes shown above, we wanted to support them in synthesizing those separate responses together into a coherent piece of writing. So first we had them copy and paste their responses from the boxes, into one piece of text.

Then, we pulled out examples of transition sentences that some students naturally used in their draft and shared them with all the writers.

EOL revise

Then we colour coded either where we had seen an attempt in their draft to transition from one idea to the next, or where a transition sentence might be needed.

EOL revise 2

Step 4 – Editing 

Before we started the editing  process, we used the Golden Circles approach (Why, How, What) to create a class anchor chart about feedback.

EOL edit

Then students took themselves through a process of self-editing

Screen Shot 2017-10-21 at 12.35.17 PM

and peer editing.

Finally, the teachers gave feedback to students by leaving them detailed and specific comments on their Google Doc. For English Language Learners and students who needed extra support, we sat with them and shared our feedback orally.

editing EOL

Step 5 – Publishing

In order to also contribute our voice and perspective to the report, the techers then wrote a short paragraph in response to the students’ evaluation of their own learning. We wrote about the degreee to which we agreed and supported the students’ evaluation based on our own observations and assessment data.

t comm.PNG

Finally, we posted the final product and Managebac and pushed it out to parents.

EOL MB

Step 6 – Getting Feedback

We wanted to make sure we gave parents a chance to share their perspective with us about our approach to having students write their own reports. So we sent them a Google Form.

EOL Ps

Here is what they had to say:

EOL Ps2EOL Ps3EOL Ps4EOL Ps5

Reflections…

  • it felt so nice to have students take ownership of this process
  • it was the first time I felt like I was doing reporting with students, not to students
  • it helped our students develop their evaluation skills, along with their meta-cognition skills
  • it helped our students see that we are not just “talking the talk” of student ownership, but actually “walking the walk”
  • it was one of the most authentic writing tasks I have ever seen; there was an authentic purpose, an authentic audience and therefore an authentic need for planning, revising and editing
  • this specific process, was a bit too overstructed and as a result, convuluted – in the future we will streamlime to process (specifically with regards to pre-writing and planning)
  • it was SO validating to see that NOT ONE parent wanted to have fully teacher-written reports!
  • it was definitely “assessment as learning” in order for students to evaluate and synthesize their report, they needed to deeply consolidate and reflect upon their own learning
  • moving forward, we need to go through all of the constructive feedback from the parents and figure out how to address  their concerns in order to help them feel that the student-written Evaluations of Learning (EOLs) are even more effective

 

What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of student-written reports?

How do you include your students in the process and product of their written reports?

What feedback do you have for us to help us strengthen our approach to student-written reporting?

 

Do you want to go fast… or far?

I am not a natural collaborator.

Anyone I have ever been on a team with would be able to confirm this fact.

I am passionate. I am zealous. I am idealistic. I am stubborn.

I get a vision in my mind and I have to make it happen.

Even though I am not a natural collaborator, I’m slowing learning how to collaborate – and I must say, it’s been pretty great.

For me, my (slow) transformation can be summed up by this quote:

go together

Last year, I knew I believed in student agency and set off (mostly on my own) to turn that vision into a reality. That’s not to say I didn’t have an amazing team around me! I had six wonderful teachers who personally supported me and cheered me on, no matter how different or crazy my idea seemed. It’s just that none of them were professionally interested in going the same direction that I was, or to the extent that I was. So last year, I knew where I wanted to go, I went by myself and I got there fast.

This year, I have another amazing team around me. The difference being they are professionally interested in the same things that I am, so I am no longer alone in my pursuit to respect and support student agency – and that has helped me truly learn the power of collaboration. With them I have been able to go much farther than I ever made it last year on my own.

Here are a few examples that have helped me along my journey:

Going fast – last year I knew I wanted to have my students plan their own day…. so I had them plan their own day. Pretty much, right out of the gate! I gave them an empty day plan, and only really made a few slight adjustments to the template over the year.

old day plan

Going far – this year I shared my approach from last year. We tested it out, discussed it, revised it, tested it again, revised it again, tried something different, asked for feedback, revised it again. What was once a fairly basic day plan template and process, grew into a more sophisticated template and process of planning, which then transformed into an even more sophisticated template and process for weekly planning!

new day plan.png

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.15.47 PM

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.15.33 PM

Going fast – last year I knew I wanted students to set up their learning space… so I had them set-up their learning space.

old classroom

Going far – this year I proposed them same idea, which after many collective brainstorms, turned into a grade-wide learning space re-design. Students conducted research about learning spaces, collected data from their 84 community members, collaborated with students from a variety of homerooms, learned new technical skills (like 3D Floor Planner) put together video proposals and made informed choices about their learning space.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.07.28 PM

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.07.53 PM

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.23.32 PM.png

Going fastlast year I knew I wanted all three voices to be heard equally at three-way conferences. So I made a very basic placemat and had parents, students and myself take turns deciding whether something was a “star” or a “wish”.

stars wishes.png

Going far – this year I pitched the same idea to my team…then, the magic of collaboration happened… and we ended up with a Gradual Increase of Responsibility, where students, parents and teachers could share their perspective, in a colour-coded way, which then could be kept and used to set and track personal goals on a day to day basis.

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 11.10.22 PM.png

Starting to get the picture? 

I couldn’t have ever imagined the distance these initial ideas would come to reach. But that’s the point isn’t is? True collaboration is leaving a room with ideas that no one person could have come up with on their own.

… So to those of you educators out there who are like me, you may want to pause and ask yourself:

Do you want to go fast…. or do you want to go far?

Respecting and Responding to Student Voice

My students have been at school for two months now and it is really important to me that I understand how it has been going for them. Ensuring my students have opportunities to share their honest thoughts and feelings about school and me plays a huge part in respecting and supporting both their agency and their humanness for the time they spend in my care.

form 1

This year I structured my questions around the qualities of establishing an inclusive classroom that I learned from an IB training.

form 2forms 3

I also included questions to find out what I have been doing well and what I can do to improve.

form 4

Here is a link to a copy of that form if you are interested in seeing it.

It’s always hard to put yourself out there and ask these types of questions. I get nervous every time I read their responses. But I also believe I get better every time I read their responses. So those temporary moments of a bruised ego are worth it because they lead to my growth both as a professional, and as a person.

So in the spirit of vulnerability and shared reflection, here is what I learned and the action I plan to take:

IMG_6459Looking at the quantitative data, I have built some professional goals that I will post in the classroom for students, parents and colleagues to see. I will invite constant feedback from my community to help me work towards these goals.

observeme

Looking at the qualitative data, I will reach out to specific students to find out more. I will invite the 6 students who said they didn’t feel challenged to have a focus group with me so I can dig a little deeper to discover what they need. I will invite the student who didn’t feel listened to or understood to have a one-on-one conference with me to hopefully help us get to know each other better. I will ask the 3 students who do not feel safe what changes we could make to our classroom to help them feel more safe.

I also plan to share this data and my action plan with the parent community. I think they deserve to be included in this process, to know how students are feeling about school as well as the steps I plan to take to address some of their concerns.

How do you encourage and respond to student voice?

What do you ask your students to help you grow as a teacher?

Thinking Scientifically…

A few weeks ago, I shared with you my commitment to putting on my researcher’s hat in order to remain critical about the impact of the initiatives that myself and my team are implementing. 

I also shared with you that I had no idea where to start….

… and then something amazing happened. 

My team and I began planning for our How the World Works unit and we settled on the central idea: Thinking scientifically helps us understand ourselves and others. 

We planned to introduce our students to a variety of research designs, help them choose a research design that would allow them to act on  curiosity, and then support them along each step of that specific research design process.

And then it hit me! If this process we just planned is meant to help our students act on their curiosities in a reliable and valid way, then surely it could work for me too!!!

So now I know where to start… right alongside my students. Their first big decision is choosing a research design that best matches their curiosity… so I guess that’s my first big decision too!

In exploring and reflecting upon the many different methods for approaching research – experimental design, survey design, ethnographic research, action research – I have decided that action research is the best fit.

When promoting the model of action research to our students we explained:

action research

And that is exactly what I am trying to do:

Problem – students do not have enough agency as learners during their time at school

Possible Solution – the Studio 5 model which provides students with small group support in order to “Choose, Act, and Reflect” as more agentic, independent learners

We know the problem. We have a solution that we think could help. We have put that model into action. Now we just need to track the effectiveness of our initiative.

Next, we will be guiding students to develop an overarching research question as well as sub-questions that support their big question… so I guess that is where I am headed as well!

Supporting Students’ Agency – Take Two!

Last year, was the first year in my career as an educator where I tried to my best to respect and support my students as agentic learners. There were many successes, many frustrations and a whole lot of learning. This year I am it again! Hoping to continue to challenge and change my own beliefs and practices and hopefully do a better job respecting and supporting my students’ agency.

This year I have changed schools and joined a team of like-minded educators, who are also interested in re-thinking education, pushing the boundaries of “doing school” and innovating the PYP. Our initiative is called Studio 5 and it has been amazing to be a part of it so far.

IMG_6156

We are in the process of organizing ourselves so we can share, in detail, what we are doing, why we are doing it – and the part that is usually most appreciated by teachers – how we are doing it. When that blog is up and running I will be sure to share the link here.

For now, I just wanted to take some time for myself to reflect – What approaches have I kept from last year… What have I changed and improved… What new things have I tried… and most importantly how it’s all been going so far.

Morning Cafes

Each morning is a slow start to the day – meaning students can come up to class any time they like between 7:45 and 8:15. During this time all 4 homerooms are open and offer something different and the students roam freely from room to room, building, creating, playing and enjoying each other’s company.

Student Written Rights and Responsibilities

Using the Visible Thinking Routine “Growing Definition” students came up with a list of rights for the time they spend at school.

Student Voice

Providing lots of opportunity for students to voice their thoughts and opinions including using the Visible Thinking Routine “Compass Points” to collect their needs, worries, excitements and suggestions from the first day of school; having an ongoing place in the room for students to document problems, questions and ideas; asking students to complete surveys with honest feelings about school, learning and themselves.

IMG_4792

Student-Planned “Bonding Day”

At the beginning of the year, each grade attends a “Bonding Day” to help students and teachers get to know one another and begin to build a strong sense of community. Instead of teachers planning and running this day for the students, the students planned and ran this day for themselves. This involved researching activities, putting the plans together, testing out their games on each other and their parents, receiving/analyzing/actioning feedback from multiple sources, advertising their game and finally -when the day came – running their activity.

Re-designing the Learning Space

Since we are trying to break through the typical notion of “my homeroom” and create a collaborative culture where all Studio 5 students are learning and working together, instead of having students set up their own classroom, we had the entire Studio 5 student body re-design the whole Studio 5 area. This required having students really understand the “why” of having them design their own learning space as well as having some interesting discussions on planning and making decisions on behalf of a large group of people. In order to make this happen, students connected with others across the grade who shared a similar interest, collaboratively conducted research and collected data, put together a video proposal on Flipgrid and if they received majority support from the community they could put their plan into action.

Inquiring into Learning

We used the Frayer model to tune into what we thought “learning” meant, then we used the process of “Growing Definition” to come up with a shared understanding of what “learning” means to us. We used this definition to create criteria to help us know that learning has happened (can be seen below along the right side of the day plan template). We also spent time thinking about how learning happens and who we are as learners. Finally we “looked for learning” by identifying the learning that had happened over the past weeks – even if we weren’t aware of it at the time.

Building a Culture of Initiative (Not Permission)

I was also cautious not to quash curiosity and any initiative my students were taking to pursue a curiosity or interest. Whether it was building, designing, figuring out if a lime could power a light or how best to make a wad of clay stick to a glass wall… I tried not to stop them or stand in their way.

Planning Their Own Day

I started having students plan their own day the same as I had done last year by giving them a blank template that had the timings of periods and empty boxes. Thanks to collaboration and amazing team members, I was able to fine tune and improve this process. I started to use the MOSCOW method to help students see different priorities for the day and I amended the day plan template to build in space for not only what they were doing, but also why and how. One of the best improvements to the day planning process and template was building in a focus on ATL skill development.

IMG_6174IMG_6153Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 8.17.01 AMScreen Shot 2017-09-16 at 8.19.21 AM

Inquiring into Reflection

In order to help students get to know themselves as reflective learners, and to become more aware of their reflective preferences, we discussed and experimented with many different approaches to “how” we can reflect as well as “what” we can reflect about. From here students will (hopefully) be able to make informed choices each day when reflecting on their learning. Students are also working towards using their daily reflections to inform the choices they make the following day when completing their day plans.

IMG_6138

C.A.R. Time

The first period and last period everyday is “C.A.R. time” where students are supported by a learning advisor to “Choose. Act. Reflect”. The groups are small enough that the advisor can meet with each student in the morning to offer advice on planning their day and again in the afternoon to encourage deep and meaningful reflections about the day.

Student-Led Workshops

In our Studio 5 model it was important to us that students felt empowered to lead their own workshops for other students. In order to get this process started, students first used the “Gradual Increase of Independence” to reflect on things they can do independently, as well as things they would need to be taught, helped with and things they could teach others. These reflections were then shared in a central place so students could start to see both workshops they might want to offer and workshops they might want to participate in. From there students took initiative to plan, advertise and facilitate workshops on a range of topics.

IMG_6185

Optional Teacher Led Workshops

As much as we wanted students to be empowered to lead their own learning, we also wanted to make sure we were a part of their learning too! So in attempt to move away from the typical mandatory, full class lesson model, we began to offer optional workshops that any student – regardless of which homeroom they were in – could sign up to attend. Workshops ranged from read alouds, to creative writing, to math concepts to tech skills.

Building a Culture of Passionate Readers and Writers

In our Studio 5 model it is important that students are developing their literacy skills – but we want to be careful that this does not infringe on their agency as learners. So we have been focusing more on creating a culture of passionate readers and writers – with the help of advice from blogger Pernille Ripp – focusing on what we can do to help them want to read and write. We try to make books visible, accessible and valued; we encourage students to use and enjoy the beautiful school library; we ensure space for students to share book recommendations with one another; we encourage reading at any point in the day; we invite students to become reading buddies for younger students; and we provide options and opportunities for practical and creative use of language.

Developing Assessment Capable Students

In order for students to be able to lead their learning, they must have access to all the usual behind-the-scenes process teachers engage in. For our first stand-alone math unit we wanted to support students in not only understanding what is expected to be learned by the end of the unit, but also how they could figure out what they may already know. We supported the students in using the “Gradual Increase of Independence” to self-assess where they thought they were for each math learning outcome. But more importantly, we discussed the difference between thinking you know something and being sure that you know something. We discussed the role of providing evidence and gathering feedback from experts to ensure you are on the right track. Some students decided to create a Google Slides presentation to house their evidence and others preferred to collect their evidence in a notebook. Some students used a teacher as an expert, others used an older sibling, parent or peer. As students received feedback from their experts, many of them made changes to the placement of the learning outcomes along the Gradual Increase of Independence.

Parent Voice

Similar to ensuring that students feel their voice is heard and valued, it is equally important to ensure that parents feel their voice is also heard and valued. Sending home a Google form was an amazing way to better understand their child, their family and their perspective on the purpose of school.

Student-Written Reports

I am so excited that our administration supports the idea that if students are truly owning their learning, they should be the ones to write their evaluation of learning report. To help them in this process, we used the Visible Thinking Routine “Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate”. First we had students reflect on everything they had done in the Who We Are unit, then we had them think about how those learning experience helped them develop two self-management and two social skills as well as how those experiences contributed to their understanding of “Who We Are”. From there, students used their concept map to reflect on questions in a google form. Next week, students will then turn these responses into a cohesive paragraph that will be used as their official written report for the Who We Are unit.

Screen Shot 2017-09-16 at 9.28.10 AM.png

My reflections…

  • it has been amazing to be surrounded by like-minded educators who are also striving to respect and support students’ agency during their time at school
  • approaching these initiatives as a grade level, as opposed to a single class has provided much more opportunity for students
  • having an administrative team and head of school with a similar vision has helped to alleviate some of the fears associated with innovating and taking risks in the classroom
  • letting go of exactly what I did last year has been hard, but the growth and progress from letting go and being open to my team’s ideas and suggestions has been amazing
  • the days are so enjoyable – the vibe is relaxed and free; there is always a buzz in the air filled with conversation and laughter; students and teachers are interacting as partners in the learning process; it all feels very humane
  • the parents have been amazing allies in this process, providing lots of supportive feedback about what we are trying to do and how it has been a positive experience for their child
  • there is still so much preventing us from being able to truly support students as agentic learners – practices and procedures deeply embedded in the current paradigm of schooling limit the type of true agentic environment we dream of
  • I am still a learner… I have much to learn, unlearn and re-learn about how best to work within a system and yet at the same time push the limits of that system

What is your feedback about what we have been trying so far?

How can we continue to improve as PYP teachers in support of student agency?

How have you been respecting and supporting your students as agentic learners?

Reflecting on a Year of Risk-Taking

Last year, when I decided to leave my role as PYP Coordinator to go back into the classroom, one of the biggest reasons was to have the opportunity to take risks, innovate and disrupt the model of “doing school” at the classroom level.  I had big dreams of what I wanted to start, stop and continue and I had a vision for a more fair and free place to learn. Now that the year has come to an end, it’s important for me to reflect on how things went. And since I have been sharing my journey with you along the way, I wanted to share my final reflections with you too.

So, here are my reflections from a year of taking risks:

Students setting up the classroom 

Inviting students to help set up their learning space was one of the best things I did all year! Not only was there SO much thinking and reflecting and problem solving that took place, but there were a lot of curricular connections, made authentically. Above and beyond that, it set the tone that students have a voice and are equally contributing members of our classroom community.

Read more about it here. 

Flexible Seating

Flexible seating was also a huge success. It took us a while as a community to test it out, problem solve and find the line between comfort and safety… but once we found our groove it was smooth sailing. Students were relaxed and comfortable during their time at school and often reflected on how that positively impacted their learning.

Respecting student’s physical needs

After reading the blog, post 10 Ways to Get Your Students to Respect You,  I couldn’t believe all the years I spent as a teacher, controlling, limiting and even not allowing students to tend to their physical needs. This year students ate when they were hungry, drank when they were thirsty and went to the bathroom when they needed to go. If felt much more humane and again had a noticeably-positive impact on their learning.

Democratic decision making

A huge part of my MEd degree was becoming more aware and critical of the power structures that exist in schools. This year I actively worked to create a more democratic classroom. We made ever decision together – where possible – regardless of how big or small. This not only set the tone that each and every student has a voice and a right to be part of decisions that effect their lives, but it also opened the door for some amazing learning about democracy, decision making, fairness, equity and equality, authority and hierarchy.

Optional homework

For the first time in my life I did not make the decision that my students would have homework. Nor did I make the decision that my students would not have homework either. Instead I decided… to let my students and their families decide! I guided them through an inquiry into homework and then students made their own conclusion about if they should have homework, and if so, what, when and how much. This approach worked very well – families that didn’t want homework never complained they had too much and families that did want homework never complained they didn’t have enough. It also had an unexpected positive side-effect: throughout the year when students genuinely reflected and felt like they needed more help or practice with something they would self-identify the need and take initiative to request extra help and resources.

Read more about it here.

Student-written day plans

This was the risk I was most excited about and the risk that ended up being the hardest to execute. We started out the year strong. We spent weeks inquiring into learning, inquiring into the PYP, inquiring into making day plans and then students were off and running planning their own day. It started out really amazing… students were excited and energized to have autonomy not only over how and where they learned… but for the first time in their life when they learned. Then I got in my own way of such an amazing and successful risk. I started to feel the pressure of time, and standards, and consistency… and slowly more and more of their blocks were being planned by me, because “we had to get something done” One day I woke up, looked around and realized that I was back to my old ways – planning one standard school day and obliging my students to follow along. Towards the end of the year – when reports were done and the pressure was lessened – we went back to having students plan their own day. And once again, life was good.

Read more about it here.

Involving Parents

It was important for me this year that I included my students’ parents in our learning community. Firstly, in the sense of having them involved in their child’s education and what happens in the classroom. I invited them in for before-the-year-starts meetings, I asked them for feedback three times throughout the year and I attempted to differentiate my communication in order to reach as many families as possible. But more than that, I wanted them be involved in our vision… our risks… our movement. I would share screenshots of provocative tweets, infographics and links to PYP and education related blogs to challenge and provoke their thinking about what school look like in 2017. As the year went on it was great to see them engage more and more with the ideas being shared. The best was when parents started sharing their own provocations and resources with me about the future of education! I still remember receiving an email from a parent with a YouTube link to The People vs. The School System and her thoughts about how it connected to what we were doing in our classroom!

Assessment done with students, instead of assessment done to students

This year I took a drastically different approach to assessment. I wanted assessment to be an inclusive process that involved the students as much as possible. We co-constructed success criteria together. We used that co-constructed success criteria as a tool for self, peer and (always last) teacher assessment. Students chose how they felt they could best share their learning. Final marks were negotiated between me and the student, during a one-on-one conference. The results were incredible. Student became much more assessment-capable. They were much more aware of their own learning, growth and areas of need and they were much less nervous and afraid of the assessment process.

Read more about it here.

Creating a culture of passionate readers

This was a hard one for me. I loved everything I read from Pernille Ripp about creating a culture of passionate readers and I couldn’t shake the quote “if they only read and write when we force them to read and write – then what’s the point?” So this year I took a hard, critical look at my own literacy practices and decided to ditch many of them in favour of achieving this goal. I got rid of nightly reading logs, book bins/bags, levelled library, forced guided reading, Daily 5, mandatory reading and writing workshops… pretty much anything where I, as the teacher, was choosing or forcing things on my students. The results were miraculous. I had students choose to become reading buddies; I had students request reading conferences with me; I had students self-select to all read the same novel so they could discuss it; I had students take initiative to create their own reader’s theatre; I had students sign up for optional reading workshops; I had students volunteer to read in front of the whole class. Was there still “progress” as can be measured by a standardized reading test? Yes. No more or less than there has been for my students in the past. But more than that, this time there was also students who learned to love reading; students who began to identify as readers; students who experienced agency and authenticity in their lives as readers.

Creativity Thursdays

If you ask any of my students, they would tell you this was their most beloved risk of all. It was also the risk that received the most scrutiny and push-back from ‘above’. After reading, watching and discussing Sir Ken Robinson, my class decided to devote as much time for creativity as we do to literacy development. That worked out to 20% of a week – a whole school day. So each and every Thursday students would pursue their creative passions – Minecraft, acting, painting, sewing, fashion design, digital music making, construction, jewellery design, singing, slime, modelling, nail art, playing instruments… the list goes on and on. Thursdays were magical… everyone was happy, relaxed, engaged.  It was the day of the week were our sense of community was the strongest. And it was the day of the week with absolutely no behaviour or classroom management issues. There may not have been a lot of “schooling” on Thursdays, but there was definitely a lot of “learning”!

Read more about this here.

Global Connections

Another goal of mine this year was to support my students in connecting with other students around the globe. We had a class blog, a class Twitter account and participated in my Mystery Skype calls. My success in this area was mediocre. The blog and twitter started out strong at the beginning of the year, but fizzled out over time. Mystery Skype were great, but I waited too far into the year to organize them (only when it fit with our unit). This is definitely an area of growth for me, and I will be doing some reflecting over the summer to try and figure out how to better support my students next year as global citizens.

Making time for play

My students and I decided that for every 30 minutes of focused learning, we would take a 10 break. This seemed to jive with research about how long children can focus and aligned with our IB Learner Profile of being balanced. Even though my students are in Grade 4 I think this time for unstructured play was essential. Not only did I notice lots of authentic learning taking place, but this is also when many of the friendships developed and when our sense of community grew. It was not unusual for us to receive confused or skeptical glances from passerbys while students were “on a break”, but it was something we strongly valued as a class and something we all felt positively impacted our community and our learning.

 

So what have I learned?

  • It can be lonely to swim upstreamFind your allies, whether that means people at your school, or like-minded educators in your PLN
  • It is SO worth it. Seeing the children’s growth – not only as students – but as humans is so rewarding
  • Students and parents are AMAZING allies. Let them in on your vision, provoke their thinking, ask for their input and feedback often
  • The pressure is real. Despite my best intentions to avoid “doing school” and instead pursue real learning, I felt immense pressure throughout the year about time, standards, standardization, test scores etc. from multiple sources…not only external from, colleagues and supervisors but also internal, from within
  • Systemic change is needed. There were many times in the year where I ran up against a roadblock that precluded school from being a place of true learning. Ingrained parts of our education system like curriculum, grading, reporting, grade groups, scheduling, etc. were constantly getting in the way of learning, but beyond my control as a classroom teacher
  • I have much more to learn. Much of this year I felt like I was in my first year teaching, not my eighth. But in a way, I guess I was in my first year – my first year trying to let go of being a teachery-teacher and instead respecting and supporting my students’ agency as learners. I am looking forward to spending the summer learning more and hopefully changing my thinking further, so that I will be ready to try again next year and hopefully come a little bit closer to making my classroom a place of real learning