Why You Should Endorse “Now Learning” in the Classroom

“You’ll use this all the time when you grow up.”  “You’re developing skills you’ll need all the way through college.”  “Someday, you’ll be so glad you learned another language.”

[insert eye-rolling here].


Even if true, relying primarily on these kinds of future-tense phrases to justify learning may have harmful effects.  Nothing is worth draining our children’s inborn sense of discovery and enthusiasm.

The counterintuitive reality: instilling learning passion for the future only happens when we show students how to love learning today!

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Requirements for Now Learning

Think back to your classes that most sparked your passion.  Chances are, those instructors made relevance a daily priority–a skill that takes purpose and deliberate planning.  In our experience, that purpose and planning must consist of the following:

  • Student Choice:

Students must be enabled to tailor their learning in order to find relevance. Technological options for making this happen are almost endless–but possibilities outside the high-tech box abound, too, including project based learning, genius hour, and other innovative new strategies.

  • Student Creativity:

Start the video below at 16 minutes for a wonderful anecdote by Sir Ken Robinson:

  • Teacher Passion 

Applying Now Learning in a Real Schedule

My first year teaching overflowed with the kinds of typical pursuits designed to prepare students for the future demands:  book reports, math homework worksheets, and daily “independent study,” during which students would work for an hour on grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.  And guess where the most frequent strain on behavior occurred?

Over the years, we gradually replaced such activities with approaches that foster now learning–and I witnessed transformations in my students’ motivation, vibrance, and willingness to take risks. 

How much of your student’s day involves learning for the present?  Look below at tips for each part of my fifth grader’s schedule:

  • Word Study
    • Student choice: Is it really so earth-shattering to allow students to choose whether they read a book or study their spelling? When our school introduced Daily 5, that’s exactly what we did–and news flash: once they understood all the choices and their purposes, my students did in fact regularly choose from all the options. Status of the class also helped them develop purposeful decision-making skills (read more about that here!).
    • Student creativity: Post a list of book report alternatives for students to take their reading and writing to a creative level.
    • Teacher passion: Tell them about that cliff-hanger in your book, share your latest blog post, exclaim about your favorite authors, joke about common grammar errors. There is simply no underestimating the power of modeling your own literary pursuits!
  • Reading Workshop
    • Student choice: Help students discover their own interests and expand their reading horizons by giving them an interest inventory.
    • Student creativity: Students’ literary creativity will take flight once they discover that book or series that helps them fall in love with reading. Make curating a classroom library of rich and varied texts one of your main priorities.
    • Teacher passion: Throughout each reading unit and/or book group, read along with your students so you can more authentically engage in book discussions with them.
  • Spanish
    • Student choice: Individualize and gamify language learning with the Duolingo app!
    • Student creativity: Download the Google Translate app on your classroom devices and encourage them to discover its possibilities.
    • Teacher passion: At our school, another instructor would come in during this time.  However, I would try to follow up with my own appreciation and understanding in my personal language learning (ie, discussing how I connect “mesa” in landforms and the translation for table, or my interest in Dia de los Muertos).
  • Math
    • Student choice: Ditch homework worksheets in favor for homework projects with real-world applications.
    • Student creativity: Try flipped learning to give students more time in class for exploration, self-directed projects, or arts integration.
    • Teacher passion: No matter what subject(s) you teach, if you’ve ever expressed self-deprecating remarks about math, STOP today, and never do it again!
  • Snack/Lunch/Recess
    • It’s laughable to believe these growing, active beings can be expected to sit still and focus if their bodies aren’t fully nourished.  Make time.  If your school has scheduled a too-small chunk of time for lunch, allow students to finish eating in class.
  • Writing Workshop
    • Student choice: Make writing choices more about which animal to write the essay on.  Storybird, comic strip makers, Prezi, word clouds–the platforms and mediums for sharing ideas stretch for miles.
    • Student creativity: see above.
    • Teacher passion: Teaching a poetry unit? Write your own poems throughout, using the same techniques and skills as your students.Use your own daily struggles and triumphs as a writer as authentic teaching opportunities.
  • Social Studies or Science
  • Blogging
    • Student choice & creativity: Student blogs are a fantastic way for students to learn to curate their own work.  They give students a real voice in the global learning community, and encourage dynamic discussion and debate in comment threads.  To get started, check out our post on practical student blogging here!
    • Teacher passion: Make sure you keep your own blog alongside your students’!

Photo Credit:

  • Featured image: Frankieleon
  • Quote image created with Recitethis.com

3 Practical Formative Assessments

When you barely have time to suck down occasional gulps of air amid swells of paperwork, it’s understandable to lose some perspective.  Unfortunately, this is a condition many teachers face when it comes to approaching formative versus summative assessments.


 

Opportunity for impact?

But how important is it, really, to keep track of such minute details on student progress?  Well, Google defines formative as, “serving to form something, especially having a profound and lasting influence on a person’s development.”  Black and Wiliam found “that innovations which include strengthening the practice of formative assessment produce significant, and often substantial, learning gains.”  And we have discovered teacher-student relationships become elevated as students recognize just how invested teachers are in their daily progress–not just in what they produce at the end of units.

The nature of the beast

Formative assessments do not cast the intimidating shadow of their summative counterparts.  They are so authentically woven into the day, it can feel almost spontaneous as you uncover quiet learning moments, pinpointing students’ true understanding. Meanwhile, summatives are not only highly concrete and measurable, but they’re also accompanied by pressure for results–pressure that may come from administrators, parents, politicians, and even sometimes teachers themselves.

Educator’s catch 22

And so, we run into the classic teacher dilemma: on the one hand, we know part of the value of formative assessments lies their authentic, unassuming quality; on the other, it is precisely that quality that makes it easy for them to slip under the radar.   The key is to make a plan for a record-keeping strategy that works for you.  This sounds easy enough, but it does take a little trial and error as you find one or more methods that feel comfortable and easily accessible in the flow of your classroom.  Below are a few personal favorites, all of which have functioned well in various contexts.

3 Strategies

1. Confer App
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com
Image retrieved from Conferapp.com

This is the Mary Poppins carpet bag of education apps.  No matter how full I’d pack in anecdotal notes for each student, it stayed organized and easy to navigate.  It was also easy to share with parents during parent-teacher conferences.  Some details I appreciated include:

  • The option to sort notes in practical ways, including by student names, groups, and feedback.
  • A design in that’s conducive to appropriate feedback with fields like “strength,” “teaching point,” and “next step”–great to remind teachers to look for what’s going well along with what needs work.
  • The ability to apply one note to multiple students simultaneously–and the fact that it saves a previously-used note so you don’t have to type out the same phrase again.
  • The color coded flags to remind you who currently needs some extra support.

Note: At first, some students were unsure about my typing on my phone during our discussions–they worried I was texting, or otherwise distracted.  Be sure to introduce this method of note-taking to your whole class, telling them exactly how you are using your phone during your conferences.

2. Notecard Waterfalls

This one is a bit old-school, but I found it especially handy for reading groups.  I would write each student’s name on one notecard, sort them into their groups, and then tape them into a waterfall on half a piece of laminated cardstock per group.  (see photos below) I found this to be the perfect place to keep tallies for simplified running records and reading notes.  After a student would read aloud, I would say something like this:

“Ok, I’m writing that you are rocking your punctuation expression.  You paused appropriately at every comma and period!  I’m also writing that we’re working on paying attention to the endings of words, since you left off -ing and -s a couple times as you read.  Do you want me to add anything else for us to remember next time we work on reading together?”

This kind of feedback was quick and simple, but extremely effective as it kept us both on the same page.  Another bonus: when a card would fill up, I could easily throw it in the student’s file and pop in another one.

Waterfall booklet

3. Status of the Class
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store
Image retrieved from Teacher Supply Store

Status of the Class is the perfect tool to keep track of student-driven projects or independent work time.  Simply call out each student’s name, and then jot down their selected task on a class list.  This works well for long-term processes involving steps, stages, or centers with which the students are already familiar, such as the Writer’s Workshop, the scientific method, or math or literacy stations.  Some advantages include:

  • Stay informed of where you can coach students in their individual processes.
  • Teach students metacognition as you require them to give a brief statement explaining both the what and the why of their choice. (I would periodically model how that would sound right before taking Status of the Class to remind them how to explain their choice.  For example:  “I’m working on illustrating because I want to better visualize how to describe my characters,” or “I’m going to read to myself because I just got to a cliff-hanger in my book.”
  • Keep track of students who seem to be stuck in one place.
  • Maintain accountability for students who may get off-task during independent learning time.
  • If appropriate, give on-the-spot feedback as you help students learn to spend independent time wisely (ie, “I see you’ve chosen that 3 times in a row here.  How else could you spend your time to help you grow?”)

Tips: Use wet-erase marker to write on a laminated class list chart, such as the one pictured, and keep it posted in the room so students can also keep track of how they’ve been spending their time.  Make a key for your abbreviations on the bottom.

What are some of your favorite methods for practical formative assessments?

Featured Image: Elli Pálma via Flickr Creative Commons

The Universal & Essential Action Cycle

Beginning to teach at an International Baccalaureate school can be an intimidating experience.  Terminology alone, from “transdisciplinary skills” to “line of inquiry,” can be difficult to understand and incorporate into teaching, especially if you have a background that emphasizes direct instruction.  However, becoming familiar with the Action Cycle, or learning cycle, can help ease that transition–whether you’re a new IB teacher and or are simply interested in cultivating a more inquiry-based, student-driven classroom.

Continue reading “The Universal & Essential Action Cycle”

5 Back-to-School Posters for Any Classroom

School is back into full-swing for many schools by now.  Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important.  Here are a few of our favorite reminders.


#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto

Via www.BreneBrown.com
Via www.BreneBrown.com

(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too.  Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)

#2:  Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder

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Via William Ferriter’s flickr stream

#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy

via Ann Landers
via (@4collegeparents)

#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence

Background image by Case Wade
Background image by Case Wade

#5: And this.

printers smell fear
Via @WeAreTeachers

Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!”  Have a great 2014-2015 year!

Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato

How the Digital Age is Altering Education’s Landscape (it’s not the gadgets…)

“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹


Drip Effect

Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed.  However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²).  To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.

Sudden Educational Evolution

For many years, education remained fairly static.  Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation.  Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.

Now, all that is changing thanks to technology.  It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers.  It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration.  It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun.  It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices.  Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!

The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability

This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom.  What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning?  In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control.  The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.

Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)
Retrieved: Clouducation (original creator unknown)

During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:

Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209.  See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).

Walking the Talk

I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.”  Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out.  My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words.  Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective.  Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.

Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:

Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky.  But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.

Sources:

  1. Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
  2. Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
  3. Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.

Featured Image:

Jason Paluck