Saturday, April 23, 2011

Class Update Six - I am Done

This is yet another update from my Language Arts classroom. For those that have yet to check this blog list out, you can read about my initial motivation for a student driven classroom, how to “give it up”, an initial class update, and updates titled “It’s About the Learning”, “Learning Should be Viral”, “One on One is the Best”, and “Sub Plans”. All of these updates are experiences from my classroom as related to my decision to hand over the learning decisions to my students.


My latest update comes from something that happened this past week. When initially making the decision to move to a student driven classroom, I knew of one potential problem that I would inevitably encounter. My colleague, Rob Hunt and I realized that when we gave our students the list of standards and said, “go”, we would have students all over the map. In addition, we knew that even though students had until the end of the school year to finish their work, we would have some students finish early. Between the two of us, we predicted we would start seeing some “finishers” in about the middle of May. That would give us plenty of time to think of some extension and enrichment activities for those students to work on for the remaining couple of weeks of school.

Well, we were wrong. I had a student turn in a ton of work last week and essentially finish her standards. Basically, she was finished with her 6th grade Language Arts learning standards by the middle of April and we still have about six weeks left in the school year. Not only did she finish her work, but she mastered these standards with diligence and perfection. She was done with 6th grade well before 6th grade was even over. It makes me think it would be neat to be able to send her on to 7th grade right then…clearly she is ready.

Once this student turned in her work she sat down and read her free reading book for the remainder of the period. I then frantically tried to think of what I was going to do for the next six weeks with her in my class. I was planning on creating some alternate and enrichment assignments but nothing felt like anything more than busy work to me, which I did not feel right doing. In a discussion with my partner in crime on this project, Rob, he just said, “ask her what she wants to do.” While initially this may seem like a cop-out, it was perfect.

When this nameless student came into class the following day we sat together and talked about what she wanted to work on. She told me that she enjoyed a book trailer project we had done earlier in the year and wanted to do that. For the rest of the week she spent reading her book and planning a book trailer production. This will be what she will be working on and she is thrilled about it. The best part is when she asked if it would be graded. I told her, “nope”, and she was pumped that she could just do something she wanted to do. When she finishes this, we will meet again and see where the learning takes her next.

My plan is that as students finish mastering their standards, I will ask them and support them in choosing what to do next. I am excited to see what they will come up with when their learning is not only driven by them but also not constricted by the standards.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Students Are The Goonies

I am avid reader of The Nerdy Teacher blog and especially like his "Everything I Learned About Education" series where we writes about classic movies and compares them to education. A while back we chatted about doing a combo post about the movie Goonies. Below is my post and you can see Nick's insights on his blog as well. So, here is my first attempt at a similar themed post.


As with many movies, Goonies is a great because many of us can relate to the characters. We see pieces of ourselves and those we know within the dialogue and actions of those on screen. Teachers deal with “characters” on a daily basis and we have Goonies in our classrooms every day.

Mikey

Mikey is the kid with all the bright ideas. This is the natural born leader that can get anyone to do just about anything. As a teacher you put this student in position to be a leader in a positive way. Mikey’s have passion and teachers need to channel that with engaging work as they will bring others on board with them. They will naturally fall to the front of the line and lead groups in group projects. Find these students, get them on your side, and they will be a helpful resource in the classroom.

Lawrence “Chunk”

Chunk is one on my favorite characters as we all have a “Chunk” in our classrooms and in our lives. This is the kid that is typically the butt of all jokes but has the best sense of humor. Rarely is this person taken seriously but people feel good when they are around. As a teacher, we need to be aware of who these kids are because they are often victims of bullying. They often try to overcome their “differences” such as weight, intelligence, or ethnicity with humor and becoming a class clown. It is important to support these kids as they often put on a strong front but their feelings are easily hurt. Their sense of humor is often their coping mechanism for feelings that stem from their differences.

Richard “Data”

Data is another great character and one that we have all seen sitting in our classrooms. This is the kid with their hand always up in the air. They know all the answers and will go above and beyond in anything you ask them to do. In addition, to being good students, they are often the creative problem solvers. Instead of doing things the traditional way, Data wants to do things differently and think outside of the box. The key to teaching a Data is to challenge them in authentic ways. Don’t give them extra homework but provide extra learning opportunities for them. Give them a problem and the freedom to use available resources to solve it. These kids are naturally curious and need an outlet of that curiosity.
Clark “Mouth”

Clark reminds me of more than one of my students and many of my friends growing up. He is the smooth talking, ladie’s man, with a knack for talking himself out of trouble. In a classroom these are the students that would be characterized as “street smart”. They know how to play the game and get what they want through telling grand stories or spinning elaborate excuses. From a teacher’s point of view, it is crucial to push the “Mouths” in your classrooms beyond the superficial. These students want to just get by with the bare minimum and sweet talk their way through school. Don’t settle for mediocre with them and they will be more capable than they let on.

Sloth

Sloth for me is symbolic of the abnormal or different students we have in classes. This is not to be demeaning but the reality of the population of students with various disabilities and struggles they bring to school with them. As the Fratellis did, often we want to hide these students because they are not the social norm in our schools. Instead of hiding them and pushing them away, we need to embrace them as Chunk and the Goonies did. Regardless of the differences student may have, all students have something to offer in their own way. Teachers need to never stop looking for ways to find those talents and skills and share them.

Fratelli’s

The criminal family in the movie, the Fratelli’s, is the obstacle that kids face in achieving their goal. Many kids in our classrooms have obstacles that prohibit them from their learning, social, or emotional goals. Whether that obstacle is a disability, an abusive home, a bully, or poverty, all kids deal with something. It is critical as teachers to find out what our student’s Fratelli are and do whatever is in our power to help them overcome it. We cannot expect a student to perform in our classrooms if they have Mama Fratelli looking over their shoulder.

Brandon “Brand”
I felt compelled to have Brand included because he serves a critical role in the lives of the Goonies. He is the big brother, the protector, and in some way is the sound of reason. For our students, many do not have a Brand in their life. In my opinion, all students need a Bran and seek them out for that acceptance and approval that the older brother gives. The key is to help our students find that Bran that will be a positive influence for them and in some cases we, the teachers, play that role for students.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Class Update Five - Sub Plans

If you are like me, you dread being away from school. Sure, it is nice to get out of the classroom and take a break from the madness. However, it is often more work to write detailed sub plans where you predict every possible outcome that might happen in class while you are gone. You tirelessly write down and account for every minute of those lessons you will be missing. It is often more work to be gone from your classroom than it is to actually be there and teaching the lesson.


For those of you that have been following my push for student driven learning you know where my classroom has been and is going. This afternoon I will be stepping out of the building for personal business and I found myself sitting at my desk this morning writing sub plans. Yes, I should have been doing those Sunday night, but I spent that time building Legos with my sons and catching up on some down time I was sorely missing.

As I sat there getting ready to write my sub plans, I was having difficulties trying to explain what my students were doing and what I wanted the sub to do. This is what I came up with…


It is a nice feeling when you don’t have to rely on the substitute teacher to ensure that learning will take place. Since the learning belongs to the students and they are driving the classroom, the substitute takes a back seat. No longer do I have to account for each second of the class and micro-manage student learning. The students are in charge and the learning will continue regardless of my presence in the room. Isn’t that the way it should be? Learning in spite of a teacher…to me this is a great thing.