Where Do I Start????

Changing the way I approached the classroom environment last year completely changed the way I approached my teaching. Letting go of the control I had over where the students sat and how they worked was the first step to me recognizing the power in giving over some control to the students and allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning. By December 2017 I was teaching in an entirely new way that saw less structured scheduling and more voice and choice for my students. I became OBSESSED with reading other peoples ideas and trying them out in my room and I was a skipping record that only talked about the one topic with anyone who would listen to me.

Fast forward to August 2018 and I am STUCK! I have NO IDEA where to begin! I continue to read and see other peoples ideas and love all of them…but where do I start with this new class of students? How do I start the year in the way I closed the previous one? I have to admit I am struggling not to go back to my old ways. I am seeing blogs and tweets about amazing experiences teachers are having in their classrooms as they have their students start on their next learning journey. Disheveled classrooms being created and designed by the learners, tasks being written and undertaken, workshops being offered…the inspiration is endless and I find I have replaced my Facebook (I deactivated my Facebook account over the summer and haven’t looked back!) time suckage with Twitter and blogs…but instead of inspiring me on what I can be doing in my own classroom it is often causing PANIC! Why does it look and seem so easy for these incredible educators and why do I seem to be blocked in finding a way for it to work with my class? I would literally be failing at that point…myself and my new, enthusiastic class of students.

This blog post is not going to be a great one, in fact, I may not even post it…it is me trying to sort out where I am at and where I want to get to, and most importantly, HOW do I get there? On moving up day last school year I sold a great sell to my new class and they have come back raring to go on the student-directed learning journey! My struggle has been how to incorporate the student-directed approach into the community building sessions. How do I introduce the students to the different routines that we will be following and building our new class community while preparing them for a successful transition into a classroom structure that is entirely new to them?

I decided to place a greater focus on the students looking at themselves as learners and who they are as learners. Instead of talking about general aspects of their lives with each other they had a great focus on who they are in their role as a student. The students completed a MICUP (Multiple Intelligence Checklist for Upper Primary) and identified the different categories of intelligence that are their strengths and those that are more challenging. They interviewed each other about their learning preferences when working in the classroom (asking questions such as what time of the day do you feel more focused?). They then used the answers to create “Learner Profiles” of themselves.

IMG_6682

As a class, we brainstormed what we believe our roles are in creating a successful learning environment. We looked at the UN values and the school values and used our understandings in conjunction with what we brainstormed about the ideal classroom and we wrote our own list of values that we will strive to achieve (the students decided to use values rather than work agreements, rules or essential agreements).

 

IMG_6684 2

As we worked through all of these tasks and activities we continued to reflect on our key learning objective of “I can explain who I am as a learner and how I will work in my class community to achieve success in grade 4.” At the end of the second week of school, we did a class health check where we reflected on how we were feeling as a class. It was a great math lesson where we created criteria and then followed the data handling process of collecting data, recording data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The class thought we are doing a great job as 90% rated themselves as feeling between a 7 and 10 out of 10, however, we quickly agreed that it is not a success until everyone in the class are feeling this way. By looking at our class values they quickly came up with an area of focus for next week and possible ways we can help everyone feel emotionally safe in the classroom.

IMG_6819

As I sit here and procrastinate planning for the week ahead I am thinking of where to next…pre-assessments are 90% done, the classroom community is established and now just needs time…but what is the regular school week going to look like? What I am realizing is that I am needing to practice what I preach in my class…I need to be the open-minded one and I need to be balanced when I am preparing for the week ahead. Most importantly though I need to be the risk taker!

How are you going with your start to the year? What has worked and what have you learned to do differently next time?

Advertisements

Exciting, Authentic, Connected…Transdisciplinary Learning!

As part of my professional inquiry for this year I decided to focus on student directed learning and student agency. The explanation of this is an entire blog post of its own (next one on my list) but in short I was looking at how I could play with my classroom logistics in order to stay true to what the school were requiring but still allowing the students to have agency.

Part of my process was to keep the parents of my class informed and aware of these changes. We are a team and it is important that there is complete transparency between us in order for the students to truly succeed.

Below is an edited blog post that I wrote to parents in December of this school year. The purpose of the post was to explain the changes that had started to happen in their child’s classroom. The response was extremely supportive and positive and resulted in many parents coming to visit and have a look.

PLEASE NOTE: the ideas that I have been implementing in my classroom are by no means my creation! I have adapted ideas received through observations of other amazing teachers and readings. The ideas are constantly changing as the students and I work together to make them the most successful for our class of learners! It is often messy and not always successful but there has been one constant result…learning!

Teacher to Parent Blog Post; December, 2017

At the moment in the education world, and specifically in the PYP, there is a big push for student agency and for educators to encourage students to be more in control of their own learning. The IB PYP is focusing on introducing student agency in a more focused way. They highlight the following advantages about increasing student agency as…

“Students with agency:

  • have voice, choice and ownership; and a propensity to take action
  • influence and direct learning
  • contribute to and participate in the learning community.”

As part of my own professional learning, I have been researching and looking for ways to create a learning environment that allows for greater student agency. For the last 4 weeks I have been introducing the class to new structures and concepts and giving them time (and a lot of guidance) as they learn what it all involves. This week was the first week where the students really saw it all come together, and I am so happy to witness the enthusiastic way that they have tackled the new approach!

Every morning the students come in to read an overview of what the day has to offer. Below is an example.

img_0633.jpg

 

IMG_2670An example of a completed weekly goals sheet that highlights not only the goal but also what success will look like and strategies to use to get there.

During the “Where We Are In Place and Time” unit of inquiry, the students did a range of tasks that were related to the unit but targeted specific math and literacy skills. They started to talk about their learning in terms of “I learned about… through the lens of math/reading/writing”. The content was focused on the unit of inquiry however the “skills” that they were learning were specific from the English and Math curriculum. At the end of the unit the students expressed that they felt they had a better understanding of the unit as they were looking at it from many different perspectives. They also highlighted that it allowed them to strengthen skills such as time management, reflection, cooperation and commitment.

IMG_7876An example of the Transdisciplinary Inquiry Journals that all students use to document their learning process.

img_0638.jpgThe list of Transdisciplinary Tasks students were required to do over the course of the unit, including a time management plan.
This week we have focused on developing our understanding of child rights, what they are and what they mean. Students have selected a range of tasks to undertake (each through the lens of either data handling, writing or reading) and began to work towards finding ways that they can take action towards to enable more children access to their rights.

At the beginning of each week they will reflect on their past week’s goals and look at how they are achieving them. They need to provide evidence of their learning and create their next plan of action, do they continue with the same goals or do they create new ones?

Snip20180331_2.pngCreating her weekly goals on Monday morning using her reflections to help her.

They then create a schedule for their learning. The class schedule is now broken into three sections;

  • student directed / transdisciplinary inquiry
  • whole class lessons
  • specialist classes
  • teacher and student led workshops on specific learning objectives

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. They decide what they are doing when (with teacher guidance!) and sign up for teacher OR student led workshops or independent inquiry tasks. Their key focus is on what they need to do to deepen their understanding and to have a balance of reading, writing and math. I help them with gaining this self-awareness and guide them to understanding what their needs are, if I recognise that they have not signed up for a workshop that I believe they would benefit from.

IMG_0848.jpg Signing up for teacher led workshops and recording these sessions on his personal schedule.

                    IMG_0583.JPGAn example of the workshop sign up sheet. Students have this information when developing their schedules and goals.

IMG_8552.JPGStudents deciding on the tasks they will undertake for the week ahead.

Overall, the classroom has become invigorated by the thinking that has been involved. The students are excited by the chance to shape the way they inquire into our classroom focus.

Snip20180413_43  An example of a planning document for individual workshop focus. Homeroom teacher (Mel), Teacher Assistant (Huong), EAL teacher (Nicole) and Learning Support teacher (Sara).

 

Authentic, Sustainable Action…How?

This was originally posted on the blog Empower 2 Be…

As an IB educator the whole concept of action has been a baffling one to me! I love everything it embodies, in concept, but I have always struggled with the idea that I am manufacturing opportunities for action for my students. Surely, if I am truly embedding the IB principles and inspiring my class of learners to be masters for change they can discover these opportunities themselves?

Over the years I have seen some great examples of action that different teachers and schools have accomplished and, while I walk away so impressed, I leave wondering what I am doing wrong…why can’t I achieve this with my learners? I don’t believe in being inauthentic in order to tick a box and say “we did action”!

Of course there have been moments over the last 15 years where opportunities have been grasped and success has been achieved! Such as my 5th grader who was EAL and learning support and struggling to grasp the idea of having to tackle the exhibition. A project that seemed so out of his reach was achievable by allowing him voice and choice and the freedom to cater to his strengths not his challenges. His aunt was in a wheelchair and when he discovered my mum too was in a wheelchair he decided this was going to be the focus for his exhibition. He focused on interviewing via telephone to do his research and he channeled his research into how Germany (his Aunt) and Australia (my mum) accommodated for disabled citizens. He did a fantastic job and on the day he set up a course in the gym and had wheelchairs available for people to “have a go” at operating in order to gain empathy towards those physically challenged. It was GREAT and the pride and tears of his parents was heart warming. Yet as his teacher it was his action that I was the most proud of. He requested to come to school for the day in a wheelchair. To use it for the entire day and to see how well the school accommodated for the disabled student. He video’d, photographed and noted his experience and then wrote a letter to the school board and head of school to highlight the areas of the school that were wheelchair friendly and those that needed improvement. The school took notice and by the start of next term ramps had been installed.

This seems so long ago…15 years in fact, and yet it is still in the forefront of my mind! It is only now as I reflect on action that I realise what was probably a key factor for his success…voice and choice and working to his strengths. I didn’t force book research or essay writing, he journalled via video recordings and explained via photographs. As soon as taking the reading and writing focus away he was truly able to allow himself the freedom to explore him passion.

15 years later I have once again been able to see this authentic action again! Our Sharing the Planet unit of inquiry focused on “Children’s rights and responsibilities exist to enable equitable opportunities.” It was going to be followed by our small business unit for How We Organise Ourselves so we decided to merge them so that the small businesses would actually be “social enterprises” and therefore an action for the Sharing the Planet unit.

 

img_0725.jpg

The students started by owning their roles as students of the UN…what did this mean? What did it currently look like? What COULD it look like?

img_2992.jpg At the end of the Sharing the Planet unit the class brainstormed ideas for taking action towards helping children in Vietnam access more of their rights.

 

IMG_4961Students broke up into small groups focused on one of the child rights that they felt passionate for. They researched different NGO (non government organisations) and service learning projects within Hanoi and the school that would be a good partnership for them to work with. The made connections to one or more of the UN SDG’s (sustainable development goals). AND finally they created their social enterprise company name, slogan and logo!

All of a sudden 4A had 6 operating social enterprise’s that were addressing 5 different SDG’s and collaborating with 6 different NGO / Service Learning Projects. The impact that this had on the students was fascinating to watch. The small business unit always was a fun one that the students LOVED, but by adding this extra layer of purpose to their businesses the students were inspired and worked that much harder to be successful. They were writing to different people around the school to meet with them and discuss action ideas and were excited to use money (that was once used for a class party) that they raised to help children less fortunate than themselves.

IMG_2657

There were definitely the groups that needed more help than others, groups that had students who were less committed and needed more guidance but even these individuals and groups were learning. The skills that they had been honing in on throughout our student directed year (such as group work, communication and time management) were being put to use and they were EXCITED!

At this current point in time the groups are working with their partner organisations to arrange how their profits will be spent. We have the Great Green Gardeners heading off to go shopping with the school gardener, for items to create gardening kits to then distribute to families who will be able to grow their own food. Teddy Paws are purchasing the materials they need to make 25 teddy bears to take to an orphanage where one of the class members started her life in. Others are making clothing, blankets and toys for children in rural Vietnam, making stationary kits for schools in Sapa, organising a years internet subscription for a rural school who has 1 computer…the class is a buzz. No longer have the students wanted to donate the money and say they made cookies and that was their action!

Before we left for Spring Break we sat together as a class and discussed what we learned from this experience. That they explained what that because they knew they were going to be creating social enterprises based on a child right they started thinking about it from the beginning of the Sharing the Planet unit. They said that they felt special because they are lucky to be students at a UN school and that they hadn’t realised what that really meant before. One student said “I feel more socially responsible to help other kids that aren’t like me” while 2 others students asked if they could continue to work on their social enterprise in the future or if it was over now the unit was? Without realising it, these students were asking to create sustainable service learning projects! And I wanted to stand on the table and DO MY HAPPY DANCE!

Upon reflection I am seeing connections between this experience my class had with the year of self-directed learning they have had. They were able be successful because:

  • they had started to develop the skills they needed throughout the previous units
  • they had become more socially self-aware of what their role in society was as a privileged international school student
  • they were able to explore the area they felt the most connected to and passionate about
  • they were taking responsibility for their actions and were WANTING to do more for others

So after all of this I am left wondering…

  • How do we have this happen again?
  • For the Who We Are unit what will the students decide to do?
  • What skills can I foresee they will need in order for them to have the ability to authentically take action (whatever that may look like)?

All of a sudden planning is looking a lot different…

SCHEDULING a path to empowerment

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

How can the classroom, schedule and planning documents, reflect a true transdisciplinary approach to student directed learning?

This is the question that led my own personal inquiry journey over the last 9 months. I started this school year facing a challenging class. Add to this that I have found myself at a point in my career where I was questioning who I was as a teacher…when had I become so controlled by schedules…by standards…by the stress of the need to be seen as doing it all correctly? As we have all experienced at one stage or another, the lessons that we love and enjoy teaching are often the ones that the students pick up on and thrive in. What was I going to do with this class that really didn’t seem like they would cope well with a teacher with an identity crisis!

Over the past 2 years I have become more and more of a Twitter reader…there are so many ideas, articles, blogs…posted that I was loving how it allowed me to find inspiration from others in such an accessible way. This is where I heard about Student Agency, Student Directed Learning and Project Based Learning on repeat. Of course I had heard all these buzz terms at school and in PD’s but all of a sudden I was beginning to see it all in a practical sense. Maybe this is what I needed to truly access and differentiate for my class of learners this year…

Reasons for my TIA:

  • PYP junkie
  • Miss leading a classroom through inquiry
  • Time to stop stressing and start doing
  • Looking for an authentic way to help my very diverse group of learners
  • Looking for ways to have my students make deeper connections

What Am I Wanting to Achieve?

  • Students gaining a deeper understanding of Units of Inquiries
  • Students being more aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Students taking responsibility for their learning journey
  • Students maximising their learning style
  • Students interact with learning objectives authentically
  • Opportunities for action are genuinely available

But how do I do all of this while covering the learning objectives and ensuring the students were staying on task? How do I make sure I am meeting the needs of everyone if I am not controlling everything? How do I fight my fear of failure?

Baby steps…that is what I decided was needed. First things first…this timetable!

Trans-cending the Timetable:

From this…

Snip20180401_3

To this…

Snip20180401_8.png

And finally, now, to this…

Snip20180402_13.png

The original timetable for the class was very clinical and predetermined. It said what subject would be posted when. It did not leave a lot of room for student agency and did not require the students use self awareness of their own abilities to take responsibility for what they should focus on. UOI was listed as a subject and there was a lack of transdisciplinary vision. The first revised timetable split the time spent in the classroom in half showing a balance of teacher led time and student determined transdisciplinary inquiry.

By the time I revised it again “Inquiry Work” became “Student Directed Learning” (SDL) as I quickly realised that not all tasks they were scheduling for themselves were inquiry focused…some were skill focused, where they realised they just needed to practice. I had been able to collaborate with the learning support and EAL teachers about pushing in their time in an inclusive manner where we would collaborate on workshops we would all lead that ALL students would be able to access, not just the students on their “books”. iTime was absorbed into the SDL time at the request of the students…”You know Ms Mel, I would really prefer to use Friday afternoon for Writers Workshop. Is it ok for me to do iTime at another time during the week?” All of a sudden this schedule really was “OUR” schedule, the students were a part of the logistics of it all. It was also one of those moments where I could see the shift in the students having ownership over their own learning and the confidence to express their ideas!

Since I wrote the above another edit has occurred…during the SDL times there are now Student Led Workshops. Students have started offering their own workshops to their classmates as a way of becoming more confident and skilled in communication as well as solidifying their understandings. My favourite quote was when Cody said, “Ms Mel, I would really like to offer a workshop on using different strategies to solve 2 by 2 digit multiplication. I am not 100% sure I am totally good at it but I think this would help me to see what I still need to work on. Is this ok?” YES it is ok you risk-taker you!

 

 

 

 

Project Planning Paralysis

I have a love/hate affair with projects.

I love them because students get to choose what they do.

I hate them because students get to choose what they do.

 

It boils down to three things for me: judgement, control, and fear.

I find myself checking if I think this project choice is worthy of our class time. I wonder if the project they choose is going to be something I know anything about. I am fearful that even if I overcome both these hurdles, there is still the judgement of teachers or parents who may not see the value in the project choice.

I have a long history with student choice. I won’t call it agency because, for much of the time, I found myself setting the parameters for the choices. Ultimately, I want kids to have a voice, I want them to learn through something they love to do.

My fifth grade Design students have been eager to have more say in what we do. I wanted to respect that so we started looking at what “Design” was and I opened up the floor for them to choose their next design project. But I couldn’t help myself and I started throwing in “rules” to hamper their freedom of choice. Before I knew it, I had created a framework for their projects of my making. It looks like this (and I still am not sure if I like it or not):

75966437-DE74-4FFC-9537-DC8DE00DC4D4

 

I created this, if I am to be honest, out of fear that should my kids stop at step one, “PLAY”, other people may judge the worthiness of them doing so. Who are these “others” that have so much control over my instinct to let my kids play, that I would go and create four more hoops for them to jump through?

This is where I am struggling at the moment in my quest for agency. Where do scaffolds come in? How can we help our students with things like authentic empathy or exposure to the Global Goals as a springboard for design? Who is to say what is purposeful and what is not?

Here is an example from one student:

After doing a “tournament of champions” with all the ideas of things that could be done in Design (similar to this one below) a student chose: Minecraft. 

Grade 5 Design.001
Example of how the kids each chose the thing they wanted to “Play” with in Design.

Students were then re-introduced to the Sustainable Development Goals (something they were already familiar with). This is where they would connect “Play” with “Problem”.

They then needed to “Pitch” an idea: what were they going to make? Do? Create? And then I wanted them to think about why? What was their “Purpose”?

Here’s one example:

Grade 5 Design1.001

“Plan” made it’s way in when I saw that many kids didn’t quite know where to get started. Or, to be fair, they did know (they started to Play!) but I wanted something more concrete.

Even as I write this I am questioning the whole thing. How much interference is too much? How much freedom is too much?

How do you make this work in your school?