I know it is an overly used phrase, but it is crazy how quickly this year flew by. With only 13 more days of the school year left, I find myself reflecting on this year – what went well and areas for improvement.
Here are some highlights and lessons learned this year:
#1 – Student Voice … This year more than ever I experienced the benefits of student voice in the classroom. Reflecting on activities and learning experiences that were successful, many of them involved student voice and choice in their learning. These learning experiences like Genius Hour (Passion Projects), Student-Run Fundraising, Community Circles, and Class Inquiry all had the same end benefits – students were engaged, happy, working hard, and achievement increased. Some of the end products produced in these learning experiences were truly amazing! (Purple-Cow Factors)
Genius Hour/Passion Projects exploded in my classroom this year – so much so that if they miss their passion project time on a Friday they are genuinely upset. My class continues to amaze me in their dedication and hard work they spend on their projects. I’ve had students create projects from creating their own bow-and-arrow to learning how to speed paint. We were fortunate to share our projects with the London Free Press. Here is a peek of some of our class work that was featured: http://www.lfpress.com/2015/01/07/a-google-inspired-idea-called-genius-hour-is-giving-kids-the-chance-to-pursue-a-project-for-which-they-are-passionate. As much as Passion Projects was such a success, I do feel like there are areas of improvement such as assessment. How to move beyond marking for learning skills. Or should passion projects be graded? Is it fair to grade someone’s passion?Questions I am still pondering…. I am hoping my summer goal of reading the book: Pure Genius by Don Wettrick will help bring clarity to some of my lingering questions.
Student-led fundraising was another initiative that exceeded my expectations this year. Our year end trip to Boler Mountain Tree Top Adventure Park was more expensive than I would have liked the students to pay. Since this was a last minute decision, we missed out on outdoor funding. Despite this, students were enthusiastic and excited to run a fundraiser. Amazing things started to happen. Student leaders emerged – students were capitalizing on their strengths and advocating their strengths to their peers. Math talk, advertising strategies, and teamwork at its best emerged. The end result? We held 2 very successful fundraisers – Carnival/Tuck Shop & a Junior Dance bringing in $784 from the Carnival where students ran their own booths and $500 from the junior dance. I truly believe that the success of these events were based on student ownership and voice. I will continue to have students take the lead on fundraisers but in the future be linked to social justice issues where they are raising money to help an issue as their ‘call to action.’
Inquiry-based learning took many forms this year where students had lots of choice in the direction of their learning. From mini-inquiries, larger scale inquiry projects, class inquiry, and 3 Act Math – engagement level and enthusiasm remained high. I believe the choices involved in inquiry-based learning, small group collaboration and critical thinking create the conditions for 21st century learning that promotes high academic standards. Questions I am still wondering…how to accurately assess inquiry? Do we mark the process or the product? Should more value be placed on the process rather than the product?
#2 – Community…I had the challenge this year of teaching a split: Grade 7/8. I could sense in the first couple days that there were a lot of nervousness and uncertainty about being in the split. I knew that I had to find a way to create a whole-class cohesiveness so I started community circles. I began every Monday with a community circle where students would tell me how they are feeling (I like the advance notice of knowing) and what they did on the weekend. I have a really chatty class (or they get this from their teacher!), regardless, it gave them a time and place to share. On Monday mornings, you see students sitting in their chairs in a large circle passing a ball around the circle – politely taking turns sharing. You can hear one student sharing at a time and feel genuine appreciation/respectful listening. This past Friday, as a class, we were reflecting on their favourite memory of the year and Community Circles was one of them! As a result, my nervous/uncertain class in September turned into a close-knit community of learners and I truly believe community circle time help contribute to this.
To improve community circle time in the coming years I would add an end of the week reflection circle to reflect on what went well in the week to embed more reflective thinking in class and to promote gratefulness/positive thinking. If you want to get ‘techie’ you would create a google form survey with a QR code to post outside your door that students complete every morning before coming into the classroom. This could be a simple survey with how are you feeling this morning with corresponding emoticons.
#3 – Reflection...I model as much as I can reflective thinking to my students. I found that some of my students’ best work this year was on the reflective pieces of their assignments. They enjoy taking the time to reflect on what went well and how they could/would improve. We created Putt-Putt Boats as part of our Heat Unit in Science and students were highly reflective and engaged in the self-reflection after they created their boats. What grade would they give themselves and why? What went well? Where could they improve and how? The degree of reflection and science terminology that came out was quite impressive.
I also use Metacognition Journals in math class were students reflect on their understanding of the day’s lesson and place them along the thinking scale (crystal clear, a bit cloudy, cloudy, and in a fog!). Valuable insights into student learning are provided and allowed the ‘quieter’ students to share their struggles they may not have shared. Moving forward, you could use google forms for the reflection pieces and exit tickets – saving paper and also allow more cohesive transfer of marks.
#4 – Collaboration...My class was fortunate to participate in projects with classes outside of our school walls. Participating in the Global Read Aloud we connected with a class from California where we were involved in online and google hangout discussions about the book: One For the Murphy’s. We also had time for sharing of cultures and customs. My students absolutely loved this experience. The real-world audience promoted their discussions to be more detailed as they had an audience outside of the classroom reading their responses. If you haven’t partipated in the Global Read Aloud – I highly recommend you do! Check it out at: http://theglobalreadaloud.com/
We also embarked on a cross-division (Grade 6 – 8) collaboration project using GAFE with 75 middle school students to hone in on the 4 C’s – Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication based on the Health Curriculum. The result? Engaged students (engages the unengaged), new purposes, and a typically ‘boring’ topic became exciting/fun. The learning didn’t just stop with the students, by collaborating with awesome colleagues/mentors @tvdsbmatthews and @pluggedportable I was able to learn from them and together we came up with 2 awesome projects.
As I end my reflections of this year I am grateful for all the lessons and learning this year brought. I can’t wait for new learning/adventures next school year.
What are your reflections of the school year? What went well? What could be improved? What are your lingering questions?