change

ocean under blue sky

Photo by Artem Bali on Pexels.com

Being a teacher is easy.

It must be nice to have your summers off.

You’re so lucky, you don’t have to work on the weekends.

You have such long holiday breaks!

If you are a teacher, you likely have heard at least one of these statements before, perhaps from friends and family, or from people you just meet, that respond with similar statements when they find out that you are a teacher. Are these statements accurate? Well, I guess to an extent, but there are some ways to counter these comments.

 

It can be easy to be a teacher, if you love what you do, it does not feel like” work.” I enjoy  working with students, learning with and from them, and having the opportunity to start fresh each day and create experiences to engage students in learning. Having the summer off is nice too, but most teachers I know either work in the summer, attend conferences, or pursue some professional development. The “summer off” is nice for providing a more flexible schedule, and a time to reflect, explore new things and prepare for the new school year.

And as for weekends, I am fairly certain that most teachers look forward to the weekend for many reasons. Of course, time with family and time to relax are important. But it is also a time to catch up on some grading, emails, or exploring new methods to bring into the classroom. So weekends without work, I don’t think they happen too much.

And the extended holiday breaks are nice as well. But again, many teachers use this time to reflect, recharge and prepare for the return to school.

So, What is the reality?

The reality of being a teacher is that teaching today can be quite challenging. Maybe in the past, the life of the teacher was perceived to be a pretty comfortable and easy profession. The typical school day of 7:00 to 3:00 or some variation, with weekends and holidays off and of course, that summer break. With those hours and that schedule who wouldn’t want to be a teacher? From the outside looking in, it might seem like each day is the same, right? Each passing year the same as the year prior. How could it be that difficult? Once you make a worksheet or a test you have them to use forever, right?  Lesson plans are the same, projects are the same, and folders full of worksheets and activities pulled from the file cabinet, simply copy it, teach it and then move on to the next day. Same. (hopefully not).

There may be some truth to this, as I’m sure there are some teachers who are teaching the same way that they were taught and/or are using the same materials each day with each class and then doing it all over again the next year. No judgments made.

To an extent, I myself was this type of teacher for a long time. Not because I was trying to take the easy way out or save time. Rather I was using some of the methods that worked for me when I was a student. I thought this was the right way to prepare. And sometimes I used some of the same materials each year because I thought there was value to them for student learning. I know that when I was a student, some of the same issues that exist today existed then (copying homework, cheating on tests), but we didn’t have the technology, which creates tremendous learning opportunities but it also takes away some opportunities as well.

Foreign Language Teacher vs. Online Translators

I thought that being a foreign language teacher meant that I was a member of a group that had a distinct battle not experienced by any other content area.  It took some time for me to notice some bothersome trends in student work. The copying of assignments, the use of online language translators, and even copying information directly from websites. So the struggle was to find a way for students to have authentic practice that would not encourage student copying or trying to take a shortcut with learning. But each year it becomes more and more challenging to stay ahead of technology in this sense. I don’t know the answer as to how to get students to stop copying homework other than to not assign homework. And this has been a very strong discussion as to the value of homework, the type of homework, and whether or not homework should even be given at all. #ditchthehomework (follow the hashtag)

 

I will not make a decision either way, other than to say that for me, I do assign some “practice” tasks for the students to do, but they typically don’t come in the form of a worksheet. And sometimes when we are working in stations in class, if students do not finish something, I do ask that they work on it until complete. But I do add, “at their pace.”  Instead, I encourage students to practice the content by playing a game of review using the Quizlet cards, sharing a Quizizz game or provide prompts for writing a blog post. And these are ongoing practice tasks that are due on a weekly basis or that I have students create to use in the class. Why? Because in doing this rather than assigning the same worksheet to each student to complete,  I know that it is more authentic, will provide students with personalized practice and it is not something that can readily be copied.

But recently I was rather surprised when I saw some students switching between screens on their computer while working in their practice workbook. (As a side note, I stopped assigning practice from the workbook for homework because of copying).

I thought that by having students work on the pages in class, during stations, that I could interact more and provide more one on one feedback and  give time for students to collaborate with their peers. I did not anticipate this “new” form of copying, until one day a few weeks ago, I caught a glimpse of a student switching screens on his laptop and then writing in the workbook. The process repeated and continued for a few minutes. From across the room I had an idea of what they were doing, but I gave it some time before I walked over. Hoping that I was wrong, and that it was not the website that provides answers to so many books and workbooks. (Still cannot believe what is available).

 

It was exactly as I had thought, one of the students was using that website, to look up and copy the answers for the workbook. While I understand that there can be comfort in having a resource to look at, especially when a student may be struggling with a concept, it is helpful to learn that you were on the right track. But I do have a problem when the answers to all questions in every book are so easily accessible and available to students. I know when I was in school, often our math teachers would assign questions opposite to the answers that were available in the back of the book. It was nice to have an option to look at some answers to do practice problems and see if we were working on them correctly, and there were times when I did wish that all of the answers were available. But it forced us to push through the challenges and solve the problems. There were struggles in the learning but that’s how we improved and kept going forward.

Simple lesson learned. In these experiences, and on a personal basis, you cannot or should not assign students the exact same thing if you can avoid it. Especially when teaching a higher level course or one in which students have the possibility to create, rather than simply consume. We need to give them more authentic opportunities to practice what they are learning. They need to create, not consume, be active, not passive, and have the opportunity to set their learning path and be curious in their pursuit of knowledge. This is how we prepare them for the future.

DEWEY

 

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

 3.5k

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

My first year of teaching with project-based learning provided as much learning for me as it did my students.

Each year when I head back to my classroom in the fall, I have many ideas of new methods, new tools, and some changes that I want to make in my classes. These changes and ideas are the result of attending summer conferences, reading new books, and maybe the most helpful, student feedback that I review over the summer.

The biggest change I wanted to make this year was to have my students really engage in Project-Based Learning.

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing “PBL”, but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom.

If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.

See also: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

2. Students–and parents–need to understand the process.

To get started, I sought out resources that I had learned about over the summer.

I learned that there are several different methods of doing PBL. The theme can be something created by the teacher, independently chosen by the students, or a combination of something in between. Because I had decided to implement PBL with my Spanish 3 and 4, I decided to follow an independent method, enabling students to pursue something of personal interest. The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience, a few of the great benefits of PBL.

The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience,  a few of the great benefits of PBL. This is difficult without students–and parents!–understanding how PBL works so they can buy-in, support, and believe in this ‘long-tail’ approach to learning.

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

I started by explaining the purpose of doing PBL, what I hoped would be the benefits of doing this in Spanish 3 and 4, and using the resources I found, shared the PBL elements with the students. I wanted to make sure they understood the process, as much as possible, from the start. I knew it would be a learning experience for all of us, requiring ongoing reflection and feedback.

In our classes, we use a few digital tools which help open up opportunities for communication and collaboration. We use Edmodo for our classroom website, messaging apps (Celly and Voxer), and have also used tools such as Kidblog for blogging and writing reflections, and Recap and Flipgrid for video responses.

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

I did my best to explain how to create an Essential Question (what TeachThought Professional Development calls ‘Driving Questions’), referring to resources I had found, as well as some books and educators for advice. I had struggled with crafting my own “Essential questions” in the past during curriculum writing and I knew this was an area that I also needed to work on.

What I learned is that Essential Questions are not answered with a yes or no, and answers are not easily found through a Google search. Essential questions will help students to become more curious, to seek more information, and in the process, develop their skills for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Essential questions drive the learning.

Last summer, I had read the book Pure Genius, by Don Wettrick, and had the opportunity to meet him during the Summer Spark Conference in Milwaukee. I also read a few other PBL books including  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide, by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Once we started, the students had many questions, and I answered as best as I could. However, because this was a new experience for me as well, I sought additional help.  Don Wettrick spoke to my students through a Skype call and later in the fall, Ross Cooper spoke with my students about crafting their Essential questions. Another great resource I consulted over was  Hacking Project-Based Learning book by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

See also: Using The QFT To Drive Inquiry In Project-Based Learning

5. Project-based learning is a team-effort.

We have gone through this twice so far this year, and are now focused on one final PBL theme. It has been a tremendous learning experience for my students and I have learned so much from them. We have covered many new topics related to culture, language, sports, family and traditions.

The students enjoy having the chance to be in the lead, to drive their own learning, and have become more reflective on their work and on this PBL process. I did make mistakes and continue to work on improving each time we do this. The availability of these PBL resources to guide teachers and students and other educators who offer support along the way has made all of the difference.

The most powerful part of this has been the feedback from my students. I asked for the positives, the negatives, what could be different, how could I help more, and they were honest and offered such great information.

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

What I have learned is that it really does benefit students and the teachers to offer these project-based learning experiences for students, to find out about their passions and interests. We learn more about them and from them through their PBL. Having students take over the classroom and present their information opened up so many new learning opportunities for everyone. This is truly a great way to see students empowered in their learning.

Overall, the students are pleased about the work they have done, the progress they have taken and are excited about this next phase. We reviewed the feedback, did a little bit more research, and had some planning conversations.

7. Project-based learning forces students to see learning differently.

We need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests when they learn. In order to prepare them for the real world, we should provide learning opportunities which connect them with other people, perspectives, and experiences.

The most difficult part for my students at the start of this was thinking about how they were going to present their information, and I kept telling them to work through the research part, gather their information first. I reminded them often to focus on the “what and why” part, and that the final product form would become more apparent as they progressed.

8. Patience is key.

I am pleased with having started PBL this year and I encourage other educators to consider implementing PBL in their classrooms. Yes, there can implementation dip. And without communication with students and parents and even our own colleagues, progress can be slow.

PBL is, however, a different approach to learning. It acknowledges that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints. It allows students to design and create and publish and reflect on and revise ideas, and this all takes time. Patience, then, is a critical characteristic of any successful–and sane!–project-based learning teacher! Given time, you’ll eventually help the students see the impact it has had on their learning.

 

TeachThought: Thanks to Terry Heick for publishing part two of this post.

Technology Can Make The Learning Process More Transparentby Rachelle Dene Poth

In my last post, Finding Out What Students Are Thinking: 10 Tools To Get Them Talking, I shared tools that can help promote student communication.

The additional benefit for using tools like these is that you can take what you hear and learn and the next day in class anonymously share some ideas to get the discussion going.

Even if you try to keep things anonymous, you will have the students who immediately fess up and say “yeah that’s mine,” because that’s just what the students do, which is okay because they are willingly sharing what they said.

And if it does come down to a right or wrong kind of question and that student is in fact incorrect, that’s an even better lesson–a better example for the other students in the classroom to show that it’s okay to answer something and to be wrong.

These are the experiences that build character and growth mindset and help students become more involved in their own learning path.

A Few More Tools: Communication Through Collaboration

If you’re looking for a way to have students speak more regularly about different topics, share their ideas, or be more involved in class discussions, you may want to consider some other format for “talking.”

Having students write in their own blog, where they can keep their responses private and you can respond directly, is a great way to learn about the students and what they are thinking. Having this communication format is also helpful with relationship building.

Through blogging, you can give feedback which helps to provide support for students and can help them to gain confidence. By building confidence in this way, they have a chance to become more open to and comfortable with sharing their ideas in class.

As teachers, any opportunity to share our own experiences, especially when we share experiences that reflect our fears of making mistakes and taking risks, is helpful to our students.  Showing that we are sometimes wrong is okay, because we are all are constantly growing.

Writing Spaces

So what about some tools?

Wikispaces is a social writing platform for creating an online space for collaboration. Creating a wiki might be a great way to have students collaborate together on a topic if they are working in small groups. Some options for collaboration are creating a page for a discussion, set up a pro/con debate, or a even class website. Students can build confidence and comfort by collaborating in this way.

Padlet is a virtual wall for posting thoughts, discussion, and more. It could also be another way for students to work together and build some of these skills for collaborating any time and anywhere.

Tools For Reflection & Feedback

Choosing the right tool comes down to what type of conversation you looking to involve students in.

Is it open-ended?

Do you want the students to speak out in class or do you want them to think about something, have time to process it and answer after class?

That’s the benefit of offering blended or flipped learning experiences. The conversations don’t have to end when class ends. The questions don’t have to be asked during class because teachers can set up questions after class using tools like these I’ve shared, or Let’s Recap.

Let’s Recap is a way to record a prompt, ask questions, and then have students respond through video. Teachers can then view the response or see the daily reel, and provide feedback to each student.

A tool such as TodaysMeet can be useful for a “backchannel” chat in class, or to open up discussion after the school day ends. Either way, it is another quick option to get the conversation going or to use as a way for students to ask questions.

The goal of all of these tools is to get them talking–to know what their thoughts are–so that we can help them grow.

Why Does Student Feedback Matter?

Teachers need student feedback to help guide our next steps and provide learning experiences which are meaningful.  We want our students to feel comfortable. Depending on the age group being taught, the content being covered, and whether the technology is available and accessible to the students, you can determine which of these tools might facilitate learning the best.

Using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. But using it to help students find their voice, learn more about what they want to do, what they can do, and what they are having trouble understanding does.

These tools and others like them, can help to connect those ends. And since learning feedback is critical to student growth, sometimes we need other methods for connecting with the students; this is when technology has a purpose.

Technology can expedite the feedback process and gives us real live results. We can give feedback to the students, the information is saved, and we can use it as a way to give a voice to those who would not necessarily be willing to use their voice in the classroom.

For now, maybe keep it simple. Start with the question, “What do I need to know about my students?”

Then look at these tools and others like them and start experimenting.

Posted in Edutopia Community Discussion, the second part of my thoughts on Homework Alternatives.

As a student in elementary and high school, I recall having homework assignments in most, if not all of my classes each night. I remember carrying home a lot of worksheets, lugging home several textbooks, and at times transporting poster board and binders back and forth to school.  We had a lot of tests, pop quizzes, and projects.  Most of the time, I remember the homework was the same for each student, in each class, and I cannot recall now nor do I even know if I was aware back then, of students doing different assignments. I understand why teachers assign homework which is the same, the purpose is to assess students on a particular skill, and maybe it just really works for that learning target. And some benefits for students are having a peer, to work through an assignment with or ask for clarification, can be helpful.  But it can also be detrimental, for a few reasons.  Students are not getting the practice they need by having the same assignment, and the possibility of students copying assignments is also something to consider.  Copying assignments leads to a loss of learning, and students will have to re-learn the material twice. There is a lot of discussion about the real value of and purpose for homework, and these are just a few of the pros and cons to consider.

 

Over the past few years, with the rise of technology and so many options available for learning experiences through it, solely using a worksheet or assigning the same homework does not have to persist. I have noticed variations in my students, both during our interactions in the classroom but also while grading assignments and projects, or even just reading the responses to their reflections or blogs.  For homework, some students can finish the worksheet in two minutes, possibly before the end of the class period, if time remains.  And there are others, who may struggle to complete the work and as a result, end up spending 20 or 30 minutes on the exact same assignment. So, I asked myself, how can I reach both types of learners, and provide opportunities that will be beneficial, meaningful, but more importantly more personal to their needs. How can I give each student the practice that they need?

Making some changes

So how did I decide to change the “everybody has the same homework” practice?  After a holiday break and taking some time to reflect over the first part of the year and talking with students, I decided to seek ways to give students options for the type of homework they wanted to complete.  I came up with two or three choices of how I could do this, and will admit, that I was a bit anxious, since changing the traditional homework assignments would involve taking a risk.  But I truly believed that it was worth it, to see what, if any difference it would make for my students.

The three options I started with were:

1.    Quizlet: I had sets of cards and as an alternate assignment, I asked the students to select and complete activities which they felt would help them the most.  Because we have a class account, I can monitor their progress and they have many options for practicing the vocabulary, playing games and other activities to build their skills.

2.    Kahoot!: We have played games of Kahoot! in class for the past few years, and initially I was using it as a class game, using games which I created. But I soon realized that making up so many quizzes was really time consuming.  While there are lots of public quizzes available, I wanted to have the questions be more specific to their needs.  So for a different type of homework assignment, I asked students to create their own Kahoot! game using a specific number of terms or verbs and share it with our class. This led to more authentic practice and a lot more resources for all students to learn from.

3.    Blendspace: I have an account with Blendspace, and I can create and share lessons that I have created which include videos, games, tutorials and much more.  As homework practice, I can decide to assign a particular lesson for students to work through or I can simply share the URL and provide resources and give students the choice to use the resources within the lesson.

4.    Other options: Some other ideas for changing the type of homework assignments used are to create a list of different assignments or tasks and give students some choices in how to practice the content material. They may decide to work through all of them, or simply use some, but the important thing is that the choice is theirs and the practice will be more meaningful. Assigning homework in this way encourages students to have a choice on where to begin, not all students have to do the same thing, and it helps to focus on their individual needs.

 

What did the students think?

The students appreciated having more of a choice in assignments.  Using these options gave them the chance to try some new ways of learning, which they were not used to, but it was a way to provide differentiation.  I know that having a lot of games available to play in class with Kahoot and the extra Quizlet study cards, benefitted all students. The one tricky part is being able to monitor their work, but this comes with developing the relationships and having clear expectations. Including students in the conversation and making sure we focus on the accountability and responsibility aspects will help. The students are more engaged, become more empowered by having a choice in their learning path.

We can use methods like this to focus on the areas where students need help the most. Personalizing the homework assignments in these ways can prove to be time consuming, as far as tracking their work, but it is completely worth it because of how beneficial it is to their learning. And that is what matters most.

How I Solved My Classroom Management Problems

Achievement unlocked: Making assignments and resources available to everyone, anytime.

Common Sense Education, posted on September 15, 2016

Rachelle Dene Poth

Classroom teacher, Technology Presenter

Students often have organizational problems. It’s an ongoing struggle, so I’ve always done the best I could to help them stay organized. Years ago, that often came in the form of a planner students were supposed to fill out with assignments, and I’d sign off on it.

There was one particular student with a planner whom I remember. The system worked well when she remembered the planner, but sometimes she didn’t.

On the whiteboard at the back of my room, I have a space where I write down the assignments for students. I keep my door open most days, so if they want to stop in and peek at the board, they can. I’m available anytime; the only thing I ask is that they kind of discreetly come in.

So, this particular student would appear in the morning during homeroom or at the beginning of class to check the whiteboard. Sometimes she got the assignment. But sometimes, what I wrote was erased. Anything can happen: Other students might erase it and write over it, for example.

Then her mom would send an email to clarify things — and I’m really good about checking email, but sometimes email doesn’t go through. And if you call me — well, we work with voicemail extensions so it’s not like there’s a direct line to me. You have to filter through the office, and I’m always available to talk, but obviously if I’m teaching class, I’m not reachable.

Other students would pop in to check on an assignment, or they’d want to stop by and pick up a worksheet. I have everything in my room set out, but students would put papers down, and things would get covered up. So it might not be easy to find.

Or, the students would come in and leave notes saying, “I stopped by to find out … ” or “I wasn’t sure … ,” and they’d leave me a note on the board or on my desk. But if I were going to be late or had a long meeting, I might not see those notes until the next day. And if my board was cleaned that night, I might not see them at all.

So again, the students came in to get help, and I wasn’t there.

That’s when I really started to ask, “What can I do?”

I thought the board was great because students could come in anytime, but that’s not accessible in the evening when they sit down to do homework. Planners are great, too, but what if you forget them or they’re lost? I was looking for something to fix a lot of these things I saw impeding the learning process. The lack of access to resources was really bothering me because I wanted to do more.

I first decided to use the messaging tool Celly to message my students. I used it to send reminders and answer questions. I could quickly respond to messages about homework or what was missed during an absence, and I didn’t have to use class time to help students catch up.

I use it with my Spanish club, too, and now there are other groups in the school that use it for field trips and other things. It’s really quite nice, because if you’re on the bus and you’re missing students, now you can reach them instead of waiting and wondering.

But students were still asking for help finding class materials and keeping them organized. I wanted some kind of assurance that everything was centralized and easy to find. And I hadn’t found an easy way to keep parents in the loop. I decided to give another tool a try: Edmodo.

It’s a web-based app, so students can use their phones to log in, or a computer at home if they don’t have a phone, or a phone with data. Students get a join code so they can join a class when I’ve created one, and parents get a parent code so they can sign up and see what I post to the class and see their kids’ work, the grade they got, and the comments I’ve made. They know everything we’re doing in class.

Usually students log in once a day. I post homework reminders and share links. One of the nice things about Edmodo is students can reply to a post I’ve made and ask a general question, and anyone in the class can answer. For example, if they forget something — a textbook or a worksheet — they can ask, “Can somebody please share an image of the homework?” They help each other out.

It helps me, too, because if a student has been absent for a day or more, they can easily go back and see what you did in class. It’s part of my routine now, and I have five courses. Generally if a student says, “I was absent three days ago. What did I miss?” I have some idea but I’m not exactly sure. So it’s nice to have that reference.

It’s more than just communication — it’s collaboration. And I keep thinking of new ideas I can use it for.

The first two assignments I gave my Spanish 1 and 2 classes this year were discussions on Edmodo. The first was on how they study and learn, with personal kinds of questions so I could get to know them and give them ideas. The second was to come up with five personal learning goals. I gave them a reply, and in a week or two we’re going to reevaluate: “You said you were going to study every day for 30 minutes. What happened?”

You can use it as a reflection tool or as a digital portfolio. If the students do a project with technology, they can put it on Edmodo, and we can go back to it to share learning.

These tools have made a tremendous difference in my ability to provide the best possible learning experience for my students — and that’s what I wanted. And bonus: They’ve made my life easier, too.