communications

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.

 

Posted on TeachThought, January 5, 2017

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This YearRachelle Dene Poth

There are so many digital tools available today to promote student learning in the classroom. The task is in figuring out what you need for your classroom. What could benefit your students the most?

Over the past year, I took as many opportunities to learn as I could, spending time gathering information from reading books and blogs, staying active through social media in Twitter chats, Voxer groups, and by attending many conferences, both physically and virtually. I created long lists of new ideas, new tools, and created new accounts for many digital tools and tried as many as I could.

12 Tools That Made The Biggest Difference In My Teaching This Year

Communication, Collaboration

Technology can help give students a voice, where otherwise they may not be willing to or want to respond, especially within the traditional classroom space.  Here are the tools that changed our classroom this year and why.

1. Recap recap pioneer badge 2017 (1)

A video response tool that can be used for many purposes including formative assessments, student reflections and for sharing student work with parents. One of the biggest benefits of using Recap is that it provides a comfortable way for students to connect with their teachers, to share their ideas, thoughts or reflections, in a way which promotes student voice.

After using Recap with students for assessments, for providing their feedback to me about what they liked and did not like about class, and more, I could see that they were comfortable being able to speak freely, in their own space. I like being able to ask questions, provide different prompts, give feedback, and receive the daily reel that Recap compiles, to make reviewing it an easy process.

2. Voxervoxer

I found out about Voxer after being invited into a group created for ISTE Denver 2016. It started with a group on Facebook, and led to the implementation of Voxer as a means to connect everyone, build excitement for the conference and much more. I was amazed with the diverse uses of Voxer, ranging from individual conversations, a specific topic focused chat focused, a book study and much more.

Becoming more familiar with the different uses  got me to thinking how I could use it as a way to be accessible to students when they needed help with assignments. I had already been using various platforms including a messaging app and an LMS, but thought I would try Voxer out with a small group of students. The students loved it and used it for a few Spanish projects and even on a personal communication basis. After some time reflecting, I thought it could probably be a good tool to use for speaking assessments and to get the students involved in having conversations in Spanish with each other.

There are many uses for Voxer in general, but as an educator, it can be a good way to become more connected, receive and provide support for colleagues and students.

3. PadletPadletBlended

Padlet, which is equated to being a virtual wall, kind of like writing on a bunch of post it notes, has emerged as quite the multi-purpose tool in my classroom. What initially began as a way to have back-channel discussions, emerged as a means to communicate with other classrooms on Digital Learning Day, to have students quickly research and post pictures for a fun class activity, to curate student projects for easy display in the classroom, and even for students to use to create a project which included activities and multimedia links.

The uses keep emerging and I’ve found that sometimes it’s best to turn to the students for some extra ideas of how you can use some of these tools in your classroom.

4. PiktochartPIKTODash

A tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, presentations and more, Piktochart has become one of the tools that my students enjoy because they find that it is easy to use and enjoy the options which enable them to really personalize and make their project authentic. I have used it to create visuals such as birthday cards, classroom signs, Twitter chat graphics, and also for creating presentations for conferences. Regardless of what your needs may be, if you want to give students an option to create something visually engaging, personal to their interests and which enhances their creativity, according to my students this is something that you should try.

5. Vismevisual-storytelling-in-the-classroom-1024x590

Several of my students who have been very hesitant to use anything other than traditional presentation tools through Google or Microsoft Office, have found Visme to be a tool which encouraged them to take some risks and try new things this year. Students had to create a timeline about their summer, or basically anything they wanted, as a back to school project. At first, several asked to use something different, but they quickly found how easy it was to create something and have fun in the process.

Several students enjoyed it so much that they contributed to two blogs about the use of audio and the benefits of it for education as well as other areas. (hearing from the student’s perspective, and seeing them featured for their work was a great experience). So if you want to try something more engaging that promotes creativity, helps to build those vital technology skills and also lets students have fun in the process, then this could be a tool to try in the new year.

You can create infographics, reports, presentations, social media flyers and more. It is an easy drag and drop tool, that encouraged those “hesitant” students to take some risks and try new things. Check out Visme’s video series for “how-to” information!

6. Nearpodnearpod4

This is one of the game changers in my classroom this year. After many years of using the same Spanish reader in Spanish III, I wanted to add to the learning experience of students by enabling them to see some of the locations described in the book. I had found many videos and magazines, but I found Nearpod to be a much better way to really engage students in the lesson. Not only did students enjoy the lessons because of the interactive nature of it, they were overwhelmed by the ability to become immersed in the virtual field trips and feel like they were in the places they read about in the book.

I knew it was working when those students who were constantly watching the clock move were the last to leave the classroom. The only thing that made this better was when students created their own lessons and took over the classroom, becoming the teachers and giving me the opportunity to become the student and experience it from their perspective. There are many uses for this in the classroom: interactive lessons, multiple question formats, ability to upload content, assigning a lesson for practice and more.

It is definitely worth taking some time to try out, even looking over some of the lessons available in the Nearpod library, and asking your students what they think. And the Nearpod for Subs is AMAZING!

7. FormativeGoForm

A tool that can be used for having students complete formative assessments either live in class or as practice outside of the classroom, and a great way for teachers to get students more involved and be able to provide real-time feedback so that they can continue their learning process. Formative is a tool that has gone through many tremendous changes and improvements throughout the course of this year which make it a great tool for teachers to use for assessing students.

Formative is another tool that my students enjoy using because of the individual benefits of having feedback sent instantly and directly to them, being able to “show” their work or have their answers corrected immediately. It has been a way to create a more interactive classroom and also another tool which I have used to flip roles with students so that I could also learn from their perspective. It is something which students ask to use and which they are excited to tell others about, which is why I know that it is having a positive effect in my classroom.

Join #formativechat on Monday nights

8. QuizizzQuizizz1

A way to involve students in game-based learning in the classroom and also to provide more personalized instruction, based on the feedback you receive when students participate in a live lesson, or when you assign it as a homework practice assignment. I have enjoyed seeing students create their own Quizizz games, which I have found provides more focused practice for the students because they choose the material they need to practice.

Another benefit is that it also enables me to share these resources with the class and with individual students who may need some extra practice There are many features offered by Quizizz, and if time is lacking for creating your own Quizizz, you can gather questions and edit from all the public ones available. Try the game with your students and see what they think, and use their input to help plan the next game!

9. Buncee

The first time I created my own Buncee, I was amazed by the number of choices available for adding elements into my creation. I found myself thinking about how much the students would enjoy creating using it and having so many choices available. I have some students who like to “dab” every time they get an answer correct and so I quickly realized they would really love the fact that they could add a dabbing dancer into their presentation.

I created a Buncee for our annual Open House and was able to record my voice and add extra elements in from the diverse library of choices.  Being able to create a Buncee like this, is a great way to share the information with parents who may not be able to attend. I had students create projects with themes ranging fr9. om a medical chapter to a lesson on teaching verbs and more. Students love the choices and the ideas for how we can use this tool keep growing. But the best part of it is that it enables every student to find something to add into their project and to bring out their creativity. And it definitely builds confidence with a lot of fun in the process.

10. Blendspace TES Teach

A few years ago I found “Blendspace” and it was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted an easier, more reliable way to share some websites with students to use for practice during and outside of the classroom. I had been doing this, by typing the links on paper, but the problem was that deciphering the link (between i’s, l’s, for example) sometimes made it a bit challenging. So when I started using Blendspace, now “TES Teach,”  it was simply as a way to put activities and resources into a lesson and share one link which would open an entire page full of possibilities for enhanced learning.

But over this past year I have found many more uses for it, ranging from providing an asynchronous lesson, curating professional resources, storing student projects for easy presentation in class, and mostly for the simplicity of building a digital lesson full of multimedia resources, from scratch to share with students and colleagues. Creating a lesson is easy to do and can be done quickly when using the TES resources or when adding your own content.

Students can also use it to create their own presentations and this is a great way for them to incorporate a variety of media and to have everything available in one “lesson” using one tool. Accounts are free and you can have students join your class through a “pin” or Google Classroom or through a link. Teachers can also look at the lessons available through TES Teach and try some in the classroom.

11. Storyboard ThatSToryboardCH

Storyboard That is an online tool that is used to create storyboard and provide a way for students or anyone to tell a story in a comic strip presentation Style. You can create by choosing from so many different characters props background scenes comma speak Bubbles and so much more. It is easy for students to create as this work as a drag and drop tool. It is a lot of fun for students to be able to really personalize the characters and create a very authentic and meaningful representation of the story they are trying to tell.

There are many characters and backgrounds related to specific times in history, you can change the color of the characters, their clothing, adjust their movement and more. It’s really nice for the students because they can customize so much according to their personal needs which really enables them to be creative and have fun and be more engaged in their learning.

Another benefit is that by having an account with school, there are lesson plans and examples available that can really help to see how to integrate StoryboardThat into your classroom, or really into any type of setting, to communicate information in a more visual, creative and innovative way. Another nice feature is that students can use it to present in class and have it presented similar to a power point.

12. BloomzApp bloomz1

Bloomz is a tool which I began using at the end of the past school year, to see how it could enhance my classroom and open up more communication with parents. Bloomz offers a lot of great features, integrates the features of a messaging app, LMS, an event planner and more. It even provides translation capabilities with translation into 84 languages. Teachers can quickly create an event, share permission slips, create a sign-up sheet, track RSVPs, send reminders, and share photos and videos with parents.

Bloomz also enables teachers and parents to communicate instantly, privately, and as often as needed each day throughout the year. It recently added the features of a student timeline for building a digital portfolio to share with parents, as well as a behavior tracking program, for communicating about student behavior and providing positive reinforcement.

Conclusion

Even with all of the great digital tools available, we have to make some decision about what will work the best for our classrooms. What is the purpose for the implementation of technology? In looking over this list, are there any that you think might help to enhance, amplify or facilitate student learning in a more beneficial way than what you are currently doing in your classroom? Determining the answer is the first step, as we know that using technology just to use it doesn’t make sense. However, when we use technology in a way that enables us to help students find their voice, discover more about what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with, makes sense. These are some of the tools which helped my students and had a positive impact on our classroom and learning experiences this year. To get started with the new year and some of these tools, my advice is to simply choose one of these tools and try it out.  See how it goes and be sure to ask your students for their feedback as well.

Encouraging Creativity and Innovative Designs

Students Share Their Stories

By Rachelle Dene Poth

 

Thank you Storyboard That for the opportunity to share our story!
Find this and other great teacher resources in our Education Blog!

Storyboard That is a tool which offers many opportunities, not only for education, but for anyone looking to share information, tell a story, or produce a product in a more visually engaging way. It is a very authentic tool that promotes critical thinking, communication, and creativity. It fosters innovation in designing and empowers students in the learning process. Students take control of how they show what they have learned and can now do with the material, in their own personal way. Each of these opportunities help to promote the integration of the new ISTE Student Standards.

By using Storyboard That, students are able to select from so many templates with diverse options for themes, backgrounds, characters, text, props, and more. The tool applies to any level and any content area quite easily. It offers so much, that providing students with opportunities to express themselves and apply their learning in a unique way that is more meaningful, is easily done.

Some Options for Classroom Use of Storyboard That

There are so many possibilities for having students complete a project with Storyboard That. Teachers can use one of the many lesson plans available to implement with their classes. Whether you teach History, English, Foreign Languages and more, Storyboard That is a great option to provide to students, it will appeal to students because of the variety of options available to express creativity and promote student choice and voice.

Deciding how to best use digital tools can be challenging at times, but a good place to start is to hear directly from the students. Involving the students in the classroom decisions and then asking for reflections on their experience with using the tool helps educators to understand if and how technology is enhancing their learning process. Asking students to share the ease of creating with it, how it enhances or amplifies their learning and in general, what their perspective is about this particular tool, are important to include in teaching practice.

Students as Advocates

Several of my students have used and become advocates for the use of Storyboard That and share the impact it has had on providing more meaningful learning for them and their classmates. Celaine and Emma have created with it and produced visually engaging projects that have enhanced their learning.

Celaine has used this tool for many projects as well as for conference presentations over the past few years. She has become an advocate for its use, for teaching others how to use it at conferences and at school, and serving as a role model for other students with a positive message of the benefits of technology for learning. Here are her thoughts on why you should try Storyboard That and what you can expect from its for learning in your classroom:

Before I started using Storyboard That, my school assignments were rather dull. I tried to put my own personal touches into every slideshow presentation that I made, but after a while it got boring just typing text onto a slide, adding photos and animations etc. When I found Storyboard That, my educational mindset flipped 180 degrees. Now I could finally have some say in my assignments and showcase my personality by creating something that showed exactly what I pictured in my mind. Plus, I actually enjoyed doing my school work again because there were so many ways that I could personalize my assignment. I could choose characters and make them look any way I wanted them to. I could even choose from a variety of backgrounds that date from medieval times to mythical times to the present. That is what I love about Storyboard That: it allows anyone to create a visually appealing presentation in a unique format that will engage students in their learning and allow teachers to learn about/from their students.

In Spanish 3, students were to create a project using chapter vocabulary related to the medical field and had the task of telling a story, using any tool for their project creation. Emma has also participated in several technology showcases and is an advocate for having choices in project tools and how beneficial these tools can be for learning. Emma decided to use Storyboard That to create her medical story, selecting from the diverse backgrounds to really bring her story to life. Emma shares her thoughts on Storyboard That:

Storyboard That has given me the opportunity to truly personalize and create projects exactly the way I would like. It has endless possibilities for creativity and imagination. I really enjoyed using Storyboard That because it enabled me to put so many different things into the medical project. I was able to type anything into the search box and get back some great options, that were exactly what I was looking for. For example, I searched the word “pumpkin” and I got back multiple pictures of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns so I was able to have choices and find the perfect picture. I found Storyboard That to be the perfect choice for the medical project because, as with most of our projects, this one did not require too many specifics. The requirements were mostly just to be creative and have fun as long as we use the proper vocabulary and verb conjugations.

I have noticed that other web tools do not offer the same amount of options that Storyboard That does for project and presentation making. Some other web tools seem to be limited in the offerings for backgrounds and templates that you can use. Also, I have noticed that it can be a little confusing and difficult to understand some of these other tools. With Storyboard That, it is very easy and simple to figure out how to put in your own backgrounds, characters, images, animations, etc. Storyboard That has made project making a lot more fun.

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.