learners2leaders

 Toward the end of this past school year, I noticed a quick decline in homework completion, student progress and motivation. I knew that it had been a very busy final few weeks full of testing, athletic events, and much more, and thought that I should work on ways to engage the students more, try some new things in class, and finish the year strong. So I used that time to test out some new tools, offer some new opportunities and different choices to the students. I found myself allowing for more spontaneity in our learning, taking a few more risks, and asking the students for more input into what they wanted to do and how they wanted to learn. It became part of my “staying strong till the finish” experiment, which included mixing up the seating arrangements, giving students opportunities to teach class, choosing how to show what they had learned and more. With positive responses, I then shifted to another area which concerned me and that was homework.
Do we need to assign homework?
As a student, I always had homework and it was always the same as everyone else. We did worksheets, or outlined chapters, or had some other task. When I first started teaching, I found myself teaching similar to how I had been taught. Homework was assigned to my students on most days, and on most days it was the same. For a very long time I did not see any problem with this, I was using the homework to assess the students and give them the practice they needed to master the content. But as part of my professional development and interest in trying new methods and focusing more on student needs, I realized that it does not have to be the same. So I shifted my focus to evaluating the types and the frequency of homework assignments that I was giving to my students.
Over the past few years, I have changed my thinking, looking for ways to move away from those “one size fits all” assignments and aim toward providing more personalized, authentic assignments for my students. Some other reasons are that students can possibly find answers online, or worse, copy the homework. And as a language teacher, I also wanted to find ways to discourage students from using online translators. These experiences, along with feeling a bit frustrated about the homework not being completed, led me to really try some new methods at the end of the year. And have led me to really think about what types of homework I will have for the upcoming year. It is an ongoing learning process. Some areas that I have been reflecting on are: the types of assessments used in my classroom, my different groups of students, the frequency of their homework completion, and even more closely, a look at the individual students within each of the classes. My goal is to continue to reflect on whether or not the type of instruction and the strategies I am using, are beneficial to them and if what I am assigning truly has value and is helping to build their skills, or is it simply busy work.
Questions I asked myself I have been thinking about a few areas of my teaching. What are the types of materials use in class? Have I been using the same resources each year with each class? Was I assigning the same homework to each class? There are times when I had used the same worksheet, or a test over the years. Not because I was lazy, but rather, because it was a quick assessment to use or I believed it was the best way to provide the students with practice. But I have been working to find something that would work best for and help the students. And I have realized that it is more than taking a look at each individual class, it means really developing an understanding of the needs of each individual student. What helps them to learn the best? What do our students want and need from us?
An experiment
I do believe in the value of homework and I know that students today have a lot of homework each day. Homework is one of the ways to help students to practice and evaluate what they know, what they don’t know and how they can improve. It is one of many ways teachers can assess students and learn about their needs, provide instruction and valuable feedback. To change things a bit, I decided to make things more personal and have the students decide what they could do for homework.
I assigned each student to be the teacher for the next class period. The students were working in pairs and their homework was to come to class the next day with a lesson to teach. It could be something tangible such as a worksheet or could be a website, a video, a game, or any other resource. I was fine with whatever they chose as long as they could use it in class and more importantly, that they could teach their partner. I thought this would be a great way for the students to have more meaningful learning and also build relationships and collaborative learning skills. And in the process, also see there was more than one teacher in the room.
The results
During the lessons, I interacted with each group to see the lessons they prepared. Students had created worksheets, written notes, brought flashcards, had games and videos and more. A few even created a game for their partner to play. But what was most important was that they sought out resources, they had an opportunity to teach someone else and their homework was personalized not only for them, but also for other students. It went well and they were enjoying it and learning. I was nervous about doing this, about not having clear expectations, and leaving it up to the students. It was a risk. But it went very well and I was impressed with how creative they were, their level of engagement, and the variety of “homework” that had been done.
The student responses
I value student input and regularly engage them in informal conversations because I want to know their thoughts. Did they learn? Was this an effective way to practice? It was a very positive experience and the end result was that the students became teachers, the learning was more personal, they felt valued, and it was meaningful and beneficial to their learning experiences. It is a risk and when you don’t necessarily have the whole plan set out, and you just kind of go with it, you might be surprised at the results. Giving up some control to the students is not always easy, but in doing this, it opened up more opportunities for facilitating their learning, providing more individualized instruction and continuing to build those relationships which are the foundation of education. I still have some time before the new school year and I am looking forward to trying more ideas like this, which give students more control and provide diverse learning opportunities.
There are a lot of great tools out there and students really like having choices in the classroom and learning new ways to use technology that helps them to develop their language skills.

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Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

Technology provides ways for students to learn anywhere and at any time, and affords the possibility of providing learning at a pace that is comfortable for each student.

Teachers can teach students from inside the traditional classroom, “the brick-and-mortar” as it is called, or from other places anywhere around the world. Lessons can be pre-recorded and shared or streamed live, and students can access these types of tools at any time and refer back to them as needed. The availability of tools which lend themselves to more interaction between the teacher and the students–and the content can continue, in the mind of the student, to grow.

There are many options available and the best part is that with so many choices, it is possible to find something that meets the needs of each class and each student. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and can provide opportunities for the students to take on the role of teachers and to create their own lesson and lead. Students can create with these tools and share lessons with the class, thereby increasing the resources available to all students. Or simply use the opportunity to become the creator, as a way to help them learn the material in a more meaningful and authentic way.

They Can Learn Anytime, Anywhere

The use of technology can mean that learning is no longer confined to the traditional time and setting of the classroom. In this way, it opens up the learning environment to anytime, anywhere–and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well.

Teachers and students can access so many resources to teach the content and to help understand and then apply the knowledge they have gained. And when students are given choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued, and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made personal to them. Given support, students can find resources that meet their needs, and teachers can also use these resources to find out what the student needs are.

With the multiple ways to assess students using digital tools today, teachers can have the data instantly, through live results, and can provide feedback to students when they need it the most. Students can take this information and then build on their own skills, and when they can’t or choose not to, you know where to start when helping them and their families growing as master learners.

It Give Them Choices

The timing and quality of learning feedback is critical for growth to happen. Students can also make choices about what types of activities they want to use and therefore are more empowered in their learning and can self-direct. If you give some of the control and leave the decision making to students to choose how to show what they have learned, or let them design their own homework assignment, they have the chance to be more empowered, and build momentum that can endure after the unit is over.

Giving students opportunities to work with each other and take on a new role, such as that of a teacher, enables you to also provide more one-on-one feedback. Teachers can become more of a facilitator and move around the classroom and learn more about the students and their needs, and also build relationships in the process. Relationships are key to student growth, and choice can be a significant boost here.

It Can Help Them Find Resources More Relevant To Them

One of the advantages of digital tools is that it can make some things more accessible; anytime, anywhere access to information, past work, groups, experts, and more are not the only benefit of technology. The resources and materials have more of an opportunity to stay up-to-date, and there are many so choices that each student can find something that is relevant to them.

 

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics