When you think about what to teach in a course, there are always certain components that come to mind like standards, learning intentions, objectives, essential questions, big ideas, success criteria, assessments, etc.
In the self-paced classroom all these factors are still there but there are added questions to consider since there will be students working far ahead, far behind, and somewhere in the middle.
In this situation, a few decisions have to be made when it comes to curriculum and it can change depending on your content. Here are the two big questions to consider:
Social Studies viewpoint
In my World Geography course this comes down to looking at my standards and deciding which of these are the most important. Many factors are at play in this. I have to consider how to help my teachers that are tested (American Government) and meet the hard to decipher and slightly nonexistent Missouri geography standards. If you have looked at them, you have seen how they are mixed in with other social students content. It is nice to have some freedom I would say not being tested, but I of course feel very passionate about my subject and want students to gain as much as possible. This makes it difficult to narrow down content sometimes.
I start by planning out what I would do for the middle of the road student. What would I plan out if I were to run my class like I had before and expect everyone to get through? That is where I start creating and planning out activities and resources for those students. I layout all of that out to see what I have.
Once that is done I turn my attention to planning for the students that move really slowly. This is when it really just comes down to deciding what you really want students to come away with in your class. In this scenario, it basically the same as when you modify for a special education student. Your school’s special education department would be a great resource for helping to come up with some handy ways to modify material. I have turned to mine so many times for ideas. With these students it usually comes down to making an assignment smaller and skipping some activities all together so that they can learn the essential material. It might mean making modified or smaller more concise assessments as well.
Then I turn my attention to the students that work faster than all of the others. This is more difficult for me. Basically I have two options:
Right now my philosophy is to have a bunch of projects for students as options to complete if they discover their grades are not where they want them and they want to complete one or more of them to boost their grade. It is enrichment for the content and potential for student choice in which projects are chosen for completion. There is also one project that is required for students to complete as well and right now I am hoping that will be enough for my fast students. I really won’t know until we get through this semester on how I feel about the process and what I want to change.
I honestly feel that if I am successful in creating an environment in my classroom that is really focused on learning and exploring our content, then students won’t be as concerned with the amount of assignments or projects they do in relation to someone else.
If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please comment and let me know. I will keep you updated on my progress.
All but one of my classes are co-taught with a high percentage of students with IEP’s that include math disabilities, extended testing time, and/or major ADD/ADHD/Anxiety issues that can take kids off focus easily or sometimes out of school for an extended period of time. But as many of you know, I still need to teach all of the kids in my class the same thing they would learn if they were in any of the other Geometry or Algebra classes.
I have the same standards/objectives to teach and all of the grades for any of our Algebra or Geometry students in our building come from assessments. Before becoming a self-paced classroom, test/quiz days were a wasted day. We would get started and either I would wait until everyone was finished to move on to the next lesson, wasting a ton of time for my students who breezed through tests, OR I would move on with the class and have my co-teacher finish testing those who needed more time in a separate area. Those kids would end up coming in during the lesson/activity with no clue what was happening and I would have to spend time catching each one of them up individually. It was a nightmare.
With all of this wasted time, I had to completely cut content out in previous years in order to make time to teach the “more important” objectives. I felt like a terrible teacher that was cheating my students. I had some kids that were lost and others that seemed bored. My self-paced classroom has completely changed this for me!
Again, the essential content for my classes are clearly defined in our objectives by course and each objective is broken down by target. It looks like this:
There are a lot of different resources I need to have ready for each target (another shout out for flippedmath.com for having most of these resources already made and available for free!). I am continuing to expand on the resources I offer for each lesson and I have some ideas for the future, but this is what I am currently working with:
Like Danielle said, you need to be prepared for students who need enrichment or accommodations.
When I have a student who is getting really far ahead of everyone else, I have two options:
For students falling behind, I offer tutoring outside of class time or I have them come see me during our intervention time at school. I still want all students to learn and earn a passing grade for each target.
Having all of the resources available to them means that they can get some help no matter where they are (at home, out of town, in school detention, etc.). After surveying our students, we found that they really loved the new method but they also communicated that the hardest part of it for them was that they were responsible for their learning. If they did their work and asked questions and used the resources, they could pass the quizzes. If they didn’t use their resources and wasted class time, they saw their grade plummet. As I was reading the responses I just kept thinking, “exactly!”
Another positive thing I’ve noticed is that students can communicate where they are in the content and what they’ve learned a lot better. They don’t want to waste time that they may have in a small group or one-on-one with you so they tell you exactly what they know or don’t understand and are eager to be able to show they can do it without any assistance. They are motivated to move on to the next lesson so it is in their best interest to actually learn and understand the material!
We all know that technology is a huge piece of the classroom today, but the big question that looms is are we using the technology for the sake of technology or is there some purpose behind it? It can be a hard transition from little to no technology to a 1:1 environment.
At our school, Joplin High School, we made the transition very suddenly six years ago after the tornado destroyed our school. The computers were a donation and the decision was made that we would not buy replacement textbooks. It was a very stressful situation for everyone involved.
Teachers and students now had to learn how to do school differently than they had ever before. There was not much in the way of training for our staff in how to manage a 1:1 classroom and there was this perception that the teachers had to change everything about their teaching style. Students struggled because they were not used to learning in a technology heavy environment.
What we learned in those first few years in the 1:1 environment, is that you have to have really solid classroom management and that you have to base your technology on good teaching pedagogy. We have been learning that using technology for the sake of technology does not help our students learn, but actually hinders learning and can do a number on our classroom management.
When deciding on what technology tools to use in the classroom, the first question I ask is how can this help the students meet our learning intentions? The technology needs to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t help the students, it could end up distracting them from actually learning what you want them to learn.
The second question I ask is how does this tool inform me about student learning? There are so many technology tools out there that are there to help teachers collect data on student learning.
I also recommend using the SAMR model for evaluating technology use in the classroom. Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This is a great way to check the reasons and plan for how you use your educational technology.
The point is for us to really evaluate the technology we use in the classroom and make sure that it serves a purpose and supports or extends the learning for our students.
As many you probably know though, all the questions in the world about use of technology, do not help if you do not have proper professional development to help you understand the technology and how to make the best use of it in the classroom. I have found that learning from your fellow teachers is one of the best ways and if you school is lucky enough to have technology learning coaches, they are a great resource to help. We also have a cohort at our school that gets together to learn about and work with educational technology and then we present at professional development days. It has been really helpful in encouraging teachers to explore educational technology, but also work on evaluating educational technology and how to use it in the classroom.
If you have any ideas for evaluating technology or ways for teachers to get together and learning about implementing technology in the classroom, let us know!
We are loving trying out the self-paced classroom, but it isn’t all sunshine and daisies.
Having a self paced classroom takes a lot of work. That being said, teachers are some of the hardest working people in the world so we know that isn’t enough to turn someone away.
The key to making a self-paced classroom easier on the teacher is putting in as much behind the scenes work ahead of time as possible. I (Becca) have been wanting to put together something like this since my first year of teaching but the thought of having all of the materials ready and making sure they were good quality was too daunting. This year a fellow teacher turned me onto a free online resource (flippedmath.com) and it was the game changer I needed!
This resource has good quality videos to assist with guided notes, practice problems, and solutions. My part was setting it up in our school’s learning management system (we use Canvas) in an easy to use way, adding supplemental resources, and creating assessments for each lesson/unit.
With a classroom of 30 freshmen through seniors taking Algebra, some having a hard time with the speed and others seemingly bored out of their minds with the pace, I wanted to start as soon as possible. I created the Canvas courses over the weekend and introduced it to my class the next Monday. It was great to get the kids started but I backed myself into a corner a little bit for the kids that sped through! In our math classes, the grades come solely from assessment grades. With this new method, student would take a 5 question test over each lesson and need at least a 4 out of 5 in order to move on. This required creating multiple versions of each 5 question quiz. Every night I was working on making quality assessments. My in class time was spent moving from student to student, answering questions or going over their assessment results. When I had two students get ahead of me, I asked them to help tutor others in class until I was able to make the assessment.
This semester I am joined by other Algebra and Geometry teachers trying this method so we have teamed up! We each took a chapter from our curriculum to write quality assessments so it doesn’t feel like such an overarching task! Now that my online course is built ahead of time, my time out of class is spent working on creating supplemental full class activities to help my class culture still feel like we’re all together. It is such a relief to be more focused on creating things I will do WITH my class instead of just the assessments.
My class (Danielle) is structured a little differently so front-loading means that I have to also have my online course created ahead time. Like Becca said, we use Canvas as a learning management system. In World Geography a self-paced environment is different than the math class because of the content structure. It is not really as linear as math is. I unfortunately did not have the resources that Becca had in flippedmath.com, so I have had to create most of my materials or borrow from other teachers and the Internet.
Here is an overview of what I have been creating for World Geography:
Here is what all that boils down to: I have all of the materials for a unit created and uploaded in canvas in advance or at least as far ahead as I can get. At the beginning of each unit students receive their unit checklist. I review the unit goals and outcomes with them, then they start working. Students work at their own pace through the material and I sign-off on their progress as they work through. As I check in with students I figure out where they stand on the goals and content. I use this information to plan my pull-out activities during a week. I have a list to pull from and then pick students that need to work on that area with me. Tuesday’s are typically reserved for remediation pull-out. Wednesday’s and Thursday’s, I work in a rotation through all students on a specific content piece or skill. On Monday and Friday, I am walking around the room checking on as many students as I can, reviewing work, and signing off on checklist progress.
Bell ringers are a great way to start class and get kids doing work as soon as they enter, but they don’t often get students excited about what they’re about to learn.
My student teaching coordinator, a former 4th grade teacher, had a great idea to get a lesson started. That didn’t stop me from trying it at the high school level! (P.s. it still worked and it’s awesome!)
It’s called, “What’s In The Box?”.
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