Projects are awesome! I am one of those teachers that loves to do as many projects as possible. The unfortunate thing is that I struggle fitting in all of my project ideas within my short semester timelines. I feel like for every unit I have over the years come up with 4 or 5 projects that I have tried at different times. The struggle is that every student likes different types of projects and as teachers we are trying to reach as many different types of learners and interests as possible.
The solution to this that most of us have figured out is to give our students a list of project options to choose from. Students like this because they have the ability to make a choice in their learning and what they focus on within your parameters. Teachers like it because typically students take the project more seriously and care more about the project overall since they had the ability to choose what they work on.
Project choice options are another tool that teachers can use in the student-directed classroom or as a tool to differentiate assessments in your classroom. There are a lot of pieces in creating quality projects and structuring those options for your students. Here are 5 tips and things to think about when creating your project options:
Spring break is either happening or coming up soon for most of us. What are you doing with your time off? Hopefully you are doing at least one of these things.
1. A fun craft or recipe
Do something that is totally you! Make one of those pinterest recipes or crafts you saved back in August and haven't had time to do. You have time for this week and then probably not any more until May. Use this time to accomplish something just for you- and it doesn't need to be something for your classroom, feel free to save those for June!
2. Binge watch that show you've heard so much about.
I love hearing from others about shows they've found on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. that are binge-worthy. Now is the time to try one out! Find a comfy spot and relax!
3. Read a book.
There are plenty of great educational books you can read if you're looking for some ideas to try when you head back to school but you could also spend some time reading something completely unrelated to your job. It's Spring BREAK! I plan on reading a few books and only ONE of them is school related. I know, such a #Rebel.
4. Spend time with friends or family.
Teaching takes a lot out of you and sometimes our friends and family don't get the attention we'd like to give them. We have a few days off this week to not think about school. Take that time and give at least some of it to your friends and family. Invite a friend over for that binge-watch session or take them/your spouse lunch if they don't have spring break. Do a craft with your kids or plan a date night. You have time this week, use it on the people you love!
Some of use won't be able to resist the urge to use Spring Break to go work on our classroom and break goes by way too fast. If you have the opportunity, get out of the area! Out of sight, out of mind! I have a couple of friends who started planning a Florida trip back in November and I am so glad they did! We will only be gone for a couple of days out of Spring Break but I know that those days are already dedicated to friends and relaxation. It forces the much needed break on those of us who may not use it otherwise.
6. Stay up late!
Teaching is EXHAUSTING. My husband if always making fun of how early I go to bed but almost all of the teachers I know are heading to bed around the same time. We're tired from the day and we know we have to be up and on for the kids tomorrow...not the case on Spring Break! This is the week to stay up with your friends, kids, or spouse and live it up! You can sleep in tomorrow!
7. Sleep in!
Get some extra rest this week. Sleep in or take a nap - we don't get to do this normally. This is the week to stock up on sleep before we hit that crazy 4th quarter!
8. Get some alone time.
We are around people a lot. Whether you teach Kindergarten or Seniors, it can sometimes feel like we are at the beck and call of 30-180 students. Even if you are a mom with little ones to play with over break, take some time for just you. Spring Break marks the 3/4 mark in the school year for most of us and sometimes that last quarter is the craziest. Take some time for yourself before you head back into the chaos.
9. Do something you can't do during the school year.
Yes, we have the summer but that is still 2-3 months away! And that is a long freaking time when you are trying to teach 20-180 students who are itching for summer break themselves. Find something you're looking forward to for summer and have a little taste of it this week.
10. Get outside and get active!
Hopefully the weather is nice for break...regardless, find something active to do for at least one day of the break. Enjoy some sun if possible and get moving no matter what! Even a 5 minute dance party would work! Just move. Don't let your break fly by without DOING something or you'll go back to school more tired than you were before!
To pretest or not pretest? I don't really think that is the question teachers ask anymore. It seems to be standard practice to give students a pretest at the beginning of the school year or semester at the very least. The question really is are we using those pretests effectively?
I will admit that I was really not one of those people that was using pretests like I should. I was only giving one pretest that was too large at the beginning of the semester. I always looked at the overall results, but I didn't really look at the individual student results and I really didn't change my teaching style or material based on those tests. I also never asked questions about what students thought about the topic I was pretesting them on. I knew I really wasn’t using pretesting very effectively but honestly I was afraid of the workload that I thought would be created if I was really analyzing my pretests. Then I read a book (Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design) that reinvigorated my drive to better myself (read more about that here) and one of the things I wanted to delve into was using pretests more effectively.
What I took away from the book was how you don’t want to be teaching in the dark, which really stuck with me. Why would I not want to know what my students already know and why wouldn’t I want to use that for my teaching. It was I would call a "duh" moment.
That was all took to get me to dive into how I was going to use pretests more effectively. From there I used stories from the book to guide me and pieced together what I wanted to do with it.
How I scheduled my pretests
I have broken my content down into 3 sections so I am going to have three pretests at different points in the curriculum which I have based around my units.
Here is a break down of my class to show you what I mean:
I decided to not give a pretest on my first unit because that is the one that sets up my entire course and I feel it is important for the students to complete it. It allows me to see how students work towards a deadline and get a feel for them as students. It also allows me to review the results and implement them.
My plan with pretesting was to use the results to decide what activities students would need to complete in order to show proficiency in my standards and objectives and add elements of personal choice/interest based on what they said in the pretest. In my class students have a certain amount of flexibility in how they progress through a unit in terms of time and mode of learning. I refer to it as student-directed and self-paced (see more about how I do that here). In the beginning it was really just self-paced but as I have progressed it has really been about teaching students content but also working on the skills of learning and working students in small groups as opposed to large groups unless it is needed. Now I am adding more options in assessments and creating a personalized experience based on their pretest results.
Makeup of the pretests
When creating the pretest I was looking to have 2-3 questions per content focus for the unit. My goal was to have no more than 25 questions. Then I asked some opinion style questions to see how they felt about the material from this unit. The questions I ask were:
I went with these questions to see how much they valued their environment and what current biases and points of view they have about the environment and how humans use the environment. I will say that asking these questions gave me some valuable insight into my students and what they think about the topic. It was able to highlight issues and create connections that I am not sure would be seen in a typical multiple choice test.
Reviewing the student data
Once the students took the test I had the part that honestly I was dreading: reading through every test. I will say that I am super lucky in that my district uses canvas which allows you to create a spreadsheet broken down by student. The only problem was that I wanted a single 1-2 page breakdown of the test results for each student so I could review it with the students and not show them anything but their own results.
Luckily I have an amazing husband that happens to a spreadsheet genius and helped me organize my results by student with only the important information and helped me print it so it would be useful. Unfortunately I didn’t ask him right away to help with that and was trying to create a page form that I was going to hand write the results on for each student! I was creating so much more work for myself. My co-blogger is going to read this, roll her eyes and laugh, because she is also a spreadsheet genius. (Yes, you should have called me! Plus I guarantee one of the Alice Keeler spreadsheet add-ons would help with the process...next time! haha!- Becca)
Once I had my results printed and ready to review, all I did was highlight the areas of weakness so when I went to review with the student it would be easy to see what areas we needed to work on.
I also looked for patterns in the pretests. What I noticed was that I had three groups of students: students that were weak in the unit as a whole, students that were in the middle needing some review, and the students that were advanced in their knowledge of the material already.
The changes I Have seen in my classes
As students turned in their final assignment from the 5 Themes of Geography unit, I pulled them aside to review their pretest and their HEI checklists (see more about how I use checklists here). As we talked I highlighted the portions of their checklist that they needed to complete. Most students even if they scored advanced had some things that they couldn’t get out of. I usually have at least 2 formative assessments embedded into the unit to make sure they are getting the material before they get to the summative assessment. They could not get out of those and they could not get out of their textbook readings because we are working on reading and notetaking skills.
I used the opinion questions to guide our class bell work activities and added some of the topics they picked out as important to our assignments and have been making sure to talk about them as we work through content. It has been really nice to have those conversations with students and the students have responded pretty well because they can’t dispute the results and they appreciate that I have taken their answers and opinions into account.
So far I would say that really making use of my pretest has been very positive. It definitely has caused some extra work for me because I have to be on my game even more and have extra activities planned for students that need extra support or enrichment, but I feel like I am creating a more student-directed learning environment where students have more ownership in their learning and they know that I am considering them when I am creating materials for the class.