This summer our goal is to talk about professional development and how to grow our practice over the summer break. We will post resources and ideas we have about growing as teachers. To get us started try this quiz to see what you need over this summer!
The self-paced classroom may not be for everyone and we can definitely understand that, but we do think that it can be adapted to many different types of classes, grade-levels, and contents.
One of the great things about the self-paced classroom is that the teacher gets to decide how self-paced the class is. It really is a fluid concept where you can take different teaching practices like guided practice, individual practice, project-based learning, cooperative learning, lecture, and mix and match them to create the class environment that works best for your students. Once you put together the types of activities and match them with resources, you can decide the criteria for students working by themselves and the extent or level of self-paced learning you use. Self-paced learning doesn’t necessarily have to be the only structure in place for your classroom. There can be days that are whole group, large group, or small group. You can have a unit, project, or specific skill be self-paced. This is really where the differences come in on the grade level you work with. Let’s explore the differences from our perspective on making self-paced learning work for the different grade-levels.
In the elementary classroom, self-paced learning seems to fit the best in the upper grades. Self-paced learning does require a certain degree of self-awareness and ability to self-direct that the really young say kindergarten and 1st grade may not have yet. That doesn’t mean that it can’t work, but it may be more challenging.
One way that self-paced learning could be done in the elementary classroom is having certain projects or subjects be self-paced while other are done in the more traditional style. You could have a self-paced reading project or a self-paced math skill building unit. That seems to me the beauty of elementary. When you spend all day with the students, you can chunk your time in different ways depending upon your goals.
Another way self-paced can be used is to make it a privilege to work at their own pace. Students that show they can be self-directed can attempt the self-paced environment and the rest of the class can be done as group learning. Then in a student begins to show that they cannot handle being self-directed then they can rejoin the group learning.
For middle school level it similar to the high school level in that your day is structured differently. You now have 7 or 8 distinctly timed classes and you travel to different environments for each class. Teachers in this scenario have only one content to think about and a specific time limit to each class period, but the question of how to use self-paced learning is the same so the above examples still apply.
Middle school and high school teachers really have to think about their content, what they are covering and the time they have with their students. Do you have 45 minutes classes, block scheduling, or a mix of both?
When looking at specific contents, it again comes down to how you want to use it. It can be a privilege, it can be for specific projects that go alongside your curriculum or it can be the way you operate your class as a whole.
We are proof that you can make it work in contents that are very different from each other (math and social studies). The key to making self-paced learning work for you is asking yourself if you are ready for a change and if you are ready to commit to building the materials needed for self-paced learning.
Do you use self-paced learning? Please share your ideas and questions with us in the comments! Thinking about starting the self-paced learning journey? Look for more products and ideas on starting a self-paced learning classroom on our blogs throughout the summer.
Among vocabulary technology, Quizlet reigns king and chances are you have at least heard of it if you use technology in the classroom. Starting off as a purely electronic flashcard design, Quizlet has made some amazing updates that help to gamify learning and put more ownership in the students hands.
A free website, Quizlet harnesses the power of students and teachers a like creating public sets of vocabulary. Once terms and definitions have been entered, users have options on how to learn them and practice.
All of these features are really great for your students to practice vocabulary. I love the freedom it gives each student in choosing which feature helps them the most.
One of my favorite things about Quizlet is that once you teach your students how to use it, they can make their own vocabulary sets to use! Teaching them how to use Quizlet can become a great tool they use in their future classes.
My FAVORITE thing about Quizlet is their full class game! If you are a Quizlet user but you have not played Quizlet Live, you need to!
Quizlet Live displays a website and code for students to enter the game and is best used hooked up to a projector. You need at least 6 students in order to play Live.
Once your students have signed into the game, Quizlet will divide them into teams of 2-3 by assigning each group an animal. This animal will be displayed on your students laptop or iPad so they can easily identify what group they are in and find their other members. This game works best when students can move to sit next to their teammates.
Once all of the teams are ready, start the game. On the projector you will see a display that looks like a voting poll. It will keep track of how many vocabulary questions each group gets correct as a race to 15. If a team gets 3 questions incorrect, their points disappear and they start back at the beginning. It creates some intensity and motivation for the students. On the student screens, a single term or definition will pop up for each team member. The trick is that each team member has a bank of terms or definitions but none overlap. When they first see the question, they typically scan their own bank then look to their teammates to see if they have the answer. This leads to a lot of discussion and/or debate about making sure they pick the correct term...they don't want to start back at the beginning!
A fast paced game that lasts only a few minutes, Quizlet Live is a great opener for the day or end to the class after some vocabulary work. Try it out if you haven't! It is sure to be the most fun you've had practicing your vocab!
We all hate cheating. We're sure that we've all tried different things to combat the ever growing problem that is cheating in the classroom. In attempting the self-paced classroom, we have been asked quite a bit about students cheating. This year we have had way fewer instances of cheating than before we went to the self-paced method. There are few factors at play here and some it depends on the content, but the main factors deal with how you setup the course and the mindset you have and teach the students to have about work in your class.
Part of fighting cheating in the self-paced classroom is about how you setup your gradebook. In World Geography, I have 3 parts to my gradebook. There is class work, assessments, and a final project. The classwork section is worth 20%, assessments are worth 65%, and the final project is worth 15% of the grade.
The classwork is where all of the assignments that build toward the unit/content assessment live but are not the assessments themselves. With this being only 20% the students tend to not feel as pressured to cheat on those assignments because they will not tank their grade.
Along with this, I work on building a mindset of growth and mastery over grades and assignments. I am sure that I am not alone in experiencing the endless question of how many points is this worth, will this be graded, etc. I have always hated answering these questions so even before I started the self-paced journey, I started working on this in my class. I work with my class on the mindset that the work we do in class is practice building up to the assessment. Why would you want me to grade your practice? That being said I always tell them that completion of our class work goes into the class work grade. I very rarely get any arguments about this after a couple of weeks. I spend most of my time working with students on formative assessment. As students complete assignments I review their work with them and we are able to stop then and there and figure out what to work on.
On the assessment side, I do allow students to retest and/or do optional projects to replace assessment grades to give students choice and allow them to show me their learning in different ways. Before students can retest, they have to meet with me and review what went wrong on the first test and make a study plan and reteach as needed. Then they make a retest appointment.
I also encourage teamwork. I don’t really have a problem with people working together on the material. I cannot pretend that students still cheat and copy each other’s work when it comes to class work. When I see it in class, I remind students that when you do this, it will not help you pass the test since you did not take the time to complete it. It really doesn’t happen as often as it used to though. Instead now I am hearing conversations about how to do things and what the content means which I am super proud of.
Of course like with everything, there are things I want to improve on but overall I am really happy with how things have gone and experience way less cheating than in the past.
In all of our Algebra and Geometry classes, 100% of the grade comes from tests and quizzes. We use objective grading so that we can conference with students and help them identify specific challenge areas within the subject. Before adding the self-paced element to my class, the class took a 3-5 question paper and pencil quiz about 3 times a week. We'd collect the quizzes, go over the answers, and move on to the next part of the objective or unit while their quiz grade was added to the grade book. The hardest part about this was knowing how much time to give on the quiz. Because we do a lot of short quizzes, it was not ideal for a co-taught class where I have a lot of "extra time" accommodations. I was constantly running into time management issues with some kids finishing in 5 minutes or less and others needing 15 minutes. With all that extra time, it is hard to keep kids quiet and on task. There was a lot of room for cheating on these quizzes because everyone had the same questions and they were all taking it at the same time.
One of the best things about creating my self-paced classroom is that there is no idle time necessary for students. No one is sitting there waiting on me to give instruction or on other students to catch up. Every student is challenged. And every student is kept accountable.
Because of the room setup, it is easy to keep an eye on who is taking a quiz. That section of the room should be silent because they are testing while other parts may be pretty talkative. Basically, if I see anyone in the testing area talking, it is considered cheating. I am no longer watching 30 kids for cheating behaviors. I am now watching about 6 at the most at a time. They know this and it definitely puts more pressure on them to not cheat.
All of my quizzes are housed online on our Learning Management System (we use Canvas). Our LMS allows us to created graded quizzes that choose from a bank of questions. For each 5 question quiz, I make a bank of about 20 questions. Even if all six students who are testing during a class period are testing over the same section, it is unlikely they will have the same questions. This has been a huge help and is something I would try whether I was using a self-paced classroom or not. Because not everyone has the same questions, you can't just look at someone else's screen or work to get the answer. You would have to ask a student for help and they would have to either try to talk it out for you or write the problem on their own paper. Though I haven't run into this, I keep it in mind as another dead giveaway for cheating to keep an eye out for. After quizzes that may not go so hot for a student, I conference with them and show them their quiz on my laptop, explaining what they did wrong on the problems they missed. I always ask them to bring me their work. When this is missing, they can't verbalize what they did, or if one day I found a student who had a problem on their work that wasn't on their test, something is up.
Students figure out pretty quickly into the self-paced set up that it is not ideal for cheating. I have had two instances of cheating this year and both were easily identified because the students were asking another student how to do a problem while testing. Another benefit of the self-paced classroom is that I can punish this student without giving them a zero. A big threat teachers often use with cheating is putting in a permanent zero. I get the concept and I have done it, too. My only issue with this is that I want the grade to represent what the student knows and if they can learn that concept and do better than a zero, I'll give it to them. Rather than a permanent zero, I call the parents and give the students a referral. Then I am able to talk with the student about why they had a question and what they can do to be sure they are prepared to take a quiz so we don't have to go through all of this again.
Another barrier for cheating in my class is that students need an access code entered before they take a quiz. Moving to an open seat in the testing area is a visual signal to me that they need the access code typed but they are unable to begin a quiz until I type it in for them. This helps me control how many are taking a quiz at a time. If I know I have a student who struggles with cheating, I may ask that student to test in a specific seat or when there are fewer students in the testing area. With the access codes, I am in full control of who is testing throughout a class period.
All other aspects of the class encourage working together. I often see students who may not have gotten the grade they wanted on a quiz go back to their table and say something like, "I thought I had it. Can you look at the problem and tell me if I did it right?" to another student. Or if they are moving onto the next concept and they know someone who has already done it, they may ask them what the hardest part of the section is or what formulas they need to know...the list goes on and on but the point is that it's ok to ask questions and work together through everything except the quizzes.
Cheating is never going to completely go away but we are always trying to find new ways to combat it and encourage original work. Hopefully some of these strategies (projects, specific seating, question banks, etc.) can help you whether you are planning to teach a self-paced course or not! But we have to say, we love our self-paced courses and when it comes to discouraging cheating, it has definitely helped us out!
What are badges?
Competition works for a lot of students as a motivator. This is one major reason why Kahoot has seen so much success and why Quizlet has added a full class game feature! They have transformed multiple choice questions and knowing vocabulary terms into a competitive game!
Fitbit introduced competition to exercise in a similar way. When you have a Fitbit you can join weekly/daily challenges built into the app that help motivate the competitive Fitbit user. Though I’m not a fan of exercising, I will walk and move until I’m literally falling asleep from exhaustion if it means I can beat those I’m competing against!
But while competition against others is a huge motivator for some, there is always room for improvement to help motivate more: badges. We have actually been using this concept for a very long time! Think about the last time you gave a student a sticker for their performance. It was probably appreciated and proudly displayed as a badge of honor. I have students in high school who still get pumped about stickers! Badges are like the future version of stickers.
Let’s go back to the Fitbit. The most recent time I felt the joy of earning a sticker as an adult is when I bought a fitbit. I earned a badge for walking 10,000 steps in a day. I earned another badge when I had a 30,000 step day and another when I logged 990 miles. These badges show up on your screen with a huge effect and a special name, very colorful and detailed. You automatically feel a sense of accomplishment because you achieved a goal. You have the ability to look at other badges you and how you can earn them. It is a different motivator that involves only the individual instead of sharing the score with others in a competition.
Basically, a badge is a digital sticker that can be earned by completing a pre-determined task.
How do I use badges in the classroom?
For our first run at badges in the classroom, we added them to our advisory courses. Students had tasks that they had to complete each month based on a theme. Anyone who completed the tasks would then earn the badge. For example, our Goal Setting badge for November required students to answer a survey about creating a SMART goal, submit a SMART goal themselves, and participate on a discussion board with updates about their SMART goal at least once a week during the month. If a student completed these tasks, they earned the Goal Setting Badge which would show up for them on their laptop as soon as it was awarded to them.
Some students noticed them and thought they were kind of cool but the hype wore off quickly when both teachers and students realized eventually all students would need to earn the badge in order to pass the class. There was nothing special about the badge because eventually everyone would get the same badge. All of the assignments were in order and done together in class so not only did everyone get the same badge but they often received it at the same time.
This was a major mistake on my part. If you are going to use badges in your classroom, in order for it to be a motivator, badges need to be special just like stickers have been. If our advisory course was self paced, badges may have worked. We may have heard conversations about which badges were earned by each individual student or how quickly they were able to complete it.
Badges also work better for repeated tasks or as a rubric rather than completion in a standard class. I give timed math table tests throughout my course. Right now I have them graph their result so they can see themselves get better. This would be a great place to also add a badge. When a student can complete at least 70% of the sheet correctly they would earn a badge. They would earn a different better badge at 80%, 90% and 100%!
This is why while it didn’t really work well for our advisory course, I am planning on trying it in my math class. Beyond the repeated assignments, I can add badges to each unit of my self-paced course. Because not all students are working on the same things at the same time, it will still be special. One student may be celebrating a badge from the third unit being completed while another is just happy to be getting the first unit badge. Both are individualized markers of accomplishment!
Where can I get digital badges?
There are programs out there that let your students earn badges as a third party provider. I believe Class Dojo either has a badge system or will be rolling one out soon for those of you looking for behavior based badges.
If you aren’t looking for an outside application, there are badge systems that can work within your Learning Management System. Our LMS is Canvas so we use Canvabadges. This extension allows us to create badges to use within modules on our courses that can be awarded manually or automatically.
Some badge extensions or applications require an added fee but also provide extra features. Look for more on badges from me as I try to add it next year to my content course! In the meantime, here are some more badge providers to look into!
Find what works best for you and your classroom! Let me know if you use these already or end up trying one! I would love to know how you use it!