It's no secret that I'm pretty competitive. I also love logic games. Brain teasers are my fave. When I heard about escape rooms, I was so pumped. WHAT IS AN ESCAPE ROOM?An escape room is an activity where participants are put through a search and find like challenge that include puzzles and locks. There is usually a given scenario to help engage participants such as: you are the survivors of a zombie apocolypse but you've all been contaminated. You are locked in a laboratory where they were creating an antidote. Find the antidote within an hour and save yourselves!....You can see how decorating and creating a story helps engage you in the game! Clues can be out in the open or hard to find (invisible ink, random numbers on the wall, etc.). Participants "win" if they can unlock all of the boxes - usually one is containing whatever you are trying to find (example: the antidote). When you find that box, you win!
There are a lot of scenarios where I would use an escape room! This blog explores a couple of times that I used (or would suggest using) an escape room!
THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL Day one - I introduced myself and did a welcome activity.
Day two - I showed the syllabus and the classroom rules/expectations.
Day three - I gave a pretest (yuck)
Day four - BREAKOUT EDU!!!!!
First of all, pretests are not fun but for my class, they are necessary. Because we are on a three track system, it helps me to be sure students are in the right class and allows me to gauge the right starting point for the following week. After three days, they know a little bit about me and my classroom but now I want to know about them. Other than their academic work, I want to know their personalities - enter Breakout Edu.
Breakout Edu has a lot of team building pre-made escape rooms. I had ordered their breakout box (you can also make your own!), picked a scenario, and set up my room. That first Friday, students came into the room and I simply introduced them to the scenario (you need to unlock the box within 40 minutes in order to get the prize!), and started the timer. There were a million questions. But that was my plan all along! I answered some basic structure questions but didn't answer anything that would help them solve the puzzles included with the escape room. I was looking for
As I've said in previous posts, I ask students to choose a project that shows they know the material. They have to present (or in this case facilitate) the project for the class. My Geometry class loved creating escape rooms for their congruent triangles unit. Even more helpful, it ended up creating a couple of days of review for my students before the unit test! They loved watching their classmates struggle through problems and they loved being sneaky about creating it. I definitely saw more engagement for this project choice than any other I've done so far!
Lucky for us, Breakout Edu provides a template for teachers to create their own escape rooms. It walks you through the process so nicely that of course my students can figure it out!
I highly encourage you to have your students create escape rooms. Something I will be trying during my next unit will be splitting the class into two groups and having them create escape rooms for each other to try. That should amp up the competition! :)
THE NEW BREAKOUT EDU OR
"CAN'T I JUST MAKE MY OWN?"Breakout Edu has recently changed their website/cost. It is now a subscription service. When I first began doing escape rooms, I definitely thought the cost was worth it. Now that I have the hang of it as well as the template for myself and students to use, I'm not sure how much I will go back to the site for more game scenarios. It really depends on your experience and how much work you are wanting to put into it. Getting the scenario from Breakout Edu takes almost no work. They have everything completed for you (including a Youtube video that walks you through the story and how to set up the room!). If you are willing to put in some more time (or give your students time to work on it!) you may be just fine creating your own!
Either way, you should definitely try an escape classroom! Competition, team building, content review and more can be gained from it! AND IT'S SO MUCH FUN!!!!!
The search for the best teacher professional development book can be an overwhelming task. In an effort to make your search easier, I want to share 5 of my favorite professional development books. The topics vary but these are books that I always come back to help remind me of the best practices in teaching or have really helped me grow as a teacher.
These are some of the professional development books out there on a range of topics related to teaching, but I find all of these to be useful and interesting. What good professional development books would you recommend? Have read any of the books above? We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for all teachers!
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:
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.
Curriculum and differentiated instruction. These are two of the biggest emphasis in education since I started teaching 10 years ago. There are always educational fads and sometimes they are just renaming a concept related to curriculum writing and differentiated instruction. I would have to say though that in my opinion your curriculum and your approach to teaching are the biggest factors in whether or not you are a successful teacher.
When I first started teaching, I really didn’t think about curriculum. I was hired to teach 6th grade ancient civilizations and all of my material was essentially provided to me. I had an amazing mentor that had previously taught the same subject and a partner teacher on the other team that was also amazing. I really had great materials and I just fed off of what they gave me. My building would occasionally give us a work day to review the standards for our grade-level and make sure they matched what we were teaching. The problem was that no one ever gave us any instruction about how to do this, what to look for, or examples of quality curriculum. I just assumed that because we were covering the standards that we had amazing curriculum.
Fast forward to now. I have been teaching at my school for 7 years and working on my curriculum for 7 years. I really love what I have built and I think it is strong, but I still feel like I am just going off my gut of what I think curriculum should be like. I realized that I wanted to understand curriculum writing, what good curriculum looks like, and how to write a really strong curriculum. At the same time the past couple of years I have become obsessed with differentiated instruction and how to make it work in a high school social studies classroom. I have been searching for something to guide me on and give me a hint that I am headed in the right direction.
This led me to search amazon for education books and I came across Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. This immediately caught my eye. I am interested in curriculum writing and because of my recent move to student-directed learning I am trying to differentiate my instruction as much as possible. This seemed like it was meant for me.
Tomlinson and McTighe are seasoned educators that have multiple degrees and books on their perspective areas. Tomlinson focuses on differentiated instruction and McTighe focuses on curriculum writing. They are definitely experts in their fields.
A template and reasoning for planning backwards when creating curriculum
One of the best things is that this book takes you through step by step in planning your curriculum backwards. They provide charts and templates that you can use to start the process for yourself. That is really big for me as a person that loves to chart things out and see what it will look like at the end. The even better part is that give you logical reasons for why they have each step included. The break down what you do and why. I had a vague understanding of what it meant to backwards plan and it was something that I was sort of doing in my own planning, but what they presented was much more intentional. That was key for me.
There is too much to really give you the full low down but the three core pieces of the planning backwards in this book are:
They do a great job of taking you through each stage and talking about each piece of the stage with tips and suggestions of how to do it. They also give examples tied to different contents and grade-levels.
A reminder that I am responsible for designing and facilitating learning in the classroom
This reminder came at the best time for me. I had just wrapped up one of the hardest semesters of my teaching career and I wasn't sure what to do about it or fix the problems I was having. As I read this book, it reminded me that I am responsible for creating valuable learning experiences in the classroom and making sure that students are learning it. I had been wrapped up in the high school mentality that they need to learn to be adults and figure things out for themselves. This book reminded me though that it is my job as the teacher to guide them and find ways to make learning meaningful for my students.
Tomlinson and McTighe believe that teachers need to "balance student opportunities to make sense of the big ideas of content, to monitor the evolution of student understandings, and to engage in teacher-guided student reflection on and direct instruction related to the enduring understandings." This was what I needed to be reminded of. In my journey to create a student-directed learning environment, I let go of the teacher guided material and was pushing to hard for the students to create meaning all of the time. This book helped remind me of the things I knew to be true to be best practices and why I need to do them.
This book does such a great job in discussing the reasons why we do the things that we do. The first chapters of the book are dedicated to 'What Really Matters in Teaching' and "What Really Matters in Learning?' This honest discussion of why we do what we do and why it is important was a great refresher and affirmation of why I am a teacher.
What I also love is that Tomlinson and McTighe want the students to work for it. My favorite quote in the book might be "Understanding must be earned." That is the best! There is so much blame going around and while teachers have a lot of responsibility in the learning process, the most important thing is that we have to provide opportunities for students to earn their understanding.
Where differentiation occurs in the process of creating curriculum and what differentiation really looks like
I have never really been taught as a teacher what differentiated instruction really looks like. We talk about it a lot in schools and we all know that it is a good idea, but what does that mean. What does real differentiation look like? What pieces of the curriculum can be differentiated? All of these questions are answered in this book. Tomlinson and McTighe first talk about what differentiation really means then go through their stages of curriculum and discuss where differentiation can and should take place for students. They give scenarios to show what it looks like in different contents and grade-levels. I will say that there were times that I would like even more specific examples, but that is because I am very specific and like to see how things are broken down.
One of the things I have really taken from this process is the importance of pre-testing. It is hard to actually differentiate your instruction with out first pre-testing students for their prior knowledge and their interest in the content. Without this it is hard to create activities that will address student choice and readiness level.
Along with this I was afraid in taking the steps towards true differentiation that I would have to individualize everything for every student. That thought alone sent me into panic mode. There is no way I would have the time to do that in a way that was effective. Tomlinson and McTighe put me at ease though by saying that you do not have to individualize everything in the classroom. It is better to look for patterns of instruction that can help with multiple learners. This was such a relief. By identifying major patterns of instruction and areas that many students may struggle with, I can create supports and activities to build those areas.
I really recommend this book if you are looking for a book to take you through the process of designing a curriculum that works for all students and how to use differentiated instruction to better instruct all students.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I loved attending the Illinois Education and Technology Conference and focused the blog on the first amazing keynote, Joe Sanfellipo. He spoke about leadership and culture in your school which is really important for the building as a whole. The second day of the conference was all about Alice Keeler for me. She was 100% about putting tools into the hands of teachers so we can serve students better.
Who is Alice Keeler?
You can find out a lot about Alice Keeler by going to her website (alicekeeler.com). What she shared with us at the conference was that she is a mom and was teaching math and needed Google apps to do more for her. She started coding within Google apps and sending them to her friend who works at Google. Some of what she codes becomes an extension Google offers. Others she lists on her website for easy access regardless of becoming an official extension or not. These extensions exist to help save time or be more efficient or effective in teaching or organizing information. Also, I think she may like sheets even more than me...I didn't know that was possible!
Alice at IETC
I attended two breakout sessions as well as her keynote lunch. Her first breakout, Google Apps Coding for Noobs, was a great introduction to coding. A lot of people get intimidated when they hear the word "coding" because they picture someone sitting in a dark basement surrounded by computer screens wheeling back and forth between them and speaking words no one ever really uses...or maybe that's just me! I went anyways and I was pleasantly surprised! Alice reiterated that most of coding is looking for patterns and then knowing which things to copy and paste. The link below takes you to the presentation she used for the session and walks you through how to:
- Create a Google sheet that has a separate tab for each student with one click of a button
- Send an email
- Copy a Google Doc
- Do something a lot of times with one click
-And more that we didn't actually get to within the breakout
Google Apps Coding for Noobs Presentation by Alice Keeler
No, I would not need to write a code in order to send an email or copy a Google doc BUT learning the code behind it was helpful in order to complete the other codes.
NO, THAT'S TOO OVERWHELMING! I CAN'T CODE!
THAT'S OK! THE SECOND PART WAS WAAAAAY EASIER!
The second breakout was about the add-ons that she has already created so that all you have to do is copy and paste! At alicekeeler.com/scripts there is a list of add-on codes that Alice has already created, posted for easy access, AND written a blog about how to use.
***Because they are created by her and not an official extension of Google, you will be prompted to give access to your GSuite apps each time you copy Alice's code. Just do it.***
I already thought she was pretty legit but this breakout and exploring her website more just put it over the top! There are so many to choose from. I highly suggest taking an hour or two one day and just playing with these.
This may seem overwhelming but please try one before you decide it's too much! You may decide you really like them!
My Favorite Alice Codes
Not sure which ones to check out first? Here are my favorites!
With winter break approaching its end, we have to start thinking about returning to school for the new semester. The question is what do we do on the first day back?
For some of us especially in the high school world, it could mean an entirely new bunch of students and it is the first day of school all over again. For others it is a continuation of the previous semester with a 2 week break in the middle.
I hope what we can all agree on is that jumping right into content would not be the best way to start a new semester. Even if we have the same students all year, the students are coming off of two weeks of no school. The students are going to need something to get them back into the swing of school. Here are some activities and ideas that we have found that could work for the first day/week back from winter break.
Team Building Activities
Whether you are starting over this semester or bringing students back together, team building would be valuable at this time. For the classes starting over, it is a good way to get to know your classes and have the students get to know each other. For the classes coming back together after break, it is a good way to reconnect and get students back to thinking about other people and catch up.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Content Review Activities/Games
This is mainly for the classes that are staying together all year. Reviewing the content from last semester is a great way to get students thinking about the content again and getting back in the school mindset. Depending on what type of activity you do for this, it could also double as a team building activity.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Classroom Procedures Review
This is something that we think is essential whether you are starting over or picking up where you left off. The start of the new semester is the perfect time to review the classroom procedures and remind students of how they need to operate in the classroom.
Some of the potential activities we suggest above could be changed to review classroom procedures.
As this semester draws to a close, it is natural to begin to evaluate it for its successes and challenges. I start thinking about the changes I want to make to next semester and what I wish I had done differently and reviewing new tools that I have found over the past months.
I feel like this is a natural process that all teachers go through as we approach the ending of semester or school year. Being reflective is something that is ingrained in us by our desire to do better for the students and any teaching program I have ever heard of. We recognize the importance of being reflective and intuitively practice it.
My semester has been one of challenges to be frank. I have had personal challenges and professional challenges that have really highlighted the need to be purposeful in the classroom, my reflections, and reactions to my reflections.
I feel like this year I fell into the trap of reflecting but not acting. I was thinking a lot about what was happening in my classroom, but not taking the time to process my reflections and create an action plan around them. Those last two steps are really important to being purposeful as a teacher and reflective professional. The failure of not processing and acting on my reflections is one of the reasons, I continued to struggle.
The impact this had on my classroom
Reading this, it probably seems like I am being really hard on myself and that it could just be one of the groups of students that struggle and no matter what I did in the classroom, those students were going to struggle. That could very well be true, but I also feel like this semester was a humbling, challenge that reminded me of two very important things about teaching.
My plan Moving Forward
I do not want to make the same mistakes I made this semester, so I have reflected, processed, and developed this action plan for next semester to make sure that I am being the best reflective and purposeful teacher I can be.
Teaching is hard, but it is also amazing, fulfilling, and incredibly important. I want to be the best I possibly can be for my students and I think that doing these things will help me do that. I hope that you take away from this post that it is O.K. to struggle, because when we struggle we learn things about ourselves. That when you find yourself struggling at school take time to reflect on what is happening, but don’t just stop there. Take the next steps. Process your reflections and develop an action to help or celebrate if needed. Lastly, don’t forget to keep learning. Learning is essential to great teaching!
I spent the past Thursday and Friday at an Educational Technology conference in Springfield, Illinois and it was amazing.
So many times when signing up for a conference, especially when it means missing instructional time, I hesitate. Will it be worth missing the time? Writing the sub plans? The cost of registration, travel, and stay?
The Illinois Education And Technology conference this year was worth it all several times over. You will probably see me reference something from this conference for weeks and months to come! And I LOVE when this happens! So often when we hear “professional development” it feels like a bad thing so I love love love when I can share about a great experience. IETC, you guys are doing it right! 👍🏼
There were several sessions I went to that I felt were worth the full amount of money and time spent, but one seems so fitting for this time of year.
I’m drained. My co-blogger has had a couple of really rough weeks in a row. I’m feeling a bit run down and discouraged myself. Neither one of us is one to start complaining hard about kids or school but it sure helps to have at least one of you in a good spot during one of those low points. Lately for us, that hasn’t been the case. My conference time started off that way. I drove about 30 minutes towards the conference before realizing I’d left my luggage at home and needed to go back for it. When I checked in, they let me know there’d been an error and my room was booked for the following two nights. They were able to get a room for me, but it was quite the process. I checked in and thought, “what a great start this is”.
But that didn’t matter because when you attend conferences like this, you are surrounded by teachers who love their jobs and want to be life long learners! That energy and attitude is contagious!
My favorite session(s) from day one were led by Joe Sanfelippo, a superintendent from Wisconsin. You may recognize him from some of his videos on his district's facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FallCreekSchoolDistrict/)
This guy was so awesome that I attended his morning session, heard him as the lunch keynote, and then went back for his afternoon session. I felt so energized and ready to role after all of it that I knew ole Joe would get his own honorary blog post (I'm in the Joe Sanfelippo fan club now! Go Crickets!) Below are some of the takeaways from attending his sessions.
The first session I attended was titled "Hacking Leadership", titled the same as his book (which I bought and have already read because wow).
He focused on a cyclical model for healthy and productive schools revolving around being intentional, opening doors, and building staff.
So often I feel bogged down by trying to make a change by contributing to a positive culture but Joe mentioned that upon entering a school building that had had 4 principals in 5 years, he was determined to change the culture 30 seconds at a time. 30 seconds at a time...now that I can do. I think I need to do some huge thing that in the end is too overwhelming to actually happen. Instead, I can commit to smile at people in the hallway, converse with co-workers and students, and making positive calls home.
As a group, we came up with these other ways to be intentional
Tell your story
At lunch Joe spoke more about his specific experience at his K-12 school of 800. He spoke about the importance of sharing your positive school story. The negative talk seems to be a lot louder and said a lot more often. We need to drown that out with all of the truly terrific things happening in our schools. Even the people making most of our decisions (the school board) only ever get to hear about the three B's: beans, busses, and balls (food, transportation, and sports). If we want the real story to be told, we have to do it!
He started broadcasting all of the important things happening at his school on instagram, twitter, facebook, and through podcasts. While school newsletters are useful for some, we need to meet our community where they are at. After surveying the community, Joe found the majority of our student's parents are more likely to read from facebook because they already spend a few hours there daily.
If we want to communicate with our community, we need to find out where they are and GO TO THEM! They can't only hear from us when we need something. They should be hearing from us all the time! Find the best way to start and then do it! Tell the story of your school and why you show up to work and others will want to be a part of the story!
Be a social media superstar
Schools are scared to use social media. What if someone sues us for posting a picture of their kid? What if someone posts or comments something horrible?
Joe spoke about overcoming both of these issues but more importantly, he tied it back to telling a story and loving what we do. People don't know why we became teachers. They don't know what the day to day looks like inside a classroom. And a lot of those people are not reading that newsletter you send home once a month or quarter by mail. We ask ourselves, "How do we share with people what is going on and how incredible these kids and teachers are?". We already know the answer: social media. But there are so many!!! How will we ever have time to spend on all of the social media? We won't have time to do our own jobs! Well you don't need to learn ALL of the social media outlets, just find where your community lives. Most commonly the kids are on instagram, the parents are on facebook, and the alumni are on twitter. Lucky for us, instagram allows you to post to all three with one click which means it is no longer about managing a million apps. Just start documenting all of those amazing things that are already happening!
But what about kids who don't want their pictures taken?!?! Joe operates on an opt-out clause meaning students have to sign a sheet of paper in order to say that they don't want to be in pictures the school may post. For the few who do sign it, Joe contacts them personally to talk about why they want to be able to share the story and include the students. More often than not the parents didn't read the paper and just signed all of the papers sent home the first week of school...which doesn't speak so great for that process either but that's not what we're talking about this week. :) For the families who truly don't want the picture and aren't able to connect through e-mail or social media the school sends a paper newsletter. The goal to communicate with parents is prioritized.
What about when someone comments something nasty?!? Now that's on our facebook page!!!!
True. Joe suggests replying to it with something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way. If you would like to talk more my number is ___________. This is not the place to have that conversation but I would be more than happy to speak on the phone or in person."....then he runs around and takes 8-10 pictures of the amazing things happening in classrooms and posts them so that the ugly comment gets buried in all of the great things happening.
It's all about the story we're telling. It's too important of a story to not tell because we're scared of a couple of people who are going to complain no matter what. So often the negative comments are the ones heard the most. Change the culture by drowning them out with all of the incredible students and teachers and staff that make up your school building!
There is a reason why many schools hire someone specifically to run their communications and social media: it's important.
I love joe! go crickets!
I listened to Joe for about 3 hours. I could have listened and talked to this guy for days. Lucky for me (and you!) he has his own website with tons of resources. I know I will be checking it regularly!
Lastly, please please please feel free to ask me if I've written my notes for the day and how I'm telling my story. It is way too easy to go to these conferences and feel the mountain top experience for a couple of days and then....
But culture change doesn't happen that way. It happens consistently....30 seconds at a time.
Ok, we’re off the PD train for a little bit and onto one of our favorite topics, the self paced classroom! We’ve been talking about the steps to building great curriculum and finding resources that make your curriculum engaging but today we talk about the ultimate way to differentiate that great and engaging curriculum: making your curriculum self paced. Not sure what I mean by that? Click here for more of our self paced blog entries!
Back to today though! How can you take that fabulous curriculum you worked so hard on and use it in a self paced classroom? Honestly, if you have done all of the ground work on finding resources, the rest gets a lot easier.
We suggest trying a self paced unit before fully committing to a self paced classroom. Testing out a unit will give you a good idea of whether or not it works for your students and for you. So right now, take a minute and think about a unit you teach that you would consider making self paced.
Do you have it? Alright, time to figure out how to make it hypothetically self paced!
Go back to the meat of your curriculum to start! Ask yourself these questions.
Now that you have the end goal in mind, what will you do with your resources to make this unit self paced?
For Becca, she found it useful to give a short version of each lesson about twice a week to the whole class. If students were already ahead of the material she was teaching, they just kept working on their own or assisted her in the lesson. Everyone else was given a short version of the notes but mainly a lot of examples. When she was finished, it was pretty easy for her to tell if students were completely lost or ready to work. She could then work with small groups to help those who were lost understand but all of the other students were still working on their own. With online lecture videos, fill in the blank notes, examples with answer keys, and links to immediate feedback math problems, all students were working on what they needed to and she was still able to help students understand parts that they were confused on. Students would decide when they were ready to take a 5 question quiz corresponding with the lesson they felt they had completed and get immediate feedback. Whether they passed it or not, they would show Becca their score which gave Becca the perfect time to check in on progress and either congratulate them on their success or help them see their mistakes. Students could tell whether they were "on track" or not by looking at the checklist of mastery quizzes. While having a true deadline is not completely self-paced, we all have a last day of school and students need to understand what they are expected to complete. Having suggested due dates let them know what they needed to do and helped them monitor their progress and understand the expectations.
For Danielle, it really comes down to working with small groups. The students go through self-guided material, but in addition to the self-guided material Danielle does small group instruction twice a week on average. The self-guided material is a variety of activities that she used to do as a whole class that are modified for self-paced and some new ones she has found or created. The students have access to videos, website, books, etc for the activities and many of them are not online activities. She still does hands-on activities as much as possible. For the small group activities, she picks particular skills that correlate to where students are in the curriculum and has mini lessons that she does with the students. This allows Danielle to have carved out time with each student and make sure that they are understanding the material.
Danielle also makes it clear that, if any student would like, they can schedule class time to work with Danielle in a small group or 1:1 and work on specific content. Danielle also uses formative assessment to create remediation small groups. Students have to complete 2-3 formative assessment activities per unit and they have to be reviewed with Danielle before they can move forward. This allows Danielle to check for understanding frequently and forces students to pause and make sure they understand material before the summative assessment.
Danielle also makes a point on certain days of the week to do what she calls 'rounds'. She goes around the room and talks to each student about their progress and goals for the content and class. This is when many students make appointments for small groups or she assigns students to specific small groups. It is a really great way to check in and have one on one conversations with students.
We've filled out this section of the template below to give you a snapshot version of what it looks like! These are the questions that lead you to the logistics of your self paced unit.
Now for the setup and what your classroom will look like during this unit:
How can we not advocate for this process when we see how much it has meant to our students? This is why we do it. This is why we love it!
Here is the plan for the communication of a self paced classroom at a glance! We have a lot of the items we use available on our TPT store!
In the end, you have to do what is best for you and your students. Feedback is so important not only to let you know how the student feel about the process but to get ideas for how to continue to improve your class and the positive feedback has lead us to continue and advocate for self paced classrooms. If it doesn't work for you and your class, abandon ship after one unit and do what you need to do!
If you are really interested in attempting the self-paced learning concept, we recommend starting with one unit or a specific project or skill that you could have students work on at their own pace throughout the year or semester. Check out the self-paced classroom section of our blog to see all of the pieces we went through to get our classes started. This is something that we are really passionate about and it has helped students learn in our classes. We are still trying to improve as well and we welcome any suggestions and ideas from other who have or plan to take the plunge into self-paced learning!