Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who's Doing It?

As is usually the case when I'm not in school I've taken some time today to catch up on all of the interesting blog posts and Tweets since last weekend. And, in what seems to be sort of a natural move as I come to the end of any experience, I've been reflecting upon what I've learned this year and what I'm going to do next. Even though my future may seem a bit unsure there are two things that are definite (well, definite barring anything REALLY crazy that might happens):

1. I will be a teacher next year in the same school district.
2. I will still be facing the same curricular and testing requirements from my district and the state.

Here's what I've learned and either want to continue doing or do more of in my classroom:

1. I have learned the importance and value of a PLN and will continue to follow and learn from this group. One way I would like to improve this is to find people with differing opinions to follow so that my thinking is pushed.

2. My kids have shown me how important it is to have a genuine audience for one's writing, and their enthusiasm and excitement for blogging has reenergized my writing instruction. I will definitely continue this next year.

3. Blogging has also taught me how important connections are for kids, and we have made connections around the world to help develop the communication skills. Next year I would really like to move beyond blogging and do more with Skyping to help my kids developing their speaking and listening skills as well.

4. The blogging and little bit of Skyping has been cool, but just like Mrs. Ripp said here I would like to do more with my teammates (whomever and where ever we might be next year) to develop those face to face connections.

5. I've really revamped my reading instruction. While I still complete the required Core reading program, I've done a lot more to show my students how these reading skills are important to their real lives rather than focusing on the story for the test. I've seen results on the selection tests so I'll continue this practice next year... of course I'll want to change it up, but I'm sticking with this new method.

6. I've utilized a class wiki to get my kids away from worksheets and involved in more meaningful discussions about their reading skills. We're getting there, but I still need to learn more about teaching kids how to have those meaningful discussions.

7. I've dabbled in Daily 5 and adjusted it in a way that fits what the rest of my team is doing. Next year I'd really like to move completely away from the five day planned guided reading groups to completely flexible groups.

Finally, here's the biggest change I want to make:

I've dabbled with kids having more choice in the classroom and using a variety of technologies to showcase their learning. I've been trying to get them to be more active participants in their learning. But in the end I always come back to my "old ways of doing things" because I'm not sure how to manage the independent active learning in a way that will allow students to timely complete work and be prepared for the required assessments.

I'm trying - I really am. I'm just not always sure what I'm doing or what it should look like. We didn't learn about this kind of teaching back in the early 90s (sadly, I don't think the student teacher I just had at the beginning of this semester is learning it either), and I can tell you that the classes I'm looking at from a variety of sources aren't providing guidance in this area, either. I've found two thanks to my involvement in PLP, but despite what everybody in the general public thinks about teachers' salaries, I'm not sure that I'll be able to participate.

This is where I need your help! Who is teaching this way in a public school classroom with curricular and testing constraints? I have seen really cool examples from charter schools and private schools, and I have thought about proposing an out of the box idea for cyber-charter to my district. But that won't happen next year, and I don't want to wait.

I want to know how you put everything that we talk about on Twitter chats, on our blogs, at TED events into practice in your classroom. We're talking about what needs to happen to education, now I want to know who's actually DOING it. I would love to learn from you so I can become a more effective lead learner for my students.

Bring on your stories - successful and not so much because I'm really ready to take this next step.


Jodi J. said...

(I teach 4th grade in a small public school district in Iowa.)Wow! We have a lot in common. Some changes/additions I've made this year: My PLN - especially Twitter. When I can, I participate in chats, or just browse and look for good ideas and sites. I then add the good ones to my Diigo account. (Is it weird that I have Tweet Deck on 3 computers and my smart phone? LOL) I read what others are doing and think, "I'm not worthy!"
I have created an exciting teacher friendship with another 4th grade teacher in Ohio, and our students Skype and write to eachother to share ideas. I have dabbled with many ways to use technology in my classroom - blogging, symbaloo, and other web 2.o tools. Some, I'll use again. Some - not really. I love my classroom wiki. Our school is implementing Daily 5 next year, which I am excited about. I am working hard to find that balance of working in all my curriculum and giving choice to my students. Not easy. We have smart boards in all of our elementary classrooms, and our Jr./Sr. High is a 1:1 school. I have found it's a lot about technology, and even a lot more about student centered teaching that is authentic and based on positive relationships. Our elementary school received a science grant this year, so our learning team has been studying science inquiry teaching. There are days I drive home and feel really good about all that's going on, and then there are days that I feel disjointed and unsure. It will happen, with continual learning. This all takes lots of collaboration - with kids and teachers. I am really enjoying this journey, and couldn't do it without my family, friends, and my PLN!

Mrs Ripp aka 4thGrdTeach said...

Hi Becky,
well I am doing it, partly at least. I too have tests to cover and much curriculum dictated by my district and yet I find ways to make it more engaging. And when I cannot find ways I ask the students, they are just as creative, if not more so than me So although every project isn't always hands-on dynamic engaged learning, most of them are. next year's challenge will be to keep it up and to expand it more. And don't worry, even if you do a little bit then that is something. Make it work for you.

learn said...

Hi Becky,
As Mrs. Ripp says, even if you do a little... I've blogged on some things I've been trying with different classes around giving up some of the power in the classroom, if you're interested in checking it out here

PNaugle said...

I teach 4th graders math and social studies and I’m doing it. What I have found is that I can’t do everything I hear from about others in my PLN, but I can choose to make my lessons 21st century lessons by design. When I plan my lessons each week I include various Web 2.0 tools to use with my students. Instead of giving a paper pretest I create a flipchart for my Promethean board and have the students use ActiVotes to take the pretest. As I present my lessons I put the study guides, video clips, and discussion questions on our Edmodo group where my students have access to them 24/7. I list the weekly homework on our class website for my students and their parents to see. My students reflect on their learning by keeping their own individual blogs.

I am constantly on the lookout for ways to have my students do collaborative online projects and I started by using projects hosted by Jennifer Wagner back in 2004. I found a Skype buddy through Jen’s Ning. My buddy (Jan Wells) and I have done several collaborative projects over the last two years and we now present about how we use Skype. During the last two school years my students have Skyped with dozens of classes across the country and in Canada. My students put together a Mardi Gras presentation to do for some of the other classes we Skyped with and they created glogs about Mardi Gras. We invited other schools to join us in a Skype Collaboration group on Edmodo where they were able to see my students’ glogs.

This is an ever evolving process for me and my students. Since 2004 I have been learning and experimenting with tools that work for us. Some I’ve only introduced to my students and others we have embraced and use on a regular or daily basis. Yes, I have grade level expectations to cover, six interval assessments given by my district, and a high-stakes state test to prepare my students for, but what I’ve discovered is that by using technology I don’t worry about the tests. I design authentic, engaging lessons and my students do very well on the tests.

As I have reflected on my lessons, there are many that I am extremely pleased with and there are many that still need to be revamped. That is what I try to do each summer – take another dozen or so lessons and recreate them for my 21st century learners. I feel that I am on the right path as far as my technology integration goes, and I will continue to hone my skills.

Becky, at least we are on the path, so many teachers I know have not even stepped onto this path yet. Questioning your practices is a great way to develop as a teacher and you are doing that very well. Keep it up. You are doing it too.