Saturday, October 22, 2011

Checking In After a Busy Week

It has been a busy, busy week. It started last weekend with a ton of work at home and not much time to relax and rejuvenate. Even though I started out the week exhausted, it was totally worth it. My waterlogged basement is dry, recarpeted and livable once again! As much as I'm happy with how things are going at school I don't think I'll ever be truly caught up with that part of my life this year so I was very excited to have my house clean and organized. If everything else is crazy, at least I can come home to a place that is clean and calming.

We're starting to work on our next PBL unit based on the Titanic so we will see how this one goes. The kids just asked their questions, and my student teacher and I are providing the instruction on the reading strategies and skills that are focused on for the next few assessments. I'm looking forward to getting to the student-lead part of the learning to see what they will do this time around. I was thinking about requiring a student or group created digital artifact for this project, but I'm not sure about that yet. Need to do a little more thinking.

Much of my time outside of school has been focused on my PLP e-course that I'm taking about being a connected coach. I'll be writing more about that this week; I have learned so much, and I think it would be great for all classroom teachers to learn more about being a coach. It would not only help teachers support their coworkers, but I am definitely learning how to work differently with my students!

The other important thing that I've done is I've gotten back to taking better care of myself again! After losing close to 60 pounds, I had gained about 25 back after our challenging spring and lazy summer. I've cooked every night except Friday the last two weeks (hmmm - I should probably post some of the yummy and easy things I'm cooking as I learn how to cook!), and I am feeling much better.

So that's been my last week. To sum it up - it's been a blur. But I'm learning a lot and having fun. I just need to remember to write it down and tell you all about it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Today Was a Great Day

I almost hate to say it because I don't want to jinx myself, but today was probably the best day since starting the school year. Funny thing is, I wasn't expecting it to turn out that way at all.

Our morning started with a pretty big meeting, and I was not at all happy about the information I got before the meeting. It's so hard. On one hand, we teachers know our students, and we just want to do what's best for them. On the other hand the reading supervisor and specialists have all of the data and know the goals that must be met, and they work extremely hard to create sessions that best meet everybody's needs.

We were definitely a few miles apart, but everybody was professional and came in willing to listen. When all was said and done, we had a plan that honors the data, recognizes what the students need to meet the specific goals required this year, and keeps students in their classrooms during all of their subjects so they can still participate in subjects they love and activities that allow them to do authentic reading and writing. It was an extremely positive experience, and I'm really glad I got to be a part of it.

Then this afternoon I had a really positive experience with my students. One child has been out sick for about a week and a half. Using an idea that I learned from Brian Crosby, (@bcrosby) we connected via Skype. He participated in all of our lessons, small groups and Daily 5 blocks, and he seemed to be really excited to be with us. I had two kids who had some difficulty with it and were constantly waving at the computer, but 2 out of 24 is not bad! The kids were very happy to have him back, and I was, too. We'll continue to Skype him in until he can come back to school. My only regret is not thinking of this sooner!

I talk about the stuff I do a lot here, but I'm not one to go around and tell the people I work with what's going on in my room. I don't want to seem like I'm bragging or try to set expectations for others. But I was really excited about this so I told my next door neighbor, and she came to check it out. I think karma didn't want my head to get too big about it, though, because as soon as she left I was on puke detail - walking somebody to the nurse's office with a trash can just in case. Nothing brings you back to Earth faster than thinking about the potential opportunity to catch puke in a trash can! ;)

So I'm going to ride this wave of positive into the weekend and see what we can do to take the next steps on Monday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Results Are In!

My past few posts have documented my struggles with my first attempts at PBL in my classroom. We've been working on a project focused on the Iditarod. Our purpose was to answer the students' questions they created as we previewed the race and did a WQML chart (that's my own little take on Tony Stead's RAN strategy) at the beginning of the story. After we finished the story we found that many of our questions were left unanswered so I gave the students the opportunity to do some learning in a test-free, interest-based environment.

I won't lie. This was a LOT harder than I thought it would be.

I started with 6 questions that I hoped would get the kids in the right frame of mind for taking over as self-directed learners. My students answered the questions like this:

As we started working on the projects I took two separate approaches with my kids. One group was very guided, and the other group basically took control of their own learning. While each group went through the project differently and completed different tasks, both groups achieved the purpose of the project: to answer their own questions in a test-free environment. If you'd like to see some of our final projects you can visit our class blog.

After all the struggles I had, I am really pleased with how our first PBL experience went. We still have a long way to go, but I think that we are on the right track.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My Plan

A few more days, a few more opportunities to explore the difficulties my one group of students is having. They are great kids, but working in teams is EXTREMELY challenging for them. I have been thinking long and hard about my plans for tomorrow and Friday. We were originally going to work in independent, student selected groups to find information about the Iditarod. But after a few more days of observing the group, I realize now is not quite the time.

I could plow ahead with the project to make a point, but I truly think that the difficulties they would encounter working in groups would negate any of the benefits this PBL opportunity would provide. I'm still going to allow the kids to select the group of questions they'd like to answer. I'm still going to allow the students to choose the resources they use to find the answer. But how they answer the questions and work together is going to be much or guided than I originally planned. I am keeping my original plan with my other group of students so I am very interested to see how both groups fair with this learning opportunity.

This decision didn't come easily. I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon what I would do and why I would do it that way. My goal for this project is that the kids will learn the information THEY wanted to learn about the Iditarod. Because these kids have never had experience with PBL or independent learning, I know that this baby step will allow them to begin to develop the skills they need to eventually get to full-on PBL.

I often wonder if the crazy start to our school year impacted the community I tried to create in my classroom. I wonder if the change from old school to new has impacted my students. Either way, those are things that I cannot change. What I can do is take a step back, look closely at the process, and think about the skills my students need to have in order to be successful working together to complete a task. And by guiding them through the process the first few times I feel like I will be able to help them become the independent learners I'd like them to be.

I guess we will see what happens tomorrow!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Timing is Everything

I'm currently taking a course to learn about being a Connected Coach. While the emphasis of the course is coaching adults, I'm finally realizing that part of what I'm trying to change in my classroom is my role. I am trying to go from the leader and dispenser of knowledge to a coach who helps my students develop their own learning. As you might have read yesterday, this is not going so well. Not. Well. At. All.

So this morning I was taking the time to respond to some assignments in our community, and I read this article about self-directed learners and their invisible assets. While I was reading the article I realized that these are the things my kids need to develop. But if we can't get adults to do or recognize these things, how in the world do I get 9 and 10 year old kids to? I guess we have to try and teach them.

Despite my feelings yesterday, I'm going to keep trying. This week, after we finish reading our story about the Iditarod, we are going to work in teams to answer the questions we wanted to know about but didn't learn about in our story. Before we get start, though, we're going to talk about these six questions that I developed from the 6 characteristics of self-directed learners:

1. What is our purpose? What are we trying to do or learn during this project?
2. If you could do or learn it in ANY way, what would you do?
3. What are you good at that could help your team?
4. Which part of the project do you want to be part of?
5. What do you think will be hard? What might our team mess up? Why is making mistakes a GOOD thing?
6. How can working with others help us complete this project?

I'm not sure if this is going to help my students begin to understand what taking control of their learning means, but it's worth a shot. I feel strongly about changing my classroom, and I'm not going to give up now.