It has been an exciting couple of weeks in my classroom, and it's been mostly due to the fact that I've been able to sit back and watch my kids take some ownership in their learning.
You've read about how my kids constructed their own knowledge about pollution, and they created podcasts (that you can view here, here and here) about wetlands. We bucked the system a bit with this project; we were "supposed" to do a writing piece about wetlands and take a paper / pencil test. Our writing score came from the script that the students wrote for their podcast, and the podcast replaced the paper and pencil test. But my teammate was a bit worried about whether or not our kids actually understood the information, and I was also curious. Does completing a task like creating a podcast result in the same scores as studying for an assessment? To find out we asked our students to answer 10 short questions focusing on what wetlands are, how they are polluted, and how we can help protect them. I was so happy to see that 21 of my 23 students scored the magical 80% needed to be considered proficient! In my eyes that shows that a meaningful project can have even more of an impact on student learning and retention that the threat of a quiz or test.
The next activity that made my heart pitter-patter was an activity we did with the Patricia Polacco book The Junkyard Wonders. If you've never read this book you need to go and find it right now and read it. Do yourself a favor, though, and get some tissues first. We used the story to help us develop the reading strategy of summarizing, and I also use it to talk about bullying, having a growth mindset, and believing in yourself (with an emphasis on the last three more so than the first one). I can't remember where I read about the chalk talk strategy so I'm afraid I can't credit that blog, but I used it for reflecting upon this story. My kids had 10 quiet minutes to go up to the board and write what they thought after reading the book. If they didn't feel comfortable writing or really agreed with somebody, they could add a star or smile. Here's what the board looked like when we were done:
Talk about pictures saying 1000 words! Isn't this really what we should be helping our kids learn rather than how to fill in the bubbles the right way??!!?? Even though I took these pictures, I left this up on our board a couple of days simply because it made me so happy to read it, and I wanted the kids to keep seeing it. It inspired them to write this letter to the author (still waiting to see if she replies to the tweet we sent her) and we talk often of being geniuses!
Finally, my one of my teammates and I co-teach math, and during the last few weeks we are seeing our students grow and blossom. Our class is made up of many students who have difficulties learning for a lot of different reasons, but things are really starting to click for them. They are making connections, starting to understand the "why" behind the processes that they are doing, and, most exciting for us, they are really starting to talk math. The discussions that they have had around probability and geometry have helped them make several discoveries, and they are becoming more and more confident and willing to take risks. Some days, like today, the two of us just stop, stand, and listen in awe because of how far these kids have come despite the fact that others claim they "can't" do it and will never understand.
I'm not sure how all of this will translate to scores on their state tests, and I'm proud to say I'm not so sure that I care. Today, a student who wouldn't even TRY to do problems on her own at the beginning of the year, asked for help and talked her way through a problem on our spiral review. Today our kids who can't developed the correct definition for polygons simply by talking in pairs and then sharing with our class. Today, again, kids who think they can't when faced with a book full of bubbles saw that they really CAN. And that, my friends, is something pretty exciting to be able to sit back and watch happen.