Thursday, October 06, 2011

Reflecting on my Goals

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
~ Mary Anne Radmacher
I recently attended an EARCOS workshop with colleagues to begin the process of developing an action plan to assess the impact our technology initiatives are having on our school community. While this was a worthwhile event for our team, the biggest ‘take-away’ for me was the personal spark for reflection. As we worked through the steps in creating our action plan, one of the guiding questions stood out - What do you expect to see? A simple little question that stopped me in my tracks.

At the beginning of this school year I set some goals for myself to try and create a classroom that resembled a collaborative problem solving studio. I had some ideas in my head about what I might do and a vague sense of what this would look like, but I didn't develop any concrete plans or devise a way of assessing my progress. What did I expect to see? It's a great question and one I didn't really ask myself when I first started to think about changes I would make in my practice.

So, what do I see everyday? Am I really looking? Or have I fallen into the busy trap of doing what needs to be done in order to ‘complete’ units in time to be in step with my colleagues. It's time to take stock. What have I done? What do I plan to do? How will I know if my classroom is becoming more like my vision of a collaborative problem solving studio? What do I expect to see?

I decided to make a list of the types of things I would hope to see if I walked into such a learning space.
  • Animated students working together in small groups on a variety of projects and investigations
  • Students writing on their blogs about their inquiries, collaborating with students from other countries
  • Purposeful noise - the kind of buzz that is generated by happy people engaged in meaningful work
  • A sense of freedom and flexibility as everyone used the space and resources as needed
  • Me, the teacher, working with a group of students as a collaborator
  • A welcoming space, one where students would invite visitors into their conversations, keen to share and open to learn from their experience
Do I see these things? Without any evidence or collected data it is hard to say. From my subjective viewpoint, these are the things that are working. I know I try to dedicate time for students to pursue inquiries of personal interest, but to be honest, it is the first time I steal from when interruptions (holidays, evacuation drills, assemblies...) make it difficult to get to all of the learning engagements I had planned (I know - the 'I have planned' part is a part of the problem!). I am trying to use technology to make effective use of our time in class. I have joined the Flipped Class Network and have just completed my first 'flipped' lesson (awkward and way too long, but my students liked it!). My students are using their blogs to write about their learning and to host our first attempt at digital portfolios. How well am I doing at writing comments on all of my students' blogs and monitoring their progress with their digital portfolios, well - this is definitely an area for improvement.

What's not working? I am going to restrain myself from going on and on here, but... I still have students waiting for me to tell them what to do. Many of my students still ask for 'permission' to do the things they need to do for their own learning ("Is it alright if I do this on the computer?" "May I work at the round table?"). Most of the activities in our class are still initiated by me and many of the students are still focused on the 'amount' they need to 'do'. I still struggle with realistic time lines; my class is not an island, but one of five and we work collaboratively with the other classes. How do you allow for individual and authentic learning experiences when you are tied to shared assessments and a common schedule? I still catch myself saying things like, 'Only five more minutes until French - finish up!'

What did I expect to see? How will I know? I've decided to embark on a bit of a project after our mid-term break. With my students help we are going to take a picture of our class every 20 minutes during the school day over the course of a week. What will we see? It will be an interesting analysis and will hopefully help me to become more objective when assessing the progress (or lack thereof) I am making in trying to achieve this shift.

Stay tuned - I'll share when the project is done.

4 comments:

hillarycd said...

Great post, Jenny! I like the question, "How do you allow for individual and authentic learning experiences when you are tied to shared assessments and a common schedule?" I find that because I must follow the other grade 8 classes there is very little room for student-led learning. We, the teachers decide where we are going to take the kids instead of letting them explore and find their own way.
On a separate note, I am very interested to see how your image gallery turns out- what a great project!

Naini Singh said...

Yes, I am putting the pressure on Jenny. I await your gallery :)

Abir Singh said...

Jenny, I am going to pick up on your" 5 more minutes to french!"

I remember how I used to get up in the wee hours of the morning to paint. And then I'd forget to make breakfast for the kids! Reminding children to defer their work and start cleaning up will help them become better organized. They will also value the notion of being on time as a way of showing respect to people. I guess we have to take solace in those aspects and keep in mind that the students can defer their excitment.
But I do agree with you when say how much do allow students to pursue their own inquiries?!!

Abir Singh said...

Hi Jenny,

I am going to pick up from where you tell the kids to clean up and get ready for French:)A totally different strain altogether, I know!

I think that integrated within the curriculum are the attitudes and behaviour that we need we need to teach as well. Getting ready and being on time will help them develop or at least recognize the importance of self-management skills. They will also understand that to be on time is simply good manners as it shows respect to people for whom they are being on time.

They have deferred their work and will continue the collaboration at a later date. The disadvantage is that the momentum is broken and at times it is hard for kids to get back the mood.

I feel that in winding up a class, a different sort of learning takes place.

I totally agree with you when you say that we often decide what the kids will learn. I do recall a few times, when I stopped a lesson. On one occasion, it had started to rain. We could smell the soil, and the fresh breeze swept into the classroom. The kids kept staring out of the window. So we went out and did a rain dance:)