The Choice Driven Classroom

If there is one thing that drives our teaching, it’s giving our students choice in the classroom.  My students pick where they want to sit, they choose who they want to work with and with minimal exceptions they are all working on different skills, strategies and goals during reading, writing and math workshops.  They show their learning in different and creative ways and they understand that every single choice they make impacts their learning.   Alicia and I teach  6 and 7 years old and yet they understand what it means to be a self directed learner.   In our classroom this 21st century skill is explicitly taught.                                                                                                 img_4574.jpg

I understand and follow classroom routines. This sets the foundation.  My students walk into a fairly bland classroom on the first day.  There are no assigned seats, no name tags, there are no colorful bulletin boards,  no jobs posted, there are no anchor charts on the walls with guidelines for behaviors. In the first 4 to 6 weeks we will create all of this together. Students will help craft our classroom routines and make agreements so that we can spend each day with one goal in mind and that goal is to learn.  And because they have input into  how our classroom functions there is a lot of student buy in.  6 year olds want to learn and they want to have fun.  And surprising they want structure too.

I work independently for short than longer periods of time.  Alicia and I believe strongly in the workshop model and we teach reading, writing and math workshops.  The structure is predictable.   A short mini lesson on the carpet, followed by ample time to practice independently and then time at the end for reflection.  At this point in the year my students are reading self-selected texts for 25 minutes each morning.  They are writing for close to 40 minutes a day.  They pick their own books based on interest and their ability to read it.  On any given morning you would see students independently working on spelling  patterns, writing a blog post,  using bananagrams or spellominoes to make words or using their iPads to record a video blog in which they summarize a text of their choice.   blog phoeve

I understand that my choices impact my learning.  (and sometime the learning of others)    This is key to making a choice driven classroom work.  My students learn through trial and error, who they work best with and who they don’t.  And just like we do, as adults, they figure out that sometimes there  best friends are not the ones that help them most in the classroom. (And/or when they are supposed to be listening on the carpet.)

I am setting learning goals and persevering to meet them.   All of my students set learning goals.  These goals are sometime set with me and very often set on their own.  Because creating a mindset for learning is also a big part of our curriculum, many of my students will pick a goal around perseverance and persistence especially in subjects that may be hard.  Learning to not give up and to be resilient  are life long skills that will serve them well.

But becoming a self directed learner doesn’t mean anything if students aren’t allowed some time to explore their passions.  My students look forward to Wednesdays because they know that on this day they can pick anything they want to learn about.  As their teacher,  Wednesday means they are reading and writing and researching topics of their choice. But to them in means they are in total control of their learning, they pick the topic, they ask questions, they make a plan to share their learning.

They are empowered.   They take risks. They make mistakes. They begin again.   It’s what school should be.

 

 

 

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My Why -Making a Difference in the Lives of My Students

Every summer I look forward to more time for exercise and usually that means a daily walk with something playing in my ear.  Last week, it was Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on how great leaders inspire action.  This talk is not specifically about education but  as usual, as I was listening , my brain started thinking about school.  In his talk, Sinek  explains what he believes make organizations  and leadership successful.  He says that the great leaders and organizations in the world are motivated, by what he calls, the golden circle or the why, how and what.  And as he explained this theory, I was already applying it to what I have learned about teaching.   In  our job, we all know what we are supposed to do -educate students.   And we are usually given the how – curriculum, supplies, professional development.  But Sinek would argue that for most, it’s the why  that  is unclear.  He says that very few people and organizations in the world know why they do what they do.   What’s  your purpose,  your cause or belief, he asks.  Why do any of us get up in the morning?    Why do we teach?

I know why.  And it’s more than just wanting to make sure my students are academically proficient.   I want my 1st grade students to know how to learn, to ask questions,  to collaborate with each other, to be able to solve problems and to push themselves to learn more.  I want them be  concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world.

Alicia and I are lucky enough to  work at an elementary school that was built on the foundation of 5 pillars. These pillars not only guide our students ( K-5) but they provide the framework for our teaching.    These pillars are “my why.”

We are self-directed learners

We encourage each other to think critically and learn more

We are concerned, confident and compassionate citizens of the world

We earn everywhere, we learn together

We are creative

In my classroom, students are learning to read, write, and work with numbers.  They are doing projects and using technology to connect, capture and create new learning.  But I know now that it’s the work we do around these pillars that drive my instruction and their learning.  There is so much pressure around test scores and academics and yet very few administrators seem to care how we are teaching students these 21st century skills.   I have learned that it’s these skills that push my students to think critically and learn more.  It’s our daily classroom meetings that build community and help us work together to solve problems.  It’s a mindset for learning that is explicitly taught.

We start the year by learning step by step what it means to be a self directed learner.  Then we do the same to define what it means to be a critical thinker.  And every day of the year we practice persistence, optimism, empathy, and resilience. This is why my students and my fellow teachers at Queen Anne Elementary are successful.  It’s why I love my job, and why I look forward to getting to school each morning.   I would love to hear your why.   And of course, here’s the link to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk.

 

~Molly

 

 

 

 

Math Challenge -Sometimes You Just Have To Start Again

I’m just going to say it , straight out,  Math is hard to teach, even in first grade.  Students seem to love it or hate it – not many fall in between.  You have those kids who struggle and  you have those kids who seem to know everything.  This school year, our schools math specialist started a bi- weekly math challenge.  Just the word challenge seemed to motivate my students and so we did it, regularly, every 2 weeks.  My students did well,  (getting the answers)  but what I did better as a teacher  was to ask ask more questions.  How do you know that’s the right answer?  Could there be a different answer?  Show me your thinking!  So by the time we got to Math Challenge 12 , I was really on auto pilot.  It was the first Monday after spring break and I have to say I grabbed the math challenge  and thought “perfect,  an already planned lesson.  Let’s go! ”  I put the problem on the overhead,  read it, heard my students  say “this will be an easy one” and they grabbed their pencils and went to work.  And then, as usual, I watched my “high” math students finish quickly and one by one the rest finished too. We moved on with our day.   It wasn’t until that afternoon that I went over their work.  And while shocked may  be a bit of an overstatement – it really was close to what I was feeling when I realized that all of my students but two, got the problem wrong.

  
Hmm.  What did I do wrong?  In my classroom we have spent the year talking about doing our best, persisting through hard tasks and rising to a challenge. The book, A Mindset for Learning by   Kristine Mraz and Christine Hertz  has helped my students learn that growing our brains is going to make us more successful in life.  So the next day – this was the morning message that greeted my students. 

But first we would practice a new brain grower-  Resilience, “When you have trouble, you bounce back and try again.”   During this conversation, my students admitted that the challenge was hard and they too were tired after spring break.  They promised to  start again  and when they finished , they would grab the 2nd challenge as well  ( There is always 2 challenges – Level A and Level B) . And of course, they would show their thinking.  This time they grabbed their pencils, math manipulatives  and went to work.   

 And one hour later, students were still working. 

 And by working I mean real work.  The answers didn’t come easy and no one was copying anyone else’s work.  Soon  the students who were struggling the most were working in groups and I got out my phone to ask a few how they were feeling.

  
Today, I’m looking over their work once again  before sending it on to our Math Specialist.  She will pick a “winner” for our primary and our  3,4,5 students.  

 
   I believe we proved that we are persistent and resilient in @MsMecksClass even if all that  math thinking comes with a price.   

~Molly