Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Maximize Student Learning

How can I maximize student learning?

Research shows that engagement matters. Students have to want to come to school and enjoy school. Mostly, I believe that my students feel this way. Soon, I'll ask them how we can make our class better. I'll listen to their ideas and employ the ideas that I can to help develop engagement.

In the meantime, I'll focus on the categories below--areas that I know build engagement and investment.

"More of them, less of me" is a great quote to lead good work. By creating routines that happen seamlessly means that I use my voice less, and students lead their actions more. For example, when students walk into the room in the morning, the schedule is set and they start the morning activity independently. This gives me time to respond to students' questions and concerns. I also have a student class manager who does a great job with the morning paperwork including attendance and lunch count.

I use learning menus a lot too. The menu guides student efforts and gives me more time to coach and support student learning. The menu is online and links to many of the materials and supporting videos/text that help student learn with independence. Further, students usually get to work where they want and with whom they want to work. I say that it's their choice as long as they are choosing well. If they're not on task and learning, I'll investigate and coach accordingly.

Meaningful Learning
As much as possible I like to tie the learning standards to world events as well as students' interests. We typically start learning units with big ideas, questions, and real world events and stories. When possibly we use the learning to impact others in positive ways. This creates investment and demonstrates rationale.

Student Choice
Building in choice--choice of tools, place to study, specific topics, and project type, builds investment.

I use assessments, both formal and informal, to see who needs and desires attention. Now that the year is rolling along, my next challenge is to build the needed attention for students who need or want that time as a regular part of the routine.

I coach a lot during the learning day. Typically students' learning menus have check-in points, and at those check-ins, students and I review student learning. As we review, I coach the student forward. When a project is collaborative, I'll offer the feedback in person to the whole class and via the newsletter. I also want to build in more written feedback in the weeks ahead--feedback via shared Google doc threads, notes on student work, and student-teacher conferences.

Students are social and they enjoy working as a team. Also collaboration is shown to be an effective learning structure. Hence we'll continue to build that into the schedule.

Celebration and Special Events
There needs to be time to celebrate our learning and enjoy special events. We'll build that into the schedule with culminating unit events, field studies, and more.

Service Learning, Teaching, and Leadership
The chance to engage in service learning projects, teaching, and leadership is both engaging and empowering for students. Our kindergarten-fifth grade program provides students with a chance to teach and lead each week.  Students look forward to this. Also, as I've mentioned numerous times, our school has a great service learning initiative in place and we'll contribute to that as individuals, teams, and the whole class.  Our first collective project will be to send a Halloween box of treats to the troops.

A Healthy, Comfortable Environment
As much as possible we're working towards a learning environment that is inviting and comfortable with multiple types of chairs, work areas, and choice.  Students are encouraged to bring healthy snacks and water. They are allowed to eat and drink when hungry.

Craft, Creativity, and STEAM
Students naturally love to create. Our developing STEAM center provides students with a ready supply of creative materials to use as we learn and during free time too.

In many ways, tech is the great equalizer. It seems like almost everyone can find a tech venue that they enjoy and learn from. We have ready access to multiple tech tools--tools that students use with interest and collaboration. There's lots of conversation, share, and creativity when it comes to technology.

A predictable communication routine is in place. A daily tweet tells students and families what is happening that day (#team1214hh). Tweets might also share highlight images or words about the day's learning. An online Google doc home study list provides a daily list of home study expectations and enrichment opportunities. All of the important class links are also listed on this page. My partner teacher and I write a weekly newsletter which is hosted on a class newsletter website and distributed online weekly. Also, multiple class websites support student learning and act as "reference books" for class study--these websites are available to the entire learning team: students, family members, colleagues, and leaders. Finally, students and family members are welcome to email the teachers anytime with questions and concerns. We respond readily.

Playground and Specials
Our school has a great playground where students love to play. Every elementary school deserves a great playground. Lots of specials such as art, music, tech, library, and physical education also give students the chance to learn in multiple ways with many expert teachers.

There's lots of reasons to want to come to school every day, and this is important because engagement matters a lot! During upcoming family conferences, my first question will be, "Is _____ happy at school?" That will open the door to a conversation about how we can build engagement, which in turn will build better learning.

Further, this would be a great discussion topic for a school staff. I wonder what others have to say about engagement and how they foster that in their classrooms and schools.