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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Student-Centered Education: What Does that Look Like?

Dianna Chamberlain's tweet during this morning's #satchat inspired me. I've been writing and sharing a lot about what I've been doing and thinking related to teaching children well, but I haven't written quite as much specifically about what students are doing and learning, and that's a perfect direction in which to move my writing in the year ahead.

Dianna's tweet caused me to reflect on what's been working with regard to students' learning and action, and where can I improve next year. Her words also caused me to think about the structures I'll put into place to direct my writing and work deeply into student-centered education.

As I analyze last year's efforts, there were many efforts that worked with regard to students' success and a positive experience of school including the following:
  • A commitment to readily respond to the requests, needs, and interests of the teaching/learning team: students, families, colleagues, leaders, and community members. I encourage students, families, and colleagues to email me anytime with questions, and I respond and work with team members. This works very well with regard to fostering a positive, healthy team culture. 
  • A commitment to flexibly teach and plan the curriculum in ways that matter to students by revising the curriculum regularly to respond to students' academic needs and interests.
  • Easy to access websites and newsletters that informed the teaching team of all teaching/learning efforts with lead time and detail.
  • Frequent class meetings to give students voice and lots of opportunity to direct their teaching/learning menu. 
  • A well designed curriculum program that was inviting, varied, and developmentally appropriate for students.
  • Responding to teaching and learning as a shared conversation between and amongst the learning team--this gave the program life, a life that responded to the members of the team.
  • A welcoming, comfortable, student-friendly classroom.
There were areas that weren't as successful too, areas where I can improve my craft in the year ahead. 

Indoor Recess
A lot of my students wanted to make and create during recess. They didn't want to go outside, but instead they wanted to work together in and around the maker station and computers. I want to work with my team to add an indoor space as a recess choice. For many of these busy students that was the one time during the day where they could interact with like-minded peers throughout the grade-level with shared play and interests. To do this, we'll have to creatively work with assistant teachers as well as teacher duty schedules. 

Fifth graders LOVE birthdays. I need to recognize birthdays in a special way.

So many of my students complained that they didn't have enough time to teach their classmates. They wanted to get up there and "do it better" than me. I  made some time for that, but not enough. Next year I'm going to start each learning session for the core math program with a student share time. I'm going to keep a list of who shares so that everyone gets the chance to share their thinking, creativity, and enrichment. I've created a rubric to guide the share and I'll coach students with regard to their sharing. This is one way that I can make more space for their voices.

Next, I want to offer students greater opportunity and motivation to write articles for the weekly newsletter. I'll work with students and the teaching team to figure out how we can do that.

Also, similar to this year's partner teacher, I want to offer more small group lunch meetings. Students are hungry to share their thinking, thoughts, and ideas in a small group setting and lunch meetings are a perfect time to offer this kind of share. The lunch meeting is simple. Students bring their lunch and sit with you. They share their thinking and ideas, and as the teacher you listen and respond. I'll make sure that I meet with each one of the 75 students in small groups during the first six weeks of the school year. 

Accessible Home Study and Home Study Coaching
Homework is a mainstay in our teaching/learning community as it is seen as one way to foster optimal academic skills and patterns. I have found that students who complete homework on a regular basis do better academically and feel more confident about their studies.

This year some of the homework was not accessible enough for some students. Next year I've developed a more accessible homework pattern. I also want to be more responsible for checking homework daily and responding to student home study efforts. I'll do this by making homework check a regular part of each day, and I'll make a commitment to checking and responding to a number of student homework math journals each day. I'll readily contact families if children are not completing their work and work with those families to establish more successful home study patterns.

Practice Protocols
We had good protocols for our respectful and kind classroom community last year, but we didn't practice some of those protocols enough therefore sometimes students and teachers didn't make the time or effort to listen to one another enough or to follow some of the check-in and clean-up routines with care. If we practice the protocols we set well at the start of the year, then we'll apply those protocols with care and success throughout the year. This matters.

Acknowledge and Show-Off the Great Work of Students
We did quite a bit of this last year as a team through school assembly share and newsletter highlights. We can do a better job by keeping a list of who we highlight so that we make sure to highlight every learner at least once and hopefully more often during the year. We can also extend our share to local newspapers, online news, and social media share. The movie below is one of my favorite shares from years past.

Focus the Blog on Student Learning and Action
Without using student names or pointing to specific students, I'll write more about student learning and action next year by collecting data, reflecting on trends, reporting successes, and analyzing ways our class can work and learn better. Thanks to Dianna, I'm looking forward to this more specific focus for blogging in the year to come. Let's see what happens.