June 30, 2017

Student-Led Learning-Go for It!


Welcome back!  If you're here for the first time, welcome!  I am on an experience where I'm Inservicing Myself during my summer break on Student-Led Learning.  I have been moving along by reading an amazing book called Fearless Learners by Christy Sutton and Kristin Westberry!  Be sure to check out some of my other posts!  

Today, we are looking at Step 3:  Let's Go!  Both Sutton and Westberry share a number of personal stories about their beginnings, what kids said and did on those first days.  There were some amazing stories and successes within the text, which all pointed to the following-CHARACTER QUALITIES!  Student-led learning is not all about just learning about school work, it is also about developing students who can problem solve and think about others.  I'm being brief here because I would like to back up a little and give you some background and ideas of my own to share.  

In 2003, I started doing something with my students that I can now clearly see was student-led learning.  I was above the curve and now realize I could have made a million dollars if only...Now, I say that laughing, but, it is a reality.  In 2003, I started doing student-centered math, today known as Guided Math.  It was so amazing to see 5th graders rocking their own learning.  What happened to stop me from making a million-other teachers!  You see, after seeing the following student-led characteristic, not only myself, but a fellow teacher, saw the HUGE impact it was having.  Students took risks, students helped each other, students were remediated immediately, student test scores went up, and students were leading their learning in many of the same exact ways both Sutton and Westberry are sharing.  I can tell you 100% this works, especially in math!  So, with the encouragement of that teaching friend,  I presented at a district level inservice to...crickets.  No reaction, no support, in fact, the opposite.  I was told by primary teachers there was NO WAY they were going to teach math more than once a lesson!  I was told there was NO WAY they would use manipulatives in small group!  I was told by intermediate teachers there was NO WAY they could just let their students work on pages they already knew and move ahead!  NO WAY!  So, I closed my door and did it-and, then,-stopped!  High stakes testing got higher, Common Core math craziness stepped in, and I stopped!  Poof-million dollars gone (and now went to someone else!  HA!)  

What I do know is that all of the character qualities discussed in Let's Go can and will develop as I step back into this mode of learning.  That's where I'm starting again-math!  So, I have a few pics to share and a product or two also!  


What my student's rubric page will look like at the beginning of the year. 

How my students will chart their work across time (Ignore the red.  That's work I have to do!)

First, I will say that I've decided not to use the terms found in Fearless Learners for my classroom. They use scales as the term that they use with students.  I have always called what they call "scales" as rubrics.   I will not be able to retrain my brain to call them anything but rubrics!  

I've also decided to call the guiding page a Unit Overview.  Again, this is what my district calls our teaching tool, so I feel that it is implanted enough in my head to call it that.  Needless to say, you can call these tools what you would like.  There is no "set" terms to go by, because, we are all different!  Here is one of the things I've whipped up for sale over at my store:  


This product is a simple way to keep your kids on track to develop a game.  11 different game boards are in this product with or without cards to match the board!  Print and Go-all you need to do is put them in files for easy student access!  

As I learn more and more, my brain keeps going to the possibilities of this model!  Let me know what you think about this model and the possibilities in your room!  I'd love to hear!







June 27, 2017

Student-Led Learning: It's All Gonna Be Just Fine!

student-led classroom, student designed, teacher facilitator, book study, design in the classroom, classroom climate, teacher as facilitator, student as leader


I opened my Facebook before starting this post to a friend who shared a photo of their kids doing yoga.  She had just woken up and walked out of her bedroom and, there they were, in tree pose and then Dogward Down.  She didn't initiate that, they just did it.  She said, "It's all gonna be just fine ya'all!"  It brought me to this part of the chapter in Fearless Learners that I just read!  


It's all gonna be just fine ya'all!  Just fine!  

If you haven't been following me along in the last few posts I've made (and one over at Conversations From The Classroom), I've been sharing some moments where I've practiced the idea of a Student-led classroom.  I picked up the book Fearless Learners off of Amazon because it was the clearest path I could find in book form to accomplish this very idea-and I'm so glad I did!  I had so many questions swirling after reading the opening that I now feel more grounded in my thoughts after reading Step 2: Design.  Let's take a quick look, shall we?

I love that fact that Sutton and Westberry are honest about what they are doing. They will never hide from you that fact that you will mess-up and that you will have some failures.  In fact, they tell you as you read to expect them and then grow from them-both the students and the teachers themselves.  This is a key component in this journey, because it will look different for everyone!  

They also pose this question from a 2006 TED talk by Sir Ken Roninson.  "HOW are we defining and measuring the student's mastery of a given topic?  Are we fostering a love of learning, of exploring, of problem-solving in real-life applications?"  Honestly, this encompasses the entire chapter on design-there it is, right there!  Sutton and Westberry encourage you to live in this spot when you are designing without ever saying this directly.  And, even more importantly, they point to how you should hand this to the students themselves.  And that's where it all starts.  Students in their classrooms design their own schedules each day.  They provide an example of a third grade classroom that also designs their day!  It can be done!  Once students design their day, they follow a scale.  I would akin this to a rubric.  They point out that their scales are made WITH THE STUDENTS!  I enjoyed a sample where they actually put model question into the scale so that students could visualize what they MUST be able to do from the standards.  This is another key component.  The students KNOW the standards, are able to explain the standards, are able to DEFEND how they know they've mastered it!  Having seen this with my own students, I can tell you-they CAN do this!  I've just never done this on this scale!  

Students also know when they are assessment ready!  Within this system comes the topic of time and assessment ready!  Kids are well aware of when they are because they are taking their time! "What!!", you say!  Sutton and Westberry point out a key component here.  This would happen in a regular classroom anyways!  You would assess and then remediate.  Why not give the time at the front, where it matters!  Imagine that one-we'd actually be teaching again!  

Over and over, across the text, you will see every argument you may have for Student-led learning shot down!  These ladies know their stuff!  They provide the cautions, the ideas, and the space (it is set up like a journal) to read and reflect about the realities of the Student-led Classroom in your life-and how to design to meet your needs.  I will say, some of this looks very traditional based in an untraditional layout, so there is some comfort in your world if you think you have to drop everything and jump right in.  They will tell you they are not textbook dependent, but they do use them within their model of learning-just in a totally different way!  So, here's a little glance at my first "scale" for my math block.  Take a peek and let me know what you think!  I'll be back with more in a few days!


June 23, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Just the Place to Start



Welcome to The Best Days Blog! If it is your first time visiting, I'm glad you're here!  If you read my blog regularly, I love that you have come back to read it again!  I am SUPER excited to share with you my continual search for the Student-Led Classroom in the form of best practices and ideas that work for me and everyone!  I'm calling this Just the Place to Start because it is going to be a place where you can read and discover from past, present, and future blog posts based on my experiences in the Student-Led Classroom!  It will be, literally, a list that grows and changes so that you will have most of my posts in one place on this subject.  I'm just going to claim right now that "most" will be right.  You know how busy we get, so, be sure to follow me here on my blog so you get all the latest posts!  So, here we go! 


Fearless Learners Book Study

Fearless Learners   Grab a copy and join in the fun!  
Fearless Learners: Student-Led Learning with a Little Fear Added In!    
Student-Led Learning:  It's All Gonna' be Just Fine 
Student-Led Learning:  Go For It
Student-Led Learning:  Connect with EVERYONE!  
Student-Led Learning:  Failure IS an Option!  
Student-Led Learning:  Celebrate Good Time, Come On! 


Student-Led Learning Series:  

Where Can I Find More Information?
What Does the Research Say?


Other Student-Led Musings:

Chew on This:  Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew
Project Based Learning:  Shedding a Light on Area and Perimeter
Change Your Homework Collection Forever
Author's Point of View:  A Video Presentation 
Author's Point of View:  How we REALLY Learned the Style of Multiple Choice Questions
Author's Point of View:  Independently!  


That's a lot!  And there will be plenty more as I move into this model in my classrooms more and more!  I can't wait to share even more with you, so check back often!  Also, feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts, ideas, and experiences!  Let's learn together, so comment below! 


June 19, 2017

Chew on This: Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew



Bonus round has begun!!  As I have shared, I'm on a quest to discover more and more about student-led Learning!  Today was an excellent discovery and it was FREE!  Awhile back my district had sign-ups for a free summer institute in science!  I jumped right in and I was accepted for the class!  Little did I know it would align perfectly with my goals for the year and that I would get to hear a great speaker too-Dr. Larry Chew!  

Dr. Chew's background was an aerospace professor who now presents nation wide!  How does an aerospace professor go from teaching college students complex engineering principles to reaching the hearts of teachers-it started with fear!  Fear that he was unable to prepare his own children for real life.  He was a great professor who's tests scores just didn't line up to prove that.  Instead of staying at "Oh well!" he went on the path to discover why!  Through this, he discovered that background knowledge and exploration were missing in his classroom!  So, he worked to develop an answer, and discovered inquiry based discussions that put the student in the role of discussion guider and questioner!  

This method is brilliant!  Purely brilliant!  It builds both background knowledge through exploration and student based discussions, allowing students to figure it out!  Let's face it, he's right when he shares that 2/3 of the student in our classrooms can't tell us the why.  But the reality is, no one is out there teaching us how to get them to be able to do it!  Chew points to the fact that it is up to us, the teachers, to get out of the way and allow the kids to do it, with a carefully planned classroom environment and the training needed to ask the questions themselves.  And, it's super easy!

I say "super easy" right now.  He explains that it will take lots of time and practice, and MANIPULATION!  That's right, he says that we must become master manipulators-to teach students how to go in the right direction with questioning and how to get them to "discover" the answer for themselves.  So, let's dive in!

First, it starts with the benchmarks.  If you don't know the benchmarks, you are dead in the water!  Plus, you do have to know the science or concept you are going to present.  He can, literally, in minutes provide a basic lesson idea.  He did it, multiple times, with multiple subjects!  From the benchmark, you develop a content statement-the thing kids are to take away, to remember, to LEARN from the whole lesson!  Next, find a quick activity that will take all of 5-7 minutes of time!  And, you are ready!  

Next, you present your students with the benchmark or whatever else you are required to do in less than 5 minutes.  DO NOT share the content statement!  Complete the activity and, then, have them write on a whiteboard (one per table in teams of 3) whatever your learning goal might bring.  The experiment we did is we wrote words to describe what we saw in the experiment.  Then he asked us to divide them into two columns.  Easy right.  What we DIDN'T see is Dr. Chew checking white boards for a key word-physical!  This is where the manipulation on the teacher's part is taking place. He is targeting 2 or 3 table groups (never students-tables!) to call on who have the right words and ideas as the start of the conversation!  And, what a conversation!  

Here's how it works! The process is called Add, Ask, and Challenge/Comment!  Dr. Chew modeled this over and over.  He asks the first question and chooses one of those 2-3 students who had the right concept, your concept statement goal, on their white board!  Simple right.  Here's where it gets good!  Dr. Chew then only calls on student names.  The student called on MUST ask a question of the TABLE (once someone talks, it goes to the next table member).  Once that is answered, the next student called on MUST CHALLENGE or  COMMENT  on what was said.  And it keeps going like this.  If a table doesn't know, it is up to the tables around them to help out and keep the conversation going.  You do this for about 10 minutes, without teacher input.  You can plant questions and you can thank someone who is misdirecting a comment, but you don't fix anything, even misconceptions.  But you listen carefully and take note of what you do need to fix when time is up!  Yep, and it is all kid based. Sounds too easy right!  Even Dr. Chew says we are working to hard at that perfect classroom.  If it messes up, refocus and try again.  If a table isn't involved, maybe tomorrow they will be!  It just takes time and practice!  

So, what happens when it is over?  Then it is teaching time. You present what you need to present, fix misconceptions, and focus them completely on the content statement!  You have manipulated them into believing they figured it out on their own!  BRILLIANT!  

There is also the closing activities-practice the content statement 3 times silently and then tell your team member-each taking a turn!  And that's IT!  Simple, easy, and BRILLIANT!  Check out more over at TommyC.org, Dr. Chew's homepage!  Be sure to check out the handouts and more!  

Personally, I can't wait to try out this method in my classroom.  It allows students more control, it allows me to teach with the students in mind, it provides more hands on in Science (but it can be used in any subject), and fit perfectly with my philosophy and where I'm headed!  

Let me know what you think in the comments section!  Can't wait to hear what you have to say!  



June 7, 2017

Project Based Learning: Shedding the Light on Area and Perimeter



This year's testing anxiety, both in students and teachers, is OVER!  Thankfully!!  However, so is my math book!  Yes, I know! Years ago, a math book was viewed as a holy grail in teaching.  It was, literally believed, that if you finished your math book there was something wrong with you!  You went too fast or taught too little!  Your students didn't master the  material!  Because, honestly, that's what math was all about-mastery!  In our high stakes testing systems, it is now about production line work!  Get it done-faster, incomplete, and without mastery-or your test scores will suffer!  Many times, we do our quick little "project" based questions at the end of the chapter and call it a day!   They "really" shed a light on what kids know, right!  (I can hear you laughing now!)

So, with the dilemma of no more 3rd grade math to teach and a number of weeks still at hand, I set forth on a quest to really "see" what my kids really knew about area and perimeter with this gem-Build a Park Project!

Let's start with what I really thought shall we!

Misconception #1:  
This will only take a week!

I figured the kids would whip out the required elements and the poster, and poof-done!  Now, the reality is, I was a little bit crazy when I thought this!  I've done tons of project based learning.  I know better!  But for some reason I was totally wrong about this one.  I had safely given them 5 days to plan and 5 days to "build".  I quickly realized that the planning was the deeper problem in this activity.  This leads to misconception #2.

Misconception #2:  
My students know how to use the formulas for area and perimeter!

HA!! Now I can laugh at that!  From my brightest to my struggler, they were just counting.  Over and over again, just counting!  We had completed lessons, we had used the formula.  It didn't matter-JUST COUNTING!!  This was quickly evident when none of them KNEW the formulas, even though we had just finished the chapter about a week before!  JUST COUNTING!  This was eye opening!  When we assume from a chapter that they get it, we are doing just that, assuming!  Our biggest struggle came with perimeter.  They could quickly adapt to the area formula-length x width- but the perimeter was a whole different thing!  They relied so much on counting that they didn't even know what numbers to add!  Yep, major misconception on both of our parts!


You can see the planning stage here.  This is where counting took place, from their rough ideas. This led to many problems in calculating using the formulas.  


Misconception #3:  
Required elements are required, right!

I have completed projects with my students that had required elements.  They were successful at that!  In math-it was like a whole new idea!  I had kids creating things with ZERO required elements.  Once I started checking here and there, it was like a lightbulb went off!  I had one student who had to scrap her whole project because they didn't understand that the list I went over and specifically said they needed was, well, required! So, this was another eye opening thing for me!
I worked with this student to adjust some "required" elements because they clearly knew the math on paper but just "missed" the idea of what "required" meant. 

Misconception #4:  
"Doing" the math will be easy.

When you are looking at basic adding and multiplying, you would assume that these are easier skills that students can complete.  However, this is a crossing over of skills, making it more complex.  This means that divergent thinking had to mix with convergent thinking (a concept I am currently reading about in a book called Make Just One Change.)  This cross over meant many easy mistakes being made.  Could they pull the numbers they need and then make them equal to what they "THINK" the area or perimeter was.  They wanted to draw squares instead of use lengths and widths in their drawing.  That meant skipped squares or unequal rows and columns.  That equaled FRUSTRATION!  Nothing that couldn't be solved, but they just couldn't "see" how the error in their drawing made the error on the math page.  Very enlightening I must say!
This shows that this student did not connect the area formula of 6 x 5 = 30 to how it should be correctly modeled.  

Misconception #5
 Presenting an idea will be easy with the R.A.F.T. method, after all, that's what it is for! 

If you have never heard of the R.A.F.T. method,  you are missing out.  This easy to use writing strategy is a fun way to motivate students to write.  The have a R. role, A. audience description, F. format  for a topic to be written as, and T. the topic to be written about.  I motivated them with this idea:

Yet, I got everything from a minute of sharing which sounded blah to a full fledge sales pitch.  The R.A.F.T. did motivate them, but I did not give enough information for all kids to really get it!  So, I got wise. While kids were sharing projects, I jotted a few great ideas I heard and, with that in mind, created a guiding document to help the students next time!  Here are some of the great ideas I heard from their presentations:
        *Share the name of your park (obvious, yet missed by many)
            *Include the theme of your park and why it is that theme
            *Share important locations and how they can be enjoyed by "guests"
            *Include a reason to invest in your park-what are the best qualities?
            *What is the price range to invest in your park?  (This is a great practice in place value and
              the value of land, etc.

This was one of the projects that had a full sales pitch as well!  


That about wraps these misconceptions up!  It was truly an enlightening thing to do.  The BEST moment of this entire experience was when my true math struggler made a HUGE connection between the formula and the shape, something this student had missed all along, even when counting. This student had that sudden light bulb moment where they literally went "OHHH!" when writing out the perimeter formula!  This child also scored the best they have ever scored on anything in math because other qualities emerged.  Their ability to give a good presentation, the detail they put into the project that others did not, the pure success this child felt all became a key component in the end result.  It truly reminded me of the reason why we must be do projects in math-and it will spur me on to find more!  

So, here it is!  

As you can see, this project is fun and informative for both the student and the teacher.  And, you get everything you need to complete this project and assess their work.  It really is an amazing project that I am so glad that I completed with my students and hope that you will complete with yours!  Let me know what you think by adding a comment too!  


June 6, 2017

Change Your Homework Collection FOREVER!



Yep, the more I look at this, the more that I know I have changed my collection of homework FOREVER!  Here's how!  

A few years ago, our district adopted Danielson as it's teacher observation tool.  We were NOT shown or inserviced on how dramatically different Danielson was from Marzano.  Marzano was very teacher friendly, a nice transition into a system that was designed to highlight teacher success in both traditional methods and more modern methods of learning.  Let's put it this way, this system was used for good, not evil!  Danielson on the other hand-pure EVIL!  Really, this system CAN and WILL be used to hurt teachers, depending on how your administration views the tool.  Well, needless to say, it was used as just that!  Instead of training and assisting teachers, this system was dropped into our laps and then administrators picked and chose who and how they would use this system of evil against-and I GOT IT!  Yep, I passed out post-its in the middle of a lesson-needs improvement!  That simple! The kids weren't doing the work, I was!  So, I set out to learn how to beat the system.  Not that I didn't want my students leading the classroom-I was known for how much differentiation I did with my students, the creativity I brought to lessons, project based learning, TECHNOLOGY! I mean, this was my thing-yet, BAM!  Needs improvement.  

So, I set out to change.

It started with being more organized in handling materials I use with the students and the creation of Table Leaders/Team Leaders in my classroom.  How this looked was simple.  On each desk I taped a pretty circle with a number in it-1 through 4.  The Team Leader was always person #1 at the table team.  They were "it" basically.  If there were any materials to gather and collect, it was their job to do so.  Everything I needed, they were my go-to students.  (I did still have a leader in class for leading the line, etc. I also still have classroom jobs!)  So, the next logical step was to use them to collect HOMEWORK-the job I literally hated the most in my classroom.  "Why not!" I thought!  This could be a totally great way for me to loose that job I hated!  I created a basic collection paper and it worked!  Then I started to think, "How can I get this to work on a long term paper to track it more easily for record keeping" and the Editable Student/Table Leader Checklist was born!  

This product is super easy to use.  You need to be sure you have the two fonts to view it in the best possible way-but, as you can see, my school computer doesn't have those fonts, so it can be used without them (just not as super cute!)  



Once the students bring me the clipboard, it just takes me moments to gather the work into the correct piles and check it in on the clipboard.  You can see my system has also developed some easy to use letters-M for missing and then smaller letters for the subject.  I also use AB for absent.  The greatest thing about this system is I keep these pages in my teacher binder  to go back to at report card time.  There are spaces for 4 students at each group and each day of the week.  The kids manage it all!  

One of the best things about this is that it also sets the students up for more responsibility and more ownership in the processes of the classroom.  The best thing for you is that it is FREE!  It is one of the easiest ways to set up Student Led Learning in your classroom! 

Over the next few months I will be talking more about how I am growing in the use of Student Led Learning and some of the Professional Development I am engaging myself in!  So, come back often and learn more about the Student Led Classroom!