Saturday, November 12, 2011

5 Things that Ensue Inspiration

Ann and I took on a new teaching assignment this year, challenging us both.  Through the challenges, though, we have enjoyed every “Full Circle Moment” that has occurred.  Many had the perspective of us throwing ourselves into a Multiage and Team Teaching situation.  However, the reality is that we did not volunteer for the role lightly.  We began our research before we stepped up to the plate.  Hours upon hours went into divulging literature related to all topics of this unique teaching opportunity.  We read and reflected for days (as we didn’t actually have months or weeks to process, but just days…).  Regardless, by the end of our processing state we were confident enough in ourselves and our previous teaching experiences that we would be successful for ourselves, our students/parents, our building, and our district.

As soon as the assignment was official, we continued to unearth as much knowledge as we could for 5 major areas (all of which we deemed essential for making our Multiage Program work):

1.       Multiage Philosophy
2.       Brain-Based Learning
3.       Gifted & Talented
4.       Integration of Content Areas (not to be confused with theme teaching)
5.       Student Self-Assessment
We believed deeply that these were the concepts we wanted at the CORE of our program.  As we read a variety of Professional Development Books, Articles, and Blogs, we found ourselves more inspired than we had ever been before. 
Our own personal ESSENTIAL question was:  Could we create a classroom community that truly differentiated for the needs of EVERY learner?

In the past, we had felt very strong in the area of differentiation.  We used a variety of strategies and felt like we had a handle on our daily instructional practices, but still felt like a few kids each year fell through the cracks and didn’t meet the growth we felt they were capable of.  What we found through our summer research, though, was that there was so much more that differentiation had to offer.  As we dug deeper into literature and others’ perspectives of the above topics, we found that essentially these were the reasons Multiage Programs were successful; if they were dutifully following the above “protocol”, so to speak. 

In September, we established our program with these 5 at the CORE as we had originally planned. 

1.       Multiage Philosophy:  We have taken on the perspective that every child can learn and has the right to at their own pace, diversity is a celebration each day, and our classroom is a family of learners.  We teach students on a continuum, and we established a metaphor that we refer to each day:  The grade level standards are building blocks.  When you are missing a block your tower will fall, so it is important to go back and fill in the gaps (bricks).  We focus on where a child individually is rather than their “grade level benchmark” indicates, therefore a student has the opportunity to fill in blocks or extend themselves to a higher block. 

And with the opportunity for looping with students we do not lose ground, because we have the chance to just keeping moving forward from day 1 of each new school year.
2.       Brain-Based Learning:  We used to think we were “Constructivists” with our teaching style, but now we have moved to this side of the tracks.  J   I actually think good teachers use a little strategy from each theory (just like good reading teachers use phonics and whole language).  We actually are also partial to William Glasser’s Control Theory of Motivation.  (This site by Jim Askew is a great reference tool!)  When you walk into our classroom you see both Theories living and breathing…  Our favorite authors on this topic are:  Marilee Sprenger, David A. Sousa, and Eric Jensen.  In fact, our students quote Sousa almost every day:  “The brain that does the work makes the most growth!”
3.     Gifted & Talented:  After obtaining my Master’s Degree (from Whitworth University), my passion for this area has grown and grown.  I took all of my elective courses within this field of study and learned so much about myself as a parent, teacher, and learner.  I am constantly reading new information and discovering each and every day strategies to assist our gifted learners.  My favorite website is: 
4.       Integration of the Content Areas:  As this is the direction we are headed anyways with the Common Core Standards, Ann and I decided give ourselves a jumpstart.  We intentionally plan lessons that will have natural crossovers among the content areas, while focusing on real-world concepts.  Our reading, math, and science/social studies blocks really have grown into just continuously learning opportunities that are more succinct rather than disjointed.  Art, music, communication, and writing occur daily.  We also have a common theme, each trimester, which ties it all together- for example right now we are working on “Structures”.
5.       Student Self-Assessment:  Our formative self-assessment occurs daily, and it is really in the hands of our students.  In order to really empower learners, they have to know what they have (their “got it” targets) and what they are missing (their “need it” targets).  About 90% of our students have no problem, just 2 months into the year, accurately self-assessing as they must provide “evidence” to support that they have it!  They can also successfully establish a plan of action utilizing the tools and resources (students, teachers, computer, and text) within our classroom.  They have independent/partner focus time daily to work on their goals.

As we move forward each day, we are continually inspired by each and every one of these 5 concepts.  We persistently find literature related to the 5- and many on our staff joke about us needing a PD Book intervention!  Yes, we may be obsessed, but for us this growth path we are on is invigorating!  We continue to apply new strategies each week and allow our students to provide feedback to us.  Their voice is the most important ones in the learning process.   And they are the evidence that tells us that our  5 Things that Ensue Inspiration are powerful entities within our Multiage Program!

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