Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Backpack of Strategies

In approaching the school year with our new multiage program, we were on a mission to establish an environment that allowed for students to engage in deep conversation with their peers, guide their own learning path set by their individual goals, and understand and appreciate the unique qualities of each individual brain within our classroom of learners.  So, in essence, we planned a variety of activities that would teach students the importance of emotions in relation to the brain, as well as how to build and foster relationships with each other.

We spent the month of September “digging deep” to build our Student Learning Community.  The following months have been very insightful for us as teachers.  Teaching students these skills and strategies have reaped benefits.   Our students are able to appreciate each other during conversations, bounce ideas off one another with ease, work collaboratively (regardless of age or academic level), accept one another’s learning styles, and let each other’s personalities shine!  We have had A LOT of laughter in our room lately… J
Anyways, with the assistance of several of our highly capable students we have devised a metaphor to help us remember and understand the key skills and strategies we need as life-long learners; these would be the specific strategies we have found to be necessary in our Student Learning Community.  We have dubbed it the “Backpack of Strategies”.  (I was calling it a suitcase in the beginning, but then our school social worker gave us the idea for a backpack since it is something one is capable of carrying on their own, as it is not “too heavy”, so credit goes to her for getting us started!!)  Each strategy has a symbol and the idea is that when they “master” a strategy it goes into their backpack.  They can then “carry it” with them wherever they go (metaphorically speaking), as it is a life skill! 
The backpack itself is a paper notebook that opens up like a backpack (created by Ann’s genius mind!).  The symbol is glued to a page, once it is mastered, and the student takes a moment to write a reflection.  This backpack has bungee straps that allow it to be attached to a larger notebook or binder that is used on a regular basis.  Again, the purpose is to identify strategies that one encompasses in their repertoire. 
To begin the process, students identify 2 strategies from the list they would like to add into their personal backpack.  These are recognized as goals, not just for school but for their daily life.  As soon as they feel they have mastered the skill they move it to their backpack, reflect, and then set another goal.  This could take a couple weeks to several months, just depending on the student’s needs and their dedication to the goal.  Students receive continuous feedback regarding these strategies from their teachers, parents, and peers.  In all honesty, it is very apparent when these strategies are not being utilized.
We have 15 strategies that have been identified, and they have been categorized among our 3 Essential Rules in our classroom:  Be Responsible, Be Respectful, and Be Engaged.  For us this provided our students a direct correlation to why the strategy was important, plus it allow them details on how each of the rules would be followed.  The mistake we personally have made in the past is assuming students already have these strategies in their repertoire.  This process allows the abstract to become concrete, and students have the opportunity to take ownership in their own behavior as they celebrate their successes.

***Struggled with uploading images with Blogger; but we would be happy to share our WORD Doc. through Email...

The Backpack of Strategies:15 Necessary Life-Skills
Follow Directions
Manage Time
Organize Materials
Practice Healthy Habits
Have Empathy
(Hands Shaking)
Control Emotions
Be Mindful
(Thinking Cloud)
Use Personal Space
Be Humble
Use Resources
Focus on Task
Use Metacognition
(Coffee Filter)
Have Fun

As we move through the school year, students will continue to fill their backpacks with skills they will use and need for a lifetime!  The best part of the process has been and will continue to be listening to them articulate these strategies and their importance, as well as their own personal progress along the way.  Students’ awareness for these strategies and how they affect relationships and the learning environment is dynamic.  They have discussions and provide feedback to one another often in a very positive, yet honest way.  Just another means for building one another up within our Student Learning Community…


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