Thursday, June 21, 2012

In Retrospect: Our Top 10 Essentials

As we requested our students to provide their feedback regarding the school year and highlight the elements that were most important to them, Ann and I also did the same.  As we compared our list to the students’ Top 10, we were honestly not amazed that many concepts overlapped.  Our year was full of learning and inspiration, and the 52 of us truly built this experience together. 

In creating our list, we included all of the things that we desire to carry forward into the next school year as essential aspects of our classroom.  We do teach in a unique situation, as team teachers in a large classroom with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders together.  However, we view these 10 as fundamental within any learning environment.

1.       Genuine Fun

Humor has been our specialty!  How can it not be when Ann is 6ft tall and I am 5ft, and we are side-by-side often… that situation seriously comes with its own running commentary. J  Laughter is important to us, so jokes, costumes, and spontaneous dancing were plentiful. 

2.       Positive Relationships

The idea of a 3/4/5 Multiage Classroom challenged many with concern to the maturity levels of students on this age continuum, along with their emotional and social needs.  Our findings, though, were that the age difference was not a factor for them.  Students were involved in mixed age groupings from the first day, quickly making it a norm.  We met students where they were and grouped them according to individual needs, as well as created daily whole group experiences to build community.  Students valued the strengths of one another and appreciated the diversity among us.  

3.       Student Empowerment

Focusing on the 5 strategies we used to empower students this year made all the difference in our teaching and their learning.  Providing daily choice, reflection, and self-assessment, along with multiple opportunities for students to be the teachers and share their voice allowed for a dynamic learning environment.  They were empowered to take ownership for their goals and their personal learning journey.

4.       Brain Books

Our developing baby this year (14 months old to be exact J)… Brain Books have become the ultimate personalized resource for our students.  They created them from scratch during our first week of school (some carried them into our room from the year prior) and expanded them as their learning experiences occurred.  No two Brain Books looked alike; no two were organized the same; no two held the same information.  They each possessed their own character, just like their owner.  The purpose of these books was to link students to passionate learning.  Again, more to come…

5.       Student Learning Community

Building our Student Learning Community was an eye-opening experience for me and Ann this year.  As we have said before, team teaching in our Multiage Classroom required a lot of letting go, but it also required a different mindset.  Around December we had realized the components (respect, retention, responsibility, resources, and reality) that had made our SLC come alive.  Students had gained a respect for the diversity within our learning environment, understood that true learning meant the retention of information and skills, learned the responsibility of being advocates for their own learning, discovered what resources best fit their own needs as learners,  and gained a better perspective of the reality for their future as learners in our world today.

6.       Personal Growth

Teachers and students learned alongside each other this year.  We each had our very own individual goals and worked diligently to accomplish them.  While supporting one another to fill in missing building blocks, we truly had the opportunity to bloom as ourselves and soar to new heights.   Ann and I modeled learning by sharing our own aspirations and successes through the year, as our students shared theirs with us.  Our motto was honored each and every day by the focus and dedication from all.  “Work Hard, Be Courageous, Celebrate Growth!  Hizzah!”

7.       Parent involvement/Support

Our families were truly amazing, and the dedication they provided their children is to be applauded.  They celebrated with us through the school year, joined their child/children for lunch, volunteered, dropped in to bring supplies/projects for big events, and communicated with us frequently.  They believed in our ability to make this classroom the success it grew to be, and we tremendously appreciated their support and involvement.

8.       The Perfect Storm

The development of the Perfect Storm began in the fall, as a way to shift our thinking towards a learning environment driven by students’ needs rather than by standards or curriculum.  We used the metaphor for students to understand the rhyme and reason for our daily schedule and intentional groupings.  It has also helped in explaining our mindset/philosophy behind teaching and learning within our Multiage Classroom to other teachers, administrators, and parents.  This physical model in our classroom has definitely grown to be an integral part of our daily work.

9.       Tech Integration

Our students understood technology to be a resource that was available to enhance their learning when necessary.  We did not schedule shared time or check-out of computers/iPads within our classroom, but rather they were accessed the same way a dictionary, paint, a ruler, or a trade book would be- with intent to support a given goal/project.  True integration to us is when the technological tool is a common part of the learning environment, and is used for a multitude of purposes.  We have big plans in terms of connectivity as we move into next year;  so far we only scratched the surface of possibilities.

10.   Project Based Learning

Through the letting-go process, Ann and I discovered PBL as our favorite go-to instructional model.  Within the content areas of Science and Social Studies, we found Project Based Learning to provide authentic experiences and facilitate our goal of empowering learners. Based on students’ feedback we began incorporating PBL into the math content area, as well, providing students the opportunity to dig deeper with a concept. Genuine conversations and collaborative processes unfolded through each endeavor.  Culminating teaching experiences provided our students the opportunity to share their new understanding with kindergarteners.  An interactive museum was created each month to display projects and teach others.  Our classroom truly came alive with enthusiasm during these PBL share-outs. 

Our students inspired us each and every day through their courageousness to open their minds to new learning.  They built a true sense of community through the support they offered, the respect they displayed, and the positive energy they brought.  As Ann and I begin to establish our goals (the areas we want to improve or tweak within our learning environment for our students), we will keep these 10 elements in the forefront of our minds.  These have created our skeleton for an empowering learning environment of the 21st Century. 
·         A place where students can come to communicate their ideas and realizations, sharing their voice  
         with the community.
·         A place that offers students collaborative opportunities as they travel along their learning path.
·         A place allowing for creative ideas and projects to be shared that display personal innovative talents.
·         A place for everyone to have many chances to think critically throughout the learning process.  
·         A place that offers a safe and supportive community, while celebrating autonomy. 
·         A place where students can call home during their scheduled learning hours.

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