Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. -Paul J. Meyer
Happy New Year! After 2 weeks and 3 weekends, we are back in school. It was evident we had a little “brain drain” over the holidays. Hopefully we can catch up and get moving by the end of the week. After winter break is when we pick up speed and move full steam ahead.
One of the things I truly believe is that student engagement is dependent on their voice and choice in both the planning and execution of learning. When we include even the youngest of children in the process, we get so much more concentrated effort from them. This concept is the same for adults. Aren’t we usually voicing concern as educators how our voice needs to be heard in the decisions made on behalf of our students? When we are excluded from the process of decision making, we are less likely to buy into whatever it is we are being asked to do. We are also less likely to implement changes with fidelity.
My students have quite a bit of choice in this classroom the first part of the year but after Christmas, they are included in the planning of their day. Now, just as I would never open a closet door to a 3 year old and have them choose what to wear from an entire wardrobe of clothes, I would never just let go of the reins completely of the classroom. I utilize a gradual release of responsibility and have some controlled choice in the beginning. Giving students a few choices all throughout the day, from the beginning of the year, builds their confidence in their own abilities to make bigger choices later.
As my students walk in each morning from now on, they will have 5 must-do activities. They may choose which order these items are completed. They will open their notes app on their iPads and write out their plan for the day. They then refer back to that note all throughout the day to see what they chose to do next. The SmartBoard looks like this when they are making their plan:
In the reading center, I want them to read 2 books on their reading level and then they may choose other books as well as book on their iPads to read. For writing, they will work on their Writer’s Workshop. A few of my students still need scaffolding and support with their writing so I have a specific conferencing time with those children. Today, I chose the app Pic Collage for them to illustrate and write a sentence but soon, they will have their own choice of creation apps in which to demonstrate understanding of unit-related vocabulary words. This work is saved and uploaded to Showbie for their work flow. Math includes small group activities and word work currently is involving word families. Students use the ABC Magnet Board app to make 6 words of their choice in a given word family. Today’s word work from one of my students looked like this:
The student takes a screen shot of this work so that it is saved in the camera roll. I can have them upload it to Showbie if I need them to or it can just stay in the camera roll as a work sample. This particular app is great because it says the letter sounds as they manipulate them and once the word is created, it reads the word to them so they get immediate feedback. Word Wizard is another great app for this kind of activity for the same reason.
So at the end of the 5 must-do activities, once all work is completed and checked, the student has free choice of any activity in the classroom. This helps encourage timely work completion and on-task behavior, but in general, those things aren’t really a problem. Their engagement is much higher as they have been a part of the planning process.
As students gain more independence and confidence in their abilities to make choices and move forward on their own initiative, this allows for other possibilities such as 20% time, Genius Hour, Makerspaces, etc…Again, this goes back to gradual release of responsibility, front-loading procedures, and giving students opportunities to develop those decision-making “muscles”.
As you start 2015, consider ways you can give your students more choice in the planning and demonstration of their learning.
What’s the plan??
Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!