I have had different people outside of our project group ask me “where do I start?” and they are looking for an order or systematic process to change their practices, and my response has always been the same…”take something you really want to do, and do it first”. One thing at a time. That and MINDSET. Working within a project like this is more work…yet it is less work. A change in teaching practices demands flexibility, openness to new learning and a willingness to let something else go that I’m sure you once spent valuable time on. Something has to go because there are simply not enough hours in a teaching day to “add on” this valuable piece of learning.
The google form that was submitted with the wide variety of apps teachers are using and the confidence with the follow-up discussion about how they are integrating these apps into their teaching practices had me thinking about how much our teaching practices have changed. I was reflecting on the huge gains of our first year teachers and already, the gains that have been made with the new members of our project and I am truly amazed about the thinking, flexibility and openness to new learning that we have within our group. As far as I know, everyone wants to be there :), has something to share and something to learn. Is that not the environment we try to create for our children everyday? – a place for student engagement, risk-taking, communicating ideas, learning from each other, and sharing learning in a creative, unique way that works best for the individual…so how does this TLLP project compare to my own classroom practices?
I know that the biggest thing that has changed for me is the student-driven learning environment as opposed to the teacher-directed. By this I mean…my teacher binders are beginning to collect dust and I spend far less time planning lessons that involve creating smartboard files, creating and photocopying worksheets, etc. Am I still planning? YES! But there are a lot more conversations between myself and the students about what they want to learn and their ideas on how they want to share their learning. There is so much more time for me to really get to know my students through conferencing, planning activities alongside them, and truly knowing where my students are at in their learning. They have many options for sharing their learning instead of my past practices that used the same assessment for all students. My flexibility with my schedule has changed as well…if there is a student really into something and they ask me if they continue, I now let them because I know what it is like to “be on a roll” and not want to leave what you are working on for something else. Everything always seems to get done…but not always to the beat of my drum. I also have built amazing relationships with these little ones because I have time to ask questions and get to know them better and they feel like I have the time and drive to listen to their ideas and help them come up with a way to share their thinking.
A funny example that comes to mind is the planning we did for our Fall leaf activity. We went outside, collected leaves and researched the best way to dry them. Afterwards, one of the students asked “what are we going to do with these leaves?” I responded with “I don’t know..” (I was honest with them and told them it had been a busy week and I didn’t have the time to research/plan art activities yet). I asked them if they had any ideas for our leaves…and boy, did they ever! They shared past projects they had done and loved, things they thought would be cool, and from there, a search I told them my secret to success – a search on Pinterest! Voila – we had a month’s worth of ideas for our Fall art unit. Yes…they planned their own art unit. I didn’t spend the time searching, they did. A valuable skill that I use everyday in my profession…so why not teach them? And not one complaint about the fact that we “planned art” and didn’t actually “do art during art class”. Of course we had a huge list and from there, we organized choice of activities for each week based on materials required. They even came up with the list of materials for each week! At first I felt guilty…thinking perhaps they were doing my job??? But really, they were taking charge of what they wanted to do – student engagement? 100%. Did they demand the same type of planning for the following art lessons? Absolutely. My job now is to link their ideas to the curriculum and label their learning with them as we go.
How has your classroom practices changed? What have you let go of? What are the “non-negotiable” practices that you feel provide students with a rich learning environment? Would love to hear from you!