I have always wanted my students to understand that it's okay to take a risk. You might fail. You might succeed. Either way, you will have tried something new. This year I wanted to focus on what happens if you take a risk and fail. I wanted to build a classroom environment about it. While I didn't get the posters up that I wanted, we talk about what happens whenever I make a mistake in class, either in what I say or write on the board. (It happens a lot more than I would like!) We talk about how it's okay to make mistakes.
Many of my peers who participate in our weekly district Twitter chat (#SVTChat) know my love of the movie Zootopia. It was in the movie that I found my class theme song, "Try Everything". One of my class jobs is to decide if we play the song (and sometimes the video) each morning. I have found that so far they have wanted to play it each day, unless I have to say no for various reasons. Most of them are singing along while they prepare for the day's activities. We sang it for the music teacher the other day. I was amazed with how energetically they sang the sang, knowing almost every word by heart. (The music teacher was very impressed as well!)
One of the reasons this song resonated with me was the lines, "I will keep on making those new mistakes, I'll keep on making them everyday." We tell our students this all the time, but how much really gets through. Here was a pop song that gets stuck in their heads with the words I wanted them to truly believe. It's ok to make mistakes and fail, because you are going to make them anyway. You might as well get up and try again.
The day I realized that the message was getting through was when I had an observer in my class. She is a candidate for a teaching program trying to get many hours of classroom observation in as she can. I was doing a tech lesson to not only my current students, but three other classes as part of our MakerMonday rotation. In the three other classes, there are some students who have had me before (and should be more tech savvy) and many who have not. I thought the same tech lesson for three out of the four classes, one of them being my own class. When I teach "tech", it is showing the students a new program that they can use in their academic subjects. This week's lesson was to create a poster for our Candy Bar Election. (An awesome activity we do every four years for the whole school with the upper grade students campaigning for their favorite bar!) We discussed as groups how they could apply the lesson to a language arts topic (Wanted posters for a character!) or Science (Elements, anyone?!).
After sitting in on three of the classes, my observer and I talked a little about what she saw. I explained why I did a few things and why I step back and let the students figure out others on their own. The first thing she shared was how different my current students were than the rest of the classes. Since I gave the same lesson to all of them and my current class is made up of pretty typical (for my school anyway) students, I needed more information from her. Her response, "they are much more confident in what they are doing. They ask each other for help, they share when they discover something new, and aren't afraid to just TRY!" It was exactly what I needed someone to tell me. My students were getting the message! They were willing to take risks and make mistakes. There was no giving up just because it was hard or they got it wrong.
I don't know if it is the daily reminder through a catchy song, or the constant reminder by me and the paraprofessional in my room, but the message has gotten stuck. They are willing to "try everything". I couldn't have been more proud!
What I learned:
- "Try Everything" is an awesome song with an amazing message! (Listen to it, it's catchy!)
- When you tell students, repeatedly, that mistakes are okay, they WILL fail, and it's all OKAY, they are willing to take a lot more risks.
- Sometimes having an outsider in your classroom can help you to see things in a whole perspective.
Update: Having had my students blog about "Try Everything", many of them are getting the message of not giving up. I wanted to share two that really stood out. Thanks for reading, and they would love your comments as well.http://kaileyforeveradancer.blogspot.com/
This week our local chat is about differentiation. In order to prepare, we were shared a Tedx video, The Myth of Average: Todd Rose at TEDxSonomaCounty (https://goo.gl/4R2xY8). For many, the word differentiation is a bad word. It means more work for the teacher to prepare different lessons to meet the diverse needs in the classroom. Part of me agrees. It is difficult to find activities that allow every student to access what you are trying to teach. It's one reason that I have found project based learning and hyperdocs to be such a joy. Differentiation is a huge part of them. A bigger part of me wonders why it should be so difficult. Shouldn't the purpose of teaching be to help EVERY child learn, no matter where they start from. I have been told by other teachers when I discuss working with small groups as a way to differentiate, "that doesn't work for me". I had to try really hard to hold my tongue when this happened.
Now the real purpose of this blog was actually not about the students. It is something I am struggling with in becoming more of a teacher leader. It's about the teachers themselves. This weekend I attended another "unconference" with some friends. We are all at various stages of technology integration and understanding. While I overall enjoyed the conference, I was bored for parts of it. A friend looked like she was going to start crying because she felt that everything being discussed was 10 times over her head. The style of unconference allowed for attendees to ask questions and get what they needed from other teachers doing the same things or wanting to try something new. So this should have been a good place for her to start. What really got to me was when I saw my friend upset, looking like she wished she had never attended. Don't get me wrong. It was a good day for most of the participants. I did get some good ideas myself. But how could it have been better for my friend?
What has gotten me thinking is that as teachers we often forget that other teachers are not at the same levels, with tech, experience, or subject knowledge. Having worked in education for over 20 years, I am well aware of teachers having different strengths in different subjects, even at the elementary level where we have to teach all of them daily. It's the tech that is causing some interesting tensions and feelings of inadequacy in teachers that are fantastic at their jobs. It is difficult to remember that these adults need differentiation as much as the students. We need PD that fits teachers at their level. Districts are making strides in this area. But is it enough?
Teachers need to step up and share what they know with their peers. Those good with tech and new teaching methods need to be willing (and patient, a trait I am working on with adults) to help those not there yet. Our district has developed a PD opportunity where teachers can step up and lead sessions for others. Not enough are taking advantage of it though, as leaders or attendees. I hear a lot of "NOT ONE MORE THING." I get it. Being in education is tough, especially when we are constantly being told to change this or try that, or just do it! However, when it comes from a peer in a supportive manner over a staggered (scaffolding for adults) period of time, maybe there will be less tears and stress. As staffs, we should no longer be supporting teachers in an average manner. We should rely on our "experts" in the classrooms and design for those edges.
What I learned:
- I need to remember adults are just like students who need differentiation.
- Teachers should be more in charge of what they are going to be doing for PD. (Think this is a lesson that needs to be constantly reinforced as I know I have mentioned it before.)
- Be willing to step up and share your knowledge. I recommend blogging when you are ready!
Last week my students became bloggers. My plan for summer was to look into how to get my students writing in a more realistic setting than typing an essay that is share with only me (and their parents if they were excited about the topic.) Becoming a blogger myself recently, I learned the value of reflection by putting myself out there in the real world. My biggest questions were would the students take to it with the same enthusiasm as I had and would it increase their writing ability.
I introduced my students to the process of blogging by creating and commenting on a class blog. I noticed that they were far more receptive to what I was trying to get through. They were willing to ask more questions and comment more appropriately on the class blog than they would have been had I thrown an essay on the board or a worksheet for class comments. Students who normally won't share a word in class in front of their peers gave in depth and amazing comments to the class blog online.
The process of actually creating the blog was interesting. This is where we were reminded of our class motto, "Try Everything" (The Zootopia song that reminds us to not give up and keep trying, even if you think you fail.). Students walked through the process step by step with me. They were able to choose their own titles/blog names, theme/background, and the overall look of their blog. They had to set up the blog so that I became admin and they were changed to authors. (This helps protect their identity as they are under 13 and makes it easier for me to monitor posts and comments). It was explained to both students and their parents that the students would get back their admin rights after the left our school and that they could keep the blog as long as they stayed a student in our district. This aspect alone got the students extremely excited.
In our first blogging session the students were able to actually write and publish their first blog in their first session. The students were so excited to write. They could chose their own topics. Some chose a personal interest, like football or their pets. Others wrote about creating their own blogs. These were the posts that made me the most proud. Several wrote how they were nervous but couldn't wait to see how their blog would take place. It was this last group that intrigued me the most. Many of these were my shy students. Suddenly they were opening up in a way that they had not done previously (almost half of my class had me for a teacher last year).
I am really excited to see where their blogging takes them. To see the levels of engagement and excitement that one writing activity brought about had me bouncing around the school giddy with joy. I can only hope that the students will continue to enjoy the process throughout the year.
What I learned:
- Students will write when they are excited about the platform, even if they aren't thrilled about the topic.
- Writing with the ability to have comments from people outside their classroom makes writing fun!
- Teacher excitement creates student excitement! (Yes, knew this, but love when it is reinforced with new activities!)
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching