I recently read an interesting article by Sal Khan (founder of The Khan Academy) that talked about growth mindset. I loved this article not only for the whole idea of the growth mindset but also for the level of awareness that Sal's son demonstrates about his own learning. Far too often, I think we shy away from having kids be honest with themselves about their learning, because we are scared that they will be disheartened or because we don't think they are old enough or because we don't think it's all that important.
But it is important and, given the right tools and language, kids of any age can learn a lot by reflecting on their learning. By being more self-aware, kids are better prepared to guide their own learning, developing a growth mindset that will serve them throughout their lives.
So, how do we instill this growth mindset? How do we encourage kids to think about the hows, the whats and the whys of learning? Below are my top 3 choices for reflecting on learning.
Talk about it
Most kids love to talk, especially in small groups or partnerships. One of the easiest ways to have them reflect on their learning is to put in them in small groups, provide a prompt and let them go. A popular version of this is Think-Pair-Share, where partners think about the prompt (let's say, "how did you grow your mind today?") individually, then get together to talk about it, then one partner shares out what they discussed. You can also meet with small groups and guide the conversation to help them dig deeper in to the how, what and why of their learning (the why is often the trickiest for them to figure out, as any Gr. 8 math teacher can tell you).
Write about it
Or draw. Or blog. There are a myriad of possibilities for reflecting on your learning by putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Keeping a journal of daily reflections is one way to do it. These reflections can then be detailed drawings, written responses, quick sketches, word clouds, whatever comes to mind. Exit Tickets have also become a popular way to take the pulse of the room quickly and have students reflect on their learning immediately after it happens. There are low-tech sticky note versions of exit tickets and tech-based apps and tweets; the choice is yours. Blogs and wikis are excellent spaces for personal reflection and collaboration, allowing students the opportunity for feedback on their reflections (I'm excited to try out Quadblogging this year).
Do something with it
Of course, the goal of developing reflective learners is that they a) understand themselves and their learning styles better, b) internalize their learning and c) that they see learning not as a discrete activity but as an on-going part of life in which they sit in the driver's seat. To this end, it's important to allow kids to reflect on their learning by doing something with that learning. This is what Project-Based Learning is all about (although, I should add it is learning through doing as much as it is doing something with learning but I think the process is cyclical - learn-do-learn). Giving your students the tools to do something and then letting them try and solve a problem forces them to reflect on the hows, the whats and the whys in order to be able to successfully use the tools to solve the problem.
Which one of these do I use the most? I would definitely have to say the first two. While I would love to really get in to the third piece, the nature of my job makes it challenging to do so. Last year I had a teacher who was on board to try some PBL and we did one really neat debate (about gas pipelines - with Gr. 4s! Even changed some parents minds on the whole thing. Very cool.) and started in to a Rube Goldberg machine project (threw some flipped learning in there too...fun!) but unfortunately we were interrupted by the strike and the kids never got the chance to finish the project.Boo.
The fact that I can convince teachers to build more reflective learners in any way is pretty cool and I really enjoy doing it. One of my goals for this year is to try and ensure that what I bring to a classroom gets left behind to be used again and again; too often I find that what we do is really neat but doesn't continue or isn't used again after I go. I want teachers to see the value in what I bring to their classroom (and I think they do) but I also want them to adopt it (or parts of it) as their own. I think that discussion and written reflections are something that seem doable to teachers, something that they can do even without two teachers in the room, so that will be one focus area for me this year.
Any other learning coaches out there have any tips for me on getting things to stick?
I must admit, today's question had me confused. Discuss one "observation" area you'd like to improve on for your teacher evaluation? Huh? What's an "observation" area?
After a bit more thought, it dawned on me that perhaps I was confused because this is not my evaluation year. And that, perhaps, in other jurisdictions, teacher evaluations happen yearly, making this a logical question for some teachers, but not for me. And maybe, in those jurisdictions, there are specific areas of observation that must be checked off by admin. This is not how our district works. In fact, I have not been formally evaluated since my second year of teaching. You see, our union negotiated a clause that allows teachers to choose between a formal evaluation and a Professional Growth Plan, which is essentially a year-long learning project in a teacher's area of interest (that they aren't really the same thing doesn't seem to be a major issue around here). Last year, the Lit Pit was my project and this blog the record of what I learned. Turns out, I'm still learning!
So, in response to this question I would like to share one of my deeply held beliefs about teaching and evaluating - if you're doing it for the evaluation, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. This particular belief actually got me in to trouble - ! - during my practicum because I told my instructor that I didn't need to make an "appointment" to be evaluated, he was welcome in my classroom anytime. Apparently this was a new concept to him. But fundamentally I believe that if you aren't doing your best, if you aren't trying to be the best teacher you can be every minute of every day then you are doing your students (and yourself) a disservice. Sure, there a times - lots of times! - when it will be less than perfect, but aren't those the best times to get feedback? Aren't those the best times to have a second set of eyes and ears to say "Ummm, about that..."? Granted, this can be nerve-wracking if your position/salary/seniority is riding on the evaluation but, trust me, if you're the type of teacher that subscribes to this belief, your worst lesson is miles ahead of many others. If you hold this belief, you are always reading new things, always evaluating how that last lesson went, always tweaking, always reflecting. You will fly through your evaluation because you will know exactly where that lesson went sideways and what you would change for next time.
So, if I were to be evaluated this year, what area would I focus on? None of them and all of them. I would constantly be trying new teaching methods, reflecting on my lessons, reflecting on my practice, trying to be the teacher that creates those aha! moments for kids, that lights a fire in their little souls, a passion for learning that (hopefully) will never leave them. I sure as heck won't be worried about my evaluation.
Get out there and kill it today, friends.
Today's question: What is one piece of learning technology I'd like to try this year and why?
My initial reaction? Easy, student blogging. But then I thought about using Socrative to engage those introverts in my class, Aurasma because I've been dying to try out augmented reality, oh and QR codes seem like a really interesting tool too, and I've been really wanting to get more of my struggling writers using Evernote & speech-to-text efficiently. Hmmm, I guess this is why they call it reflective teaching.
If I had to narrow it down (it does say one piece), I think I'd choose speech-to-text, followed closely by student blogging.
Speech-to-text - I have been using speech-to-text apps for some time now and know the power they can have for struggling writers. Last year, I integrated it with Evernote for some kids and was really pleased (as were the parents & kids) with the ease of access across multiple platforms and locations. However, I have come to realize that very few struggling writers struggle solely with the act of writing, whereby giving them a speech-to-text tool instantly remedies their writer's block. For the majority of my young struggling writers, a large part of their issues with writing lies in their inability to properly sequence and structure their writing, something that cannot be remedied by speech-to-text alone. If, however, I can get these students proficient in brainstorming and outlining their writing (using Evernote & Skitch, for example) then speech-to-text should be a beneficial tool for them. Luckily, my partner-in-crime, Kristi, has been doing tons of research about writing, particularly about getting little boys to write; coincidentally, these tend to be our highest proportion of struggling writers. I think I feel a joint project coming on...
Student blogging - Ok, so I know it said one but I came across this fantastic article about increasing student engagement through blogging. The basic premise is that students will write more and put more effort in to it if they know that people beyond their teacher are reading their work. It introduces a site called quadblogging.com which partners four classes together to blog and respond to one another's blogs. I love this idea because it ensures that someone other than classmates are reading the blog, providing authentic feedback and lots of opportunity to develop not only one's writing skills but also one's critiquing skills (thereby creating a feedback loop that will, hopefully, continuously improve everyone's writing). After reading this article I got so jazzed about the idea that I knew that I would definitely be trying it out this year. Of course, lacking a class of my own, I am going to have to convince one of my teachers that they want to go down this road with me...
Well, Day 2 down and I am looking forward to tomorrow. That, and a school year that actually gets off the ground sooner rather than later.
I have been following TeachThought on Twitter for some time now and the other day they threw out a 30 Day Reflective Teaching Challenge - 30 prompts to help you blog every day throughout the month of September. I've decided to accept the challenge so expect a blog post every day for the month of September!
(Aside: This post almost didn't happen because we have been soooo busy these past few days. It seemed like bad form to put off the first day of the challenge though, so here it is. Definitely not perfect, but done. Which is something, right?).
Day 1 - Write Your Goals for the School Year
On the surface, this is a relatively easy task. I mean, we all have new things we want to try and goals we'd love to accomplish. Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a very nasty battle between the BC Teachers' Federation and the provincial government. Teachers have been either locked out or on strike since mid-June and there is no end in sight. Needless to say, I am having trouble focusing on the new school year as we have no idea when we will be going back to work. However, I have a few goals floating around in my head so here they are:
1) Be purposeful - in my planning, teaching and prepping.
2) Get (and stay!) organized - at school, at home and in the blogosphere.
3) Read more professional resources. Keep a list of new ones I want to check out (hello, GoodReads!).
4) Stay positive.
5) Prioritize - workouts, reading, family, work. Not necessarily in that order. Cut out the time wasters to make time for these things.
6) Continue to explore new and innovative ways of teaching - don't get stuck in a rut! A few I would like to explore more: socratic circles with primary grades, flipped learning, PBL, blogging with kids, support in-class for struggling students.
7) Provide staff development to ensure iPads are being used effectively (i.e. for more than just googling!).
8) Push myself outside of my comfort zone daily. Learn something new daily. Be open-minded. Be creative.
9) Use what I've learned to help others grow. Use what others have learned to help me grow. Co-learn.
10) Listen. Collaborate. Create a PLN.
I'm sure once we're back at it I'll have many more but for now, that's what I've got. Here's hoping we're back soon so that I can start working on some of these bad boys...for now, maybe I'll start with the first 5 from home. That, and do some serious weeding.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!