I had the opportunity today to present at the Region 10 technology conference. As always, I come away amazed at the work of the Region X team. This conference has evolved over the years into a must attend the event for the Region X area. From session flow to strategic sessions, to participant size to the addition this year of FOOD TRUCKS…they are doing it right!
The conversations today with educators from around the area was so refilling. I appreciate so much the passion behind what they are all doing. Some are in district level positions, some are campus administrators, and some are classroom teachers. What I’ve found is that those who are willing to miss a day and all that entails are the ones willing to have the conversations that are going to initiate change.
I said in my presentation today that if you think you need a title to be a leader, then you may not yet be ready for that responsibility. Anyone can make a difference…after all, even the biggest wave started out as just a breeze!
Classroom teachers can make change happen by adopting genius hour, by becoming connected to other learners, to challenging the status quo. Differentiate…get creative, turn the power to choose how they learn over to your students. Not completely, oh naysayers of mine, but even just a lesson a week can start a wave….its ok not to do what you’ve always done.
Building leaders can make changes by modeling what it means to be a lifelong learner, by allowing teachers to TRY new things, and to feel comfortable in FAILing if that’s what happens. Encourage conferences, encourage learning, be the LEAD learner not just by title, but in action.
District support staff can initiate change by offering support, encouraging new ideas, by asking different questions. Offer to be in classrooms, or do more research on an idea…help a teacher make connections with innovators in the area at hand. There’s no need to recreate the wheel if some other awesome educator has tried it before.
Edupeeps in district level positions can initiate change by being willing to be transparent in their own learning, to open up and be flexible in what good ol’traditional teaching has to look like. Get to an edcamp, attend a national conference…let yourself break free from the educational silo you may find yourself in.
We all have the power to make change…we just have to be willing to “be more dog”.
How can you easily take an assignment you’ve already got in your lesson plans and kick it up notch? Here are some easy ideas for those who need a spark to kick it up a notch!
- Pick three – five students to ask to create a lesson on what you’re learning about, instead of completing your assessment. Let them choose the grading scale, manner of delivery. Allow them then to pick three – five students to share it with, while you’re going over what you had planned to assess with the rest of the class.
- Vocabulary Expert: Let students choose vocabulary words from the lesson you’re about to teach that they feel they know so well they could teach them. Match partners and allow them ten minutes to teach what they know. (What better way to start a lesson then with students feeling successful?)
- Let Ss create their own assessment. One of our amazing teachers let her students do this as a cumulative activity and she was blown away with how well they did. She then let them exchange their assesments to keep the lesson going. Check out their question formats!
- Take the five different activities you were going to do for the week and turn them into centers. Upper grades should be scaffolded this way as well! This is a GREAT way to make sure that differentiation occurs in your classroom. If students are broken up into “centers”, it will be more difficult for each student to know what others are doing. You can work remediation lessons into the students who need it, and allow your higher performing students to work on extension skills/concepts.
- Turn whatever activity you’re working on into a classroom jigsaw activity. Give groups of students the different questions to answer separately and then come back together as a group to debrief.
- Think flexible learning spaces and environments. How can you mix it up, even just for a class period? Let Ss move around, go into the hall, computer lab, library…an opportunity for your “rock stars” to get a change of (s)pace!
- Recognize that lower level types of questions only have one answer, but higher level questions can have several “right” answers. Watch this video and evaluate the power of the “correct” answer.
I am reading Eric Jensen’s latest book from ASCD, “Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind“, and am blown away by the research and strategies I’m finding. In even just the first few pages, he discusses how engagement always shows up as a vital achievement factor in most studies. It isn’t, however, always called “engagement”, that’s just the buzz word of the moment. He references a study by John Hattie where engagement was also found to be called “feedback”, “cooperative learning”, “project learning”, or any kind of “interactive teaching”.
Research shows that for every 2% disengagement rises, pass rates on high stakes tests drop by 1%(Valentine & Collins, 2011) via Mr. Jensen. We can’t afford to not care about engaging our students. We can’t continue to only worry about the material we need to teach, and not those lil’people we are teaching it too. School should be the BEST part of their day. If we can make that happen, attendance rates would soar.
Some of the pushback on providing lessons for students that are “engaging” is that we have a lot of content to impart, and not a lot of time in which to do it. “School is not about always being fun, Amber.” But when you think of those synonyms above…those are the kinds of activities that we SHOULD be seeing in our classrooms. That’s not rocket science! With such a national focus on having students graduate, and attending some form of higher education, we first must KEEP our students in schools. To keep them in school, we need to make it more engaging. Students do not just magically become more interested, we have to do our part to make that happen!
What can you do to make your class more engaging these week? Not more entertaining, but more engaging. Whatever it is, know that it will be worth it.