Monday, April 24, 2017

Personalized Learning Meeting the Needs of ALL Learners

Over Easter break, I was able to visit my sister and her family in Minnesota. My sister and I are 23 months and 5 days apart in age me being the oldest. We grew up in the same home, had the same rules to follow, and created enough shenanigans to occupy our time pre-technology. However, Stefanie and I are different in many ways. One of those ways is how we learn. Stef is an auditory learner and can memorize facts and information by putting it to a tune or song. She also likes to think things through before starting a project. Me, on the other hand, I like to jump right in with whatever I am doing and learn as I go. Which has got me thinking what does it mean to personalize learning for our students? With schools around the country looking at ways to meet students where they are in their learning and preparing students for the future. What are we doing to personalize learning for students?
Recently, I attended the conference The Art of Coaching Teams in Chicago. During our time one thing we talked about was the principles of adult learning two principles which really stuck out to me one adults want agency in their learning, and two adults come to learning experiences with history. I believe these two adults principles are also relevant to our K-12 students. Our students want agency in their learning and come to our classrooms with their own past learning experiences. What can we as educators do to accommodate and honor those differences?
When I think of personalized learning in the classroom the first thing that comes to mind is the power of relationships with my students. Student-teacher relationships are the key to student learning it’s through relationships where trust is built, and when there's trust students are given the security to take risks, and try new things in their learning. Knowing our students well allows us to fully embrace their unique differences and meet them where they are as learners.
During a recent walk-through, in 8th-grade English teacher, Kelly Moormann’s class students had just finished reading the “Outsiders”. The students chose two out of four RL standards and proved their knowledge on them by creating whatever type of project they wanted. They used the proficiency scales as a checklist for the items they needed to include. Projects included: writing a rap song, an essay, tri-fold posters, various models, interviews, and skits.  Students are able to use voice and choice when selecting items off of a learning menu. Here are a few of  the comments I heard from students:  “This harder than a worksheet, I like it better because I am actually learning what is means to find a theme of a story and support it with details.”  “I like this learning menu because I can choose what do as project with what I like doing.”

Using our district’s 5 rocks along with critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity is the framework to being personalized learning for our students. Stef and I are sisters who grew up together and have a lot of things in common, but our learning styles are not one of those commonalities. As educators, parents, aunts, uncles, and all the other important roles we are blessed to have we know the people in our lives learn differently and we have the privilege to make that happen for the students who walk through our doors.

Please join in on the twitter chat on Tuesday, May 2nd at 8:30 here are the questions.
  1. What does personalized learning mean for students?
  2. How can students have voice and choice in how they learn and what they learn?
  3. How can teachers take into account students' input in the process of learning?
  4. How can you implement personalized learning for students or staff?
  5. When has someone provided opportunity for you to experience personalized learning in your life?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meaningful Metacognition

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“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think if only you try!” – Dr. Suess 

Growing up I loved reading this book at my Grandparents' house. They had a dark wicker basket in the playroom full of books. I loved all the silly “thinks” on each page and how it encouraged me to use my imagination to think up any “thinks” I wanted to. This book really empowered me to “think” outside the box.

This year has been a big growing year for me and my classroom. I made the decision to join the Assessment Academy in the fall, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. I thought I would glean a few new insights to boost our current 3rd grade PBLs at Liberty. What I wasn’t expecting was a major “meta-shift” both in myself and within my classroom!

I say “meta-shift” because this all came from my study of metacognition. It all started one night when I was feeling particularly tired and a little bit grumpy that I had homework to do for the Assessment Academy. I remember grumbling under my breath about the homework being “a waste of time”. The workshop was on Metacognition and the article was titled, Metacognition: Nurturing Self-Awareness in the Classroom.

Today’s fast paced world is saturated in instant gratification. The other day one of my students said that his computer was “lagging”, I had to chuckle to myself. These kids will never understand what a lagging computer is really like. Patience is a lost art in America, and I didn’t fully understand this until I spent two years teaching overseas in New Delhi, India. In a culture where “time” is a relative term and an afternoon nap is a necessity, I had to learn how to slow down and through gritted teeth embrace this thing called patience. It wasn’t until I was put into a culture of early morning meditation in the park that I realized what a frenzied life we lead as Americans. Being busy is a trophy that we parade around under the guise of hating it. We say things like “Oh I’m so busy, I just don’t know how I’ll get it all done!” secretly hoping that the other person thinks we are a superstar! Yet everything I know about good reflection involves higher order thinking: reflecting, analyzing, observing, examining, critiquing etc. Good learning takes lots of time, lots of failure, and lots of uninterrupted thinking!

Kids expect immediate results and we have to show them that steady growth is anything but immediate. Our brain is a muscle, and just like resistance is the only way to grow your arms, legs, abs, etc., resistance is also the only way to grow our brains. The first strategy for improving metacognition mentioned in the article was to teach kids how their brains are wired. The last two years I have started off the school year teaching about the brain in the first 3 weeks of school and connecting it to Conscious Discipline, which is what we use at Liberty. The students learn about their Brain Stem, Limbic System, and Prefrontal Lobe so they understand how their brains function and learn. We need to change their “self-talk” from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. I don’t allow my students to say that something is hard. If a student says to me, “I don’t get this! It’s too hard.” I respond with, “It will take time and effort. We are growing our brains.” The students hear from me often that resistance is good and when they have their “a-ha moment” when that new concept clicks, I tell them to kiss their brain. Then I kiss my own hand and touch my forehead. At this point in the year, I hear the students telling each other to kiss their brain when they see a classmate connect new learning.
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Two practices that have changed my classroom are Think Alouds and Socratic Seminars. As teachers we are already good at explaining what we are doing, now we just need to explain what we are thinking, while we are doing it. So now when I am teaching a new skill at the carpet, I tell the students exactly what I am thinking instead of what I am doing. They can already see what I am doing. They need to know what's happening behind the scenes inside my brain. So I use vocabulary like, "So then I thought..." or "Now I wonder...", or "Oh, I just noticed that...". If I make a mistake, I draw attention to it before I fix it, and when I do fix it, I tell them why I am fixing it. Metacognition is not something concrete that can be taught through words like how to read or solve math problems, it is abstract so it must be taught through actions like how to love, show empathy, and develop friendships. 

My first time leading my students in a Socratic Seminar was very enlightening. I remember laughing to myself thinking there was no way I could sit 8 and 9 years olds down and have them facilitate a meaningful conversation. Sure, for the first five minutes it was awkward, and some of the questions/statements from certain students were off topic, but it didn’t take very long before the students were drawn into the conversation. I was amazed at their questions and insights and it was a huge “A-ha” moment for me. My students weren’t really having meaningful metacognition before because they were never put in a situation where they felt like their opinions TRULY mattered. If we treat our students like they are incapable of meaningful discussion, then that’s exactly what we will get! One of my students whispered to me from the circle “Mrs. Heiple, it’s like we’re having adult conversations!” Yet, 8 and 9 year olds are more eager and ready to have these discussions than most adults because they are constantly analyzing the world and formulating questions and opinions which are often hushed by our busy lives rather than fostered through meaningful “meta-moments”. The students also needed to understand that if they wanted their opinions to be heard and valued, that they needed to really listen to one another, and reflect before they responded. This has to be both taught and modeled since we all are usually quick to respond. Most of the time we are formulating our response before the speaker has even finished. 

If we want students to value learning, they need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, that their questions are important, and that resistance is necessary!