Yesterday I was out of the building. Like many teachers, I hate missing school because we lose the day of instruction; and with a block schedule, that can lead to large gaps in the learning process. After being out of the building yesterday, I returned this morning to a simple two sentence note from a substitute. It read, "Students worked the whole block. They are really into their projects."
I know this class well and it isn't a stretch to say they are among the best music appreciation classes I have ever taught. They are insightful, committed to their work, and they continue to demonstrate a vested interest in the art of music. What is interesting to me is the contrast between who this class is today and who this class is on day 1 each year.
Every Year Starts the same
My first activity each year is called "State Your Purpose." In this activity, students explain their reason for signing up for Music Appreciation in 1 tweet, about 280 characters. Many don't even use 100 to get their point across. I tend to get a few outliers, but the common thread of answers essentially read something like "I don't sing, I don't play an instrument, and I can't draw but I need to graduate high school."
While I have come to expect this answer over the years, I must say it always stings a bit to have students who are just not that interested in my subject area. I know that every teacher in the building can relate to that. However, we are still charged with the task of maintaining an orderly class, progressing every student through a curricular program and assessing their progress.
So who are these self-motivated learners?
Why do i care?
So the sub left a good note; the class did what they were supposed to do; why does that matter? It matters because I am watching the effects of positive learning experiences play out each day in my class. I am watching the development of student efficacy and executive functioning skills as students navigate a classroom environment that relies on them, not me.
What do I do with my time if I'm not running the show? I talk to kids, I evaluate their work individually, and I provide targeted feedback on their performance to help move them forward. I know that this isn't a brand new concept. Problem-based learning has been around for decades, but the LATIC framework gave me a structure to employ tools, strategies, and ideas that I have been reading about for years.
In short, learning took place in my absence and I can't wait to facilitate my next block and see what the students have built. It's fun changing the perception of my content area in this class because many of the students thought it was "going to be boring." In the long run, by creating challenging and relevant educational exercises, I am ensuring that my job as a teacher is necessary and essential. No modern machine can target feedback to an individual the way I can. I know my learners and how to meet their needs because putting the students in charge has freed me up to know them better.
sleep and student performance
Topics of student health continue to come up in meetings, articles, and other discussions for both teachers and administrators. As we continue the dialogue, I would like to share an article I read this week pertaining to sleep and adolescent performance in school.
The school schedule is, and has been, fighting the internal clock of adolescents for decades. As the article below explains, a teen has a natural desire to stay up later and sleep into the morning. Our school start time of 7:30am is 20-30 minutes earlier than the national average and an hour earlier than researchers recommend school to start for students at this age. The NPR article highlights a fairly small study with some telling results. In short, pushing the school day back one hour was a large task for the adult leadership of the school district, but it has led to positive outcomes in attendance, performance, and most importantly, student health. The article it is definitely worth a read.
Considerations for teachers
While modifying the school schedule is not within our mandate, we do have power over the daily structure of our classes. If students are short-slept and not biologically awake at 7:30, it would be smart of us to structure the first half hour to 45 minutes of the block 1 class differently. Beginning with lecture-based direct instruction or homework review might be counterproductive if our population is not altogether ready for that at 7:30. Perhaps we should consider periodically infusing the following structures or strategies to get block 1 started off on the right foot.
In-School Flipped Classroom: Flipping the classroom has been a buzzword for awhile now, but maybe it doesn't need to happen at home. With the wealth of online videos, articles, and other tutorial materials, a 10-15 minute flipped model to start the day might get you closer to that standard 8am start time and prep the learner for the day's instruction.
Self-Assessment and Peer Review: These strategies have proven to statistically improve achievement for learners. By beginning the block with a student assessment of performance, we can refocus the learners to the content and skills that we were building last block. A think-pair-share is a great class starter already; add the assessment piece to get the learners engaged in the revision process at the beginning of class.
Class Discussion: A well-structured class discussion provides a 2 to 1 effect on student achievement. Students might be slow to get started early in the morning, so providing prompts, topics, or videos could be useful.
Facilitate and Provide Feedback: In a more standard class schedule, the teacher may check homework or begin the class by diving right into content. If we take 10-15 minutes at the beginning of class to review, reflect, discuss, assess, and provide feedback to our students, we will have a higher chance of activating prior knowledge, which is very important to the learning process. While the ability to grade and provide feedback for every student's homework is not necessarily feasible, we can zero in on those we know need our input and support. A two-minute conversation with formative feedback about a performance task is engaging for students and should be utilized whenever possible, especially at the beginning of the class.
Hybrid Learning Stations: Learning stations get students up and moving through a variety of tasks and learning groups. I like utilizing this early in the day because sometimes students just need to get the blood moving a bit. Creating a Hybrid Stations Agenda requires preparation, but the teacher gets to facilitate learning in a more individualized manner when students are progressing through the block in smaller groups or pods.
As the video below outlines, teachers can search for these materials by book, genre, grade level, literary device, text set, and theme. CommonLit also offers read aloud mode, guided reading questions, annotation tools, and free in-site translation to Spanish features to assist ELL students and teachers. These tools are clearly applicable for English and Social Studies teachers, but I quickly found full sets of Spanish texts, health topics, and readings for Science and Technology courses.
With more resources than I can possibly cover in one blog post, BioInteractive is setting the bar very high for free classroom resources. This online platform offers a wealth of science articles, course curriculum, data sets, online labs, and videos. The topic list below just scratches the surface of how robust this resource is, and it is free!
As we continue to look for ways to supplement student learning, it is important for us to provide multiple outlets for students to engage with our content area material. The classroom resources alone make this a must visit for all of our science and statistics teachers, but I also see an opportunity for English teachers to integrate informational text from a different subject area. The video below gives a brief overview of the website structure. Please feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions or need help locating a resource!
If you are you looking for a way to supplement your instruction with video content, you may want to consider adding ED Puzzle to your technology toolbox. Many teachers at MHRD are already using ED Puzzle with regularity because it is a simple way to distribute video content, put your own twist on it, and collect formative assessment from the students.
The best part of the platform is you can use existing videos from Youtube, Khan Academy, Ted Talks, and a wealth of other content platforms. This saves time and allows us to make use of the great content that is already out there. The platform also allows a teacher to interject formative quiz questions, voice overs, and audio notes, which allows the teacher to add their own clarification or directions within an existing video.
Edpuzzle continues to evolve and add new content libraries each school year. Even if you have used it in the past, I would encourage you to look at incredible amount of content teachers have created over the past few years. Like Kahoot, you can search, reuse, and modify the existing work of your peers to fit your classroom.
Easy Video Integration
Free Content Library
Publishes Directly to Google Classroom
The iCoach MK workshop blog catalogs all of our workshop materials and new resources in one location.