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.
Our First student perspective
Episode #5 of the Morris Knolls Minute features Mrs. Emma Jean Evans and five of our terrific students from the Gifted and Talented program. While I have taught a handful of GT students in my time at Knolls, it was wonderful to gain a new perspective on this unique program.
This is also our first episode to feature a student perspective. So far this year, I have tried to keep the episodes to around 15 minutes, but I felt each of the students had a unique take on the program and I wanted to make sure to showcase their insightful view on what it means to be a Gifted and Talented student. For this reason, Episode five runs about 10 minutes longer, but I think you will enjoy it.
Whether you are considering becoming a GT mentor for the first time or this is a regular part of your educational practice, I encourage you to really listen to what these students have to say about their projects. It is a meaningful experience to take control of one's own learning and many of these students are doing it for the first time in this program.
If you have any questions about the GT program or the mentor/application process, please reach out to Mrs. Evans at email@example.com.
Happy New Year Morris Knolls!
Every new year brings a season of contemplation about last year's successes and failures. While it is easy to zero in on our faults, we should always spend time reflecting on all of the positive impacts we have made as teachers. With the new year upon us, goal setting is in full swing throughout our society. Whether you are focused on personal goals or career goals, there are a number of ways to put your goals into action.
One of the more common strategies for student goals is the SMART goals process. This method has caught traction in schools all over the country and a number of our programs use the SMART framework to set achievement goals with students. I have found a couple different formats for SMART, but they all follow a similar line of thinking.
Why set achievement goals?
Implementing learning goals has shown to increase student achievement by an average of 75%. When students set relevant and achievable goals for themselves, opportunities are created to increase buy-in and participation. Goals set a destination for students to work towards and our teacher-created learning tasks will be the guide.
The following document is one template you could use to set a SMART goal in your classroom. The pdf version is printable, but not editable. If you would like to create your own prompts or edit the file, you will need to make a copy of this Google Doc.
Smart goals - pdf template
The iCoach MK workshop blog catalogs all of our workshop materials and new resources in one location.