Project Based Learning Challenge

I have taken a few risks with my Year 9 class because I have taught them since Year 7 and can confidently say that I know all 38 students and their learning capabilities. Other members in my team have changed during those years. I have worked with all the students whether they are at the top of the class or have been learning English for less than 2 years. We have had wonderful aides come in to support my EAL students and they help me tailor the work for students with learning difficulties.

In Term 3 I’m going to try another Project Based Unit with the entire class. In History we will be learning about the Australian explorers, Gold Rush as well Australia’s road to Federation. The students will become the teachers in this unit of work. Last year this group created resources on the Black Death for teachers at my school to use. This worked well with the class and all students were able to create resources that were shared with other teachers. This year I want them to not only create the resources but also to implement them in our classroom. The project is still in planning stages and will be completed by the start of the term.

Rationale: 

My year 9 mainstream students are quite used to work independently in class. Whilst at times, they understand that we need to explain certain concepts to them, they enjoy working together in groups or on their own to complete tasks. They ask for help from each other as well as the teachers when they are unsure of what to do. This allows my teaching team and myself to give struggling students more of a helping hand and individual support. If we identify a concept that they are all struggling, we regroup and explain it to them ensuring that they all understand. On the other hand my transition EAL group comprising of about 12 students rely heavily on teacher support and teacher guided lessons. This means they are often separated from the rest of the class because they need a quieter workspace. However this can mean that they are isolated and their only way of learning is from the teacher. Whilst they do needed more teacher support, I’m hoping that this unit encourages them to learn from their peers as well. I would like my more advanced students to work with my transition group so the barrier between the two can start being removed. The 2 groups sit separately in the class and I’m not happy with that. Whilst I’ve been aware of the situation, I haven’t done much to address it and I feel that it needs to happen now.

How this will work:

Students will be divided into 3 groups, each will be supported by 1 teacher of the team. The students will be in mixed ability groups A topic will be allocated to each group. My aim is that the students will look at a KWL chart ( I might even try the new KWHLAQ chart) to identify what they know about the topic and what they want to know. I’ve also identified key skills according to the curriculum that they need to cover and this will be included in their rubric for assessment of their learning. Students will work together to create a 75 minutes lesson for the rest of the class to teach them about the topic allocated to the group. Students will choose how they present the information to their peers. 

How will this be assessed: 

  1. Self-assessment: students will write a self-reflection as well as complete a rubric indicating how well they feel that they contributed to the task. They will also then identity what skills they need to work on in the following units of work.
  2. Peer assessment: Each group will create a feedback sheet for ‘their class’ to review the information they present
  3. Teacher assessment: Teachers will review student participation, contribution, delivery, presentation skills, group work and content presented.

This unit will run for 5 weeks. It will be a big challenge not only for the students but also for my team members and myself. We will be working closely with our groups and ensuring that all students are able to contribute. It will be more challenging for my EAL students but I’m hoping that they too will be able to help with planning the lesson as well as running it. I would like them to become more confident in trying to complete simple tasks on their own and I’m hoping that this unit of work will give them the opportunity to do so. This is the last year I will probably teach this class and my aim is to help each student develop skills that will allow them to become independent learners.

#YourEduStory: “Describe a time where you as an educator took a risk in your classroom, and it totally paid off. Or, completely backfired.”

What is the best thing you do in and outside your classroom?

One of the best things that I do in my classroom is getting to know my students and how they learn.

I have been a teacher since 2009. My teaching style has changed in the last 6 years. I am now at the point where I’m confident in my teaching abilities. In the past year my teaching style changed as I decided that I could get students to listen to instructions without having to be very controlling. As a teacher with only a few years’ experience I had thought that I had to be strict at all times because if I showed any weakness, my students would take advantage of it. They proved me wrong.

As I became more comfortable with teaching, I decided I didn’t want to be the teacher students worked for because they were afraid of me. I wanted to be a teacher who they could talk to – who would listen to their opinions and who knew them as individuals. I didn’t want to be a teacher who was seen as only working with EAL students and who didn’t know the rest of the class. I wanted to know all my students- a big task as my class can often have up to 50 students (I teach in a team of 3 teachers to 50 students). The only way I could do this was to get to know my students as they worked and to let them get to know me. I restricted my “board talk” in my lessons and allowed students to have more input into their learning.

By focusing my attention on getting to know my students, I have found that this helps me understand them a lot better. I have gotten to know my “naughty” students a lot more and by taking the time to get to know them, they are starting to be engaged in their learning. They are starting to try and attempt work- they are more confident with asking me to help them rather than just giving up as they did before. My more focused students are starting to extend themselves- they are willing to try new challenges because they know they can get support from me when needed. It is amazing how just talking to my students and often with their “lingo” I have seen them become more confident as learners. They come and talk to me in the yard whenever they see me, they will often try to line up with another year level just so they can pretend they are coming to my class. It makes me feel good to see that.

On Thursday an ex-student visited the school and he came to talk to me. He and his classmates were my first class to graduate. I hadn’t taught him since Year 10 but whilst he was at school, he often made it a point to come and speak to me. On his visit he told me that he was going to do a Cert III at a university. I was so proud when I heard him say that- he had a lot of challenges at school. He is dyslexic and he had been a recent arrival to Australia when I started teaching him. He came to say thank you to me (as his English/Humanities teacher) and another teacher who taught him Maths and Science. He told us both that without our help he would have struggled. It was sweet of him to do that. It made me realise that it doesn’t matter what abilities a student has- if they have someone to support them and encourage them, it makes a  difference to them. They want someone to listen to them and not just see them as another essay to grade.

My students come from so many different backgrounds and trying to find their place in a class with nearly 50 students can be daunting. I try to take the time to get to know them and I am willing to talk to them about myself. I like that we can talk to each about more than just classwork. It makes them see me as someone they can easily approach and this has resulted in them being happier in class. They are more actively engaged in their learning and whilst at times they will try to avoid work, in most lessons they are focused and willing to participate.

It is amazing how much you learn from students once you let them talk…….. my teaching practice has certainly benefited. I will continue to let them talk and ask questions because it gives me a way to help them and encourage them on their journey at school.

 #YourEduStory Week 4

The benefits of Student Voice

Since Term 3, I have been making a conscious effort to use “Student Voice” in my Year 8 class. It started with a simple game of Hide and Seek and has changed my relationship with the students. I have taught these students since Year 7 and I have noticed the changes in the way they interact with me. In order to facilitate these changes, I’ve had to re-think how I interacted with them. I also had the support of my team to allow students to be more vocal in their learning.

In reviewing the PBL unit on the Black Death, I asked students to complete an evaluation form. This was the first time they had to choose how they wanted to learn and complete their own tasks and I was interested in hearing their opinions.

One of the questions on the evaluation form was: “What did you like about this unit?”

“I liked this unit because we learnt in our own way without the teacher teaching us” – Student 1

“It was really challenging and interesting to me”- Student 2

“I liked how we could control the task by ourselves”- Student 3

“I liked that we didn’t have to stay and listen to the teacher giving instructions. We did our own work and what we had to do and also liked it when we listen to music”- Student 4

“That we actually had a choice to do something instead of doing what was planned”- Student 5

 

Student 5 has been the one responsible for the increased use of student voice in my class. Since our conversation in term 3, he has become quite vocal about how he wants to learn. He’s realised that I am interested in his ideas and opinions and am willing to implement them in my class. Since then I have seen a remarkable change in his behaviour. He is more engaged in his learning. He often assists me in getting the class to be quite, enjoys doing marking the roll for me and constantly volunteers his ideas in class discussions. He still gets distracted at times but out of my class of 42 students, he has made the most significant progress. He works harder to complete his work and will readily admit when he is struggling. 12 months ago, he would refuse help, get distracted or distract others and his work would rarely be completed. Just by giving him a voice in the class has changed his behaviour in my subjects. The other students respect him and follow his lead.

Seeing this change in Student 5 has made me realise the following:

  1. “Student voice” is a necessity: I make a more conscious effort to ask the students for feedback on the lessons. It helps me get to know their learning styles better.
  2. Learning space: I try to be more open-minded in letting the students choose their learning area and space (some choose to work at tables, others on couches with the rest scattered on the floor).
  3. Groupings: I am more flexible in allowing students to choose who they want to work with. Some like working independently whilst others work better in groups. I don’t have to be worried that they won’t work.
  4. Trust and Respect: It is a challenge to win the trust and respect of all students in a class. By allowing them to voice their opinions and by implementing it in my classroom, I have gained their respect and trust. They are more open about themselves,  they are happier in the classroom and I’m starting to see increased levels of engagement in their learning.

It is now my challenge to use Student voice more in my Year 7 and Year 9 classes. With them it will take a while as I don’t know them as well as the Year 8s (who I’ve taught for nearly 2 years in a row). However having noticed the changes in the Year 8s, it is imperative that my teaching team and I focus on it, as it will improve the students’ engagement in their own learning as well as allowing us to help them learn in a way that suits them.

This post is written as part of the #blogsync challenge for Connected Educator month.

Listening to Student Voices

In the last week and half, one of my most disengaged students has started asking me to change our learning spaces. We had been discussing another topic and he suddenly brought this question up. So in an attempt to get him more involved in our learning, I started questioning him about his idea. At first he wasn’t sure about how to articulate it but a few days later in my PBL feedback sheet, he wrote down his ideas. He said that not everyone learnt the same way: some wanted a quiet space, others to work with their friends and that this could change depending on what unit we were learning.

So the next day when we had English, he suggested we go outside the classroom to the green area (or piazza as it is referred to by teachers) as it was a beautiful sunny day. This space is in between all the buildings, has fake grass and a few benches. It is like a mini outdoor theatre with steps on one side. So without hesitation I decided to listen to him and took my group of students outside. They quickly arranged themselves in the area, with the boys lying on the fake grass and the girls on benches. We were working on an essay for “Holes” and in my mind it really wasn’t the ideal place to teach them to write an essay. However to my surprise, they worked well in that space (once papers had stopped flying). The boys who are my reluctant writers, stayed in one area without moving around and worked solidly for the next 50 minutes. I moved from group to group and they stayed on task. Since that day, they have been more eager to work and have realised that I am willing to listen to their ideas. When the weather improves I know I will be taking them out again. In previous years I would have immediately vetoed the idea, but now I know that listening to my students’ voices, I can get them more involved in their learning.

Student voice is important in the classroom these days. Teachers are aware that it is vital that students have a say in the way they learn. Gone are the days when the teachers dictated how learning would happen in the classroom. As a teacher I see the value in getting students’ opinion because it helps to understand how they learn. They need to be able to share their thoughts and ideas of what learning looks like to them and how they would like to like to learn at school.

Bill Palmer’s article on Edutopia states by giving students a voice, it increases their “achievement and engagement”. Students who take responsibility and ownership in their own learning, have a more vested interest in what they are doing. The conversations with the teachers benefit both of them as there is a shared understanding of what learning should look like. By giving students a voice it helps teachers to personalise the learning for each student.

In our house (my school is divided into 7 houses), the Assistant House Leader has been actively working with our students to find out who they are as learners. It took me a while to realise that I also needed to learn how my students learn. When my AHL carried out the “Who Am I as a Learner” activities, I paid close attention and went over the data she collated. It was interesting to see the information as a teacher. Whilst I talked to my students on a regular basis, I didn’t really understand how they learned and what they wanted to see happen in the classroom. As a student myself, I had no voice as I was in a traditional classroom and that was they way we were taught. If my teachers knew how I learnt, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much at school. I can change the way I teach by listening to my students’ and shaping my practice to incorporate their suggestions.

All around our house, our students’ understanding of themselves as learners is starting to be displayed. This allows us, their teachers, to know who they are and how they like to learn. This helps us in our planning and gives us the opportunity to create lessons that are engaging and influenced by student voices.

 

References:

Palmer, Bill, “Including Student Voice”, http://www.edutopia.org/blog/sammamish-2-including-student-voice-bill-palmer, accessed 13th September 2014