Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Reflections-The Best Year Yet

     This summer, I have been lucky enough to attend multiple professional development events and to read some great professional books. All of the reading and reflecting has my head spinning with the possibilities in my classroom this next school year. I have been reminded this summer of the vision I have for a truly student-directed learning environment in my class.  I also have been inspired by truly excellent ideas for innovation in education such as flipped learning, genius hour, and gamification. Now, I need to begin to synthesize my learning and to decide what to focus on for the coming school year. There are some beliefs that I know I need to adhere to when thinking about my classroom:

  • Classroom culture is the single most important thing. It is imperative to spend the time needed to teach students to respond to each other with kindness and to give them opportunities to collaborate with each of their classmates. 
  • Students should be leading the learning. I want them to be setting goals and keeping track of their own learning and communicating that with their parents. 
  • The classroom is OUR classroom. Involving students in setting it up and establishing some of the routines is important to me. 
  • The workshop model is what works best for me and what I think is best for students. 
  • READING is essential. Read aloud and independent reading need to happen every single day. 
  • Encouraging a growth mindset is also imperative to helping students succeed
  • Involving families in our learning is important. I want parents to have a place to go to see what we are doing each day in our classroom. I want them to feel like they are part of our learning. I want them to truly understand the standard-based report cards they receive each trimester. 
When I picked up Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz, I expected to get a few good ideas from the book. I didn't expect to be reading the perfect book for my professional journey. I want my classroom to look like Mr. Solarz' classroom. I want my students to be able to feel the ownership that it seems like his students feel. I know that I will be going back to that book again and again as I consider how I will start the school year and what procedures and routines I want to establish. One of the absolute musts in my book will be establishing the student jobs that I know will make our classroom function more smoothly. I love the idea of the students who have the specific job of reminding other students to complete morning duties. I also love the idea of having a student who is responsible for getting the Smart Board up and running if I haven't already done so. I am also thinking that it would be good to have a student responsible for picking the GoNoodle brain breaks and navigating there when it is time for those breaks. I also loved his ideas for how to handle the end of the day. I will definitely be doing something similar this year. 

I also know that I need to establish a Genius Hour in my classroom. I want my students to have the opportunity to explore and learn for the sake of learning. I think this is one of the most important lessons we can give students. I still am working on thinking about how to make this work in 4th grade. When I was switching and had multiple classes for shorter amounts of time, it was easy to figure out 20% of the time. We spent one class a week on Genius Hour. With 4th grade, I am with them for so much more time. I am pretty sure that I want to establish a time every day or every other day to work on projects. I also want to encourage maker space type projects and working on challenges to solve problems. I don't know whether to create a separate time for that or to include it in my Genius Hour time. Perhaps we could do Genius Hour projects four days a week and then have a challenge problem on the fifth day. My biggest issue is how to have students record their work and set goals. I think it would be good to have them decide on the standards that they are working on and to assess themselves on those standards. 

I know I also want to use flipped learning in some way in my classroom this year. I don't yet know how I will use this idea. I also am really interested in gamification. I think I could perhaps connect the game to ClassDojo in some way. The issue that I have is that it will promote some competition among my students, which is counterproductive to the collaborative classroom culture. These are two innovative ideas that are still bouncing around in my head. The trick this year is going to be to take small steps and not to leap into too many big changes at once. 

Looking back over the reflections thus far, I see the need to carefully plan the first weeks of school so that I will be focusing on those things that are most important to me. I need to make sure that I have thought through everything and am absolutely prepared for the beginning of the school year. You would think after 15 years that this would be easier to do. I am determined to make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER! 

What are your ideas for the new school year? Are there things that you are considering adding into your curriculum for the year? Do you have routines that you deem to be crucial to creating a collaborative culture? I would love to hear your feedback and ideas in the comments!

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