In talking with fellow educators about their journey in the profession, a few defining moments often arise. One of my own pivotal moments occurred on a drizzly afternoon after what felt like a hamster wheel day of non-stop teaching. Sapped of energy and sitting in an after school dept. meeting thinking about stacks of ungraded papers, I snapped to attention when my then admin told us we were becoming a STEM school, and a change in our curriculum was going to have to happen to support it. As an English teacher, I distinctly remember hearing losing a novel unit which was sacrilege at the time. I was quiet in that meeting, which isn't like me. My admin even pulled me aside and asked why I was so quiet. I told him I was trying to wrap my mind around how to make this all work.
Fast forward a few months, and I had a plan. I was going to flip my classroom. To do that I wanted the newly open computer lab space for my room. I did my research, and asked for a meeting with my admin for my big pitch. Someone beat me to the computer lab already, but my admin offered up a classroom set of iPads that no one was using. I quickly realized iPads didn't help with the flip classroom model- it was just another thing for me to try and work into the curriculum but at the time I didn't know that. I was checking off a list. Science (check) we will read nonfiction pieces related to their current topics in science. Technology (check) we were using it in class and flipping the class. Engineering, and math were a little bit harder to figure out how to work into the ELA curriculum. So I was just going to stick with the S & T to start.
Because I wanted to prove what I was doing was making a difference I collected data like never before, thanks to the technology that was actually easier to gather than ever before too. It was at this point that I started paying more attention to my formative results, and started to realize that my efforts to plan every little detail, and hitting November and being on this "specific topic" wasn't going to work for my students. I was feeling stressed to meet arbitrary scope and sequence dates that I had decided on before even teaching a lesson with these students.
I could see it in the data, when they were ready to move on or when we needed to slow down and be more intentional. I could see it more and more clearly on their work, and especially when I could work with smaller and smaller groups on interventions. We had also begun the transition into standards based grading that year or the year before, which was also pivotal in how I was designing curriculum.
Strict adherence to scope and sequence dates can lead to teacher stress and guilt.
For those that know me, you know I am a planner. I am a doer. Not having a specific date tied to a plan was hard at first. Then it became freeing. If my students needed more time, I could do that, I wanted them to be successful in the material as well as in the skills we were working on. I was utilizing backwards design for my flipped classroom videos. At the beginning of the unit I would start with my end point, what did the students need to know to be successful at that standard? I couldn't move on until they were successful.
Other Benefits of Tech Integration
I also started noticing the tech was helping me be more efficient. Instead of grading essays for 15 hours over a weekend, and giving minimal feedback, so I didn't turn that 15 hours into 20 or 25 hours, I was cutting my grading down to 5 hours on that same essay. I was able to give a ton more feedback too! This happened because I was able to work with students while they were in their rough draft, I could triage during class who had specific questions on parts of their essay based on their comments and questions in google docs. Or who had questions from the previous nights homework, based on their notes or google form responses. I could use my teacher desk as a station to help small groups, while the other stations were watching videos, working on a specific part of their essay, revising etc. I used rubrics in my LMS and graded on my iPad so I could give feedback using the dictation tool native in the iOS.
I should point out, this didn't happen overnight. The data collection and freedom from strict planning guidelines was year 1 & 2, more focused interventions were at the end of year 2 & all of year 3. By year four I was moving into intense personalization of the curriculum, and self paced modules in the learning management system.
Because of the technology, the access to my data, and the fact that I didn't have to stick to a strict plan, I was able to start doing more small group interventions. Building relationships with my students, and helping them where they were at. The onus was tipping towards the students, I was better able to be the guide on the side then ever before. Breaking away from a one size fits all lock step curriculum not only made teaching more enjoyable -- but the extra feedback and relationship building fostered a more dynamic and engaged community of learners. Ungraded work and drizzly winter days are perhaps part of our profession. However, the renewed energy in my classroom took me down a much more rewarding path.
While on instagram this weekend I came across the image to the left, my first thought was I wanted to do a blog post on it. Clearly it is a tongue-in-cheek quote, but it still resonated. Matt at @DigitalDivideConquer has some great content touching on some controversial topics in education right now, give him a follow if you are an instagram user. But it was the initial impetus to this blog post.
...and if you are still reading!
I do still love a good organizer though!
Digital Teacher Planners- easy to edit and move lessons.
Are you interested in hearing more?
Because this blog post was getting longer than originally intended and it actually took a vastly different theme than I thought it would I am stopping here. If you would like a follow up, perhaps access to some of my formative assessments through google forms. Youtube Playlist of my flipped classroom videos, a look at how I automated my rubrics and feedback with google forms and the script autocrat, hit me up in the comments below or email me for an appointment and we can get you started in class!
I'm Interested In...
These blog posts will be compiled by the team to show our current interests, and what we are doing around the district!