What a year it has been…

What an incredible year it has been. I don’t think I have had a time of greater growth and reflection in my teaching career. There are so many people to thank, the list would make this post way too long! I have grown because of my colleagues, my professional learning network, and most importantly my students. Today I’ll take a moment to consider the work I have done and what I look forward to doing next year.

The most important switch that happened in my environment was changing from an emphasis on standards based grading to standards based learning. My passion regarding healthy grading practices FOR learning was still important. However this year, more of my time was spent working to leave grading in the background. I focused on the daily experiences I facilitate for my kids. Formative practice and assessment moved to the forefront of my thinking, planning, and reflecting. I recognized that this piece is most critical for my students and their learning. I was responsive to my students needs with feedback throughout the year, which meant that I threw out lesson plans more often than at any other point in my years of teaching. My students determined the direction and pacing of instruction and practice. We found so much success together.

This year I am much more comfortable defending my teaching, grading, and assessment practices. I had some wonderful conversations with a wide variety of people about what I do and why I do it. Those discussions have reinforced my convictions and beliefs about standards based culture and why it is best for students. I have helped my parents get on board with a system that it not like the classrooms they had, not like the classrooms their children have experienced K-8, and most likely not like the classrooms they will go to through the rest of their high school careers. This is always an uphill battle, but with encouragement, communication, and a little bit of compassion along the way, my parents (and students for that matter) support my charge to make learning accessible and attainable for everyone.

On a more personal note, I have strengthened my own knowledge, understanding, and skills throughout the year. I have read, gone to many conferences, and even presented some of my ideas to others about education. I met and talked with some of my heroes in the educational world and they make me a better teacher. They challenge my thinking and help me reflect on changes I need to make for next year. I chatted with some of the best instructors and administrators across the country about a variety of topics via twitter. Through this many doors have opened to me for additional sharing and collaboration. All of these people push me to new levels and give me confidence to take risks in my classroom for the sake of learning.

Throughout this busy summer I hope to find some time to let my brain relax. It is during those times that I am most creative and productive. I already have some areas I would like to improve upon and update before I welcome the class of 2018 next fall. My standards are always a work in progress. I will revisit them as I do every summer to see what improvements can be made. I started to implement a system this spring to remove student apathy from my classes. I am already thinking about how to refine its implementation beginning day 1. One other item I will consider is how to improve student reflection and self-assessment. I am sure more things will come up as the summer progresses, but I also need to remember that a few well thought out revisions are more powerful than many quick ideas for change.

I am looking forward to writing more often. I feel like the end of the school year has pulled me away from my blog and will enjoy writing more regularly. Writing gives direction to my thoughts and reflection. My blog will turn one next month and I cannot believe how writing has not only changed me as an educator but also pushed me forward.

I second guess myself at different points throughout every school year. I wonder if what I am doing is the absolute best for my kids or if I could be doing a better job. It drives me to learn and keep growing my craft. But sometimes I just need to sit back and remind myself that what I do has an impact and a positive one. I will close with a student reflection that to say the least made me very emotional.

“Mrs. Hillman is a wonderful teacher. This year was very intimidating because I have never learned Spanish before so I was a little nervous. Being in Spanish 1 with Mrs. Hillman has made me feel like nothing is impossible. I feel like I am able to learn things at my own pace and really understand what I am doing. The grading scale is very helpful as well. Mrs. Hillman is always there to help any student when needed. She pushes her students to do their best. She helps me have faith in myself and in my learning. I am glad I got the chance to take part in her classroom and learn things from her. Mrs. Hillman, you are an inspiring person and have encouraged me so much. You are a person I admire and would like to take after when I’m older.”

Here’s to a summer of learning, reflection, discussion, and improvement. I am not the teacher I was five years ago, and I will not be the same five years from now.

I am inspired.

Crafting Standards Based Learning Experiences

You’ve made the paradigm shift, and you know that grading and assessment need to support learning in our schools and classrooms. But how do you transform your classroom? How do you design learning experiences that are aligned with your standards, engaging for our students, and challenging for all who walk through your door?

Standards based culture is just what it says. All learning activities point right back to your standards and students can see the relevance of them. If a student asks you “Why are we doing this?” You need to be able to answer with much more than “Because I said so.” Students want meaningful work and practice. As educators we need to take a discerning look at our assignments, assessments and classroom activities to make sure that everything has a foundation in our standards.

In order to maximize student engagement we need to involve their passions and interests. Students should have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and how they demonstrate their learning. I have incorporated genius hour into my classes this year, and it has been amazing to watch my students express their passions. I have students running food drives, volunteering in the community, and raising awareness about animals on the verge of extinction to name a few. I also involve student voice by allowing them to choose various classroom activities. Right now, they are planning and executing review sessions for their classmates incorporating some of their favorite experiences from this school year. They have taken over our learning environment in such a positive way!

Challenge is essential to the learning process. Differentiation allows us to meet the needs of the varying readiness levels our students bring. Our gifted students need something very different from our students who struggle. We must put the proper supports for learning in place so that everyone has the chance to thrive. One size fits all assembly line instruction has to go! Students do not fit into the mold that we or textbook companies create. Instruction should instead be designed for them. We must be fair to our students and give them what they need each day, not what the curriculum guide demands that we cover.

Assessment takes diverse forms in the standards based classroom. It is intertwined into the learning experiences that we create. We are constantly checking for understanding and demonstration of skills, pushing our students forward and watching them grow. Assessment must cycle back and spiral, always moving our students forward while making sure that previous knowledge are skills are maintained. Assessment provides the opportunity to determine when extra practice is necessary, and when students need to delve further into the subject at hand.

Standards based learning is chaotic at times. We need to get used to a learning process that is student centered and hands on. Students need the time and space to collaborate and take risks. We must teach responsively, which means we should be prepared to throw out the lesson plan when our students’ needs require it. Students must know that they matter and are a key piece to the learning process. Learning is not done to our students, it is a process with their full involvement.

As Daniel Pink suggests in his book Drive, create standards based experiences that provide autonomy, purpose, and mastery for your students. They will flourish in your classroom.