This school year has brought so many great things forward in my teaching career. Being standards based and differentiated, I can create a student centered, learning focused environment. My students are figuring out what is truly important – learning over points, scores, and grades.
Setting the standards
This post is the third in a series about my journey with Standards Based Learning and Grading.
Removing the Behavior
|image from venspired.com|
My journey of positive deviance
This week in my classes we took a moment… moment to relax a bit, a moment to catch our breath, a moment to build community, a moment to move outside our normal classroom activity.
Day of the dead is a Mexican holiday devoted to honoring those that have come before us and left this world. It is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, very close to Halloween. We took this week to learn about the holiday (and how it is different than Halloween), work on cultural projects, and do a little bit of celebrating.
The project my students completed is based on the work of Mexican print maker José Guadalupe Posada. He depicted skeletons going about their daily lives as if they were living. Death is not something to be feared in Mexican culture, and this is one way to show the inevitable link between life and death. My students were charged to make a skeleton themselves, depicting it as a living person, or a character we see as alive. They chose who they wanted and let their creativity shine. They captured the idea that Day of the dead teaches us all…life and death are hand in hand…each a part of the other.
Here are a few examples of their work:
The other side to this week was the fact that we did something different than the norm. My students loved the opportunity to relax a bit, think creatively, and produce. Many times we get so busy with the day to day work of Spanish class that creative thinking can get pushed to the back burner. The quality of their work abounded when given the time and space to work autonomously.
At the end of the week as we were finishing up projects and final products were arriving to class, there was an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment in my students. They were excited about their own work and the work of their peers. They asked to see other projects and celebrated a job well done.
Building a sense of community is of paramount importance in the classroom, and last week played an enormous role in the continuous construction that goes on in my environment. We can never stop building culture. Everyone benefits from a moment to breathe. I have a feeling that the intrinsic motivation levels for my students got recharged this past week, and I can’t wait to see what they produce in the coming days.
I got a glimpse into the true greatness of my students yesterday.
In my level 1 classes, we started with a meeting. I had my students pull their chairs into a circle and let them know we had equity of voice. I explained that overall things in class were going well, but we needed to make a few adjustments. I could have easily just handed them the new way we were going to do things, but I decided to go a different route. I decided to involve them in the decision making process. No, I decided to give them the decision making process. It is their learning – not mine, right?
I started by sharing a couple of observations…I had noticed that my students could improve at finding resources for practice. I have many different ways for them to practice, but there are only a few that are being well utilized. I also noticed that when independent work time is given that focus can be a problem. We needed to change that. We only spend 45 minutes together each day and time must be maximized. My students agreed with me and shared some of their own observations, concerns, and comments.
Then I turned the floor over to the kids to figure out how to make it better. I cannot tell you how proud I was of my kids. They came up with a new, better model of independent work days. Some of them asked for my opinion or suggestions, and I gave them. They expressed that they would like more small group instruction rather than whole group and figured out how to make it happen. They decided that each skill (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) would have its own place to practice. There would also be a places to practice the skills together (integrated), to use technology, and to assess.
All I can say is that kids need to be in charge of their learning. They are so capable and ready to take the reigns. Their decisions may not be perfect, but I would love to find the teacher that makes perfect decisions. I am sure we will have more tweaking to do as the year progresses, but you had better believe that when I see missteps, my students will be the ones to figure out how to get back on track. It is their learning, it is their experience, it is their time. It is not about me.