Saturday, March 29, 2014

I've Been Thinking...

A recent edSurge article I was a part of with Erin Klein on Class Dojo, followed by some twitter conversation this morning has encouraged me to finally publish some of the posts I've held locked up in draft on my blog.  Here's one of them.

For the past few months  I haven't shared too much of my personal thinking.   It's what happens when I'm struggling with things and I'm just not sure how to put them into words.  I'm not sure I can now either but I need to share some of my thinking.

To no surprise, I read a fair number of tweets, blogs, and on-line articles.  I thrive on soaking up knowledge, thinking about it, making it my own, and then doing something with what I'm learning.  I don't always agree with what I'm reading and unfortunately this school year I often remain quiet because  I just don't have the strength to speak up.  I read, think about it, and allow it to push my thinking.

Right now so many things are swirling around in my head.  I'm drawn into many topics searching for the best ways I can help my students move forward in their learning journey. Over the winter break, while struggling with trying to write a blog post I tweeted out a few of my thoughts.

As an educator for most of my career I have felt that it was most important to let my students be exactly who they are. I certainly believe that now more than ever.  I understand that each child in my class learns in a different way and instead of trying to make them learn my way, I listen and watch more and try to find ways to help them learn in their way.  I've always learned differently than those around me.  As a result my room doesn't look like a traditional classroom but it doesn't mean that "traditional" concepts and skills aren't taught. They are just taught differently than how many of us were taught.

I very clearly remember math coming easily for me. In grade six my teacher had math worksheets we could do if we finished early.  I completed many of them quickly and  received the "Math Whiz" award pin.  Once you won the pin for the month you were given a handicap for the following month. I had to complete  at least 15 more worksheets than the next person in order to win another "Math Whiz" pin. To no surprise  I earned a second pin the following month.  But after that I started to figure out what a waste of my time these worksheets were.  The pin had little value to me.  I knew the content and gained nothing other than a pin for completing the tasks. I didn't need a pin to let me know I knew the math well.  I knew I knew the math well.

So why do I share this story? When I went to school we were all expected to do the same thing at the same time. I can assure you as a classroom teacher  it is much easier to set one way of learning and expect others to learn in the exact same way.  It's much easier to manage a class this way too.  But is the one way only method best for the learners in our classrooms? NO!  Expecting every child to learn in the same way makes it close to impossible to personalize and go deeper with learning.

Unfortunately it still happens all the time in classrooms around North America.   I am doing my best not to have it happen in my classroom. It's one of the many reasons why I believe so strongly  in providing student choice with  learning.

However I am also in the midst of a challenging school year.  I love my students very much and I am doing what I can to best meet their needs.  For the majority of my students providing choice has been as successful as I could expect.  I am seeing unique ways to practice and share learning. I am seeing students engaged in what they are doing -whether it be on their bellies at the carpet, under a table in the corner of the classroom, working with a friend, or in a quiet spot on their own.   But I won't lie, I have a few that are still struggling with choice and their struggles are affecting many.

I am also having personal internal struggles with what will make my life easier and what will be best for my students.  I have read blog posts on motivation, mindset, self regulations, and authentic student learning.   Because of what I know and some of the chatter I hear from others I am constantly being pulled from what is best for my learners vs what is best for me as their teacher.  It would be very easy for me to be more strict with my students, laying down heavy rules which I have created and expect my students to follow.  I could tell them exactly how I want things done, and accept nothing but that to show learning.  In fact it would be really  easy for me to set up a behaviour chart and reward kids for complying to my rules.  But I don't want to be the controller of my students learning, I want them to be in control of their own learning.  Plus just because I can make my life easier by being more strict and controlling, doesn't mean it's best for my young learners.

 I am also having internal struggles with doing what's best for most students vs what's best for just a few.  I don't want to run my room where I am the boss telling everyone what to do, yet I know I have some students that still require a lot more guided practice to be successful with their independent learning. I don't want to take choice away from those that can handle it for those that can't.  I also know there is a decent balance some where out there and there are many times when I've found it.  They are also times where I have not.

So each day I return to my classroom hoping it will be better than the previous.  I am constantly looking for ways for each learner in my classroom to be successful.  For many it's providing choices in how to learn, show, and share their knowledge.  For others it's a far more structured approach with a lot  more social skills being taught.  But ultimately what I am doing in my classroom has very little to do with me, and making my job easier, and a whole lot more about what's best for my students.  It's been a very challenging year, but it's a year that I won't give up on.  When I keep my students' needs at the forefront things can only continue to improve, right?


  1. Karen, I am so glad you decided to share this. There is something about putting it out there that allows you to be more honest even with yourself. Don't doubt your philosophy - you know how well it works. And honestly, your ever evolving philosophy is the only place from which you can really teach well. And that means the best learning happens. Maybe what is happening this year is that most of the learning is happening in certain realms. I know in my room, we have highs in lows in every area. Sometimes the learning is all about the social and the routines and then out of nowhere other things are clicking. Your students are learning a lot - that they have choices, that they are valued, that they are safe. Process and product, right? Focus on process. And see the forest. I have huge faith in you and the wonder of your room!

    1. Thanks Carrie, I appreciate your feedback and your faith in me and the wonder of my classroom. I love your analogy to things just clicking. Lately I've seen that more and more with my students. It's as if finally all the time I've spent laying down a foundation of mutual respect and trust amongst us in the room is finally clicking. I'm not sure if it's simply because my students are maturing, or that I've simply stressed it over and over and over again that it's finally sinking in. Or perhaps a combination of both, or other factors. But in any case here's to an exciting final term!