Friday, August 5, 2016

Imagine the Possibilities

For many of us, the summer is drawing to a close and we are at the brink of a brand new school year. Although, I will miss some of the freedom and relaxation that a summer offers, I am always excited about all the possibilities that a new year presents.

As I began to think, dream, and plan, this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt continued to come to mind:

"Do one thing every day that scares you."

I first heard this quote from Jeff Charbonneau last January and it really stuck with me. As veteran teachers, it's very easy to fall into routines year after year without taking the time to reflect, analyze, and evaluate not just the "what" but the "why" of each and every decision we make in our classrooms, schools, and our professional lives beyond classroom walls.  Complacency and apathy begin to set in and before we know it, we've drifted away from doing what's best for students into doing what's easiest for us.

As teachers, our sole mission is to positively impact each of our students with each of our choices. That intentional reflection often leads to change, and change can be scary for most of us. But that fear can lead to amazing possibilities for our students and our professional growth.

After months of reflection, research, planning, and plotting, I've created my list of the "something new" that I believe will have a dramatic impact upon my students' learning. These items do cause me to have those nervous butterflies. In the back of my mind I wonder, "What happens if this fails?" The answer is simple: It will be a powerful learning experience for not just me, but for my students. They will learn that it's okay to try new things and fail...and how to continue to move forward to find success. And that is one of the most powerful lessons that our students can learn.

  • Makerspace: Last spring, my intern and I turned our classroom into a makerspace where students pursued their interests, made something unique and documented their progress. They used this experience to write informational text for a class of 3rd grade students. Through this experience, my students far exceeded our content area standards (there were 12 of them tied to this writing and publishing). Every day was jammed back with high-energy, laser focused, enthusiastic learners. This was only a three week unit; I want to bring this into my 6th grade ELA classroom on a full-time basis.
  • Breakout Edu: At the end of last school year, we began dabbling in Breakout Edu. My students would beg for class to continue. Through these series of breakout, puzzle-solving games, they were sharpening their mastery of content standards while strengthening their problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration abilities. Last year we started with the digital games, but this year, I have four of the breakout boxes that I have built. I even have tried my hand at creating my own breakout for the 4th day of school. (Those butterflies are breakdancing in my stomach over this one.)
  • Peer reading recommendations: Although my students have Free Read Friday and book chats once a week, I want to increase their opportunity to recommend books to one another. As teachers we know that a recommendation from a peer carries much more weight that one coming from an adult. My fellow ELA teacher and I are planning on having students create a data base of book recommendations with all of our classes. Also, I have set aside shelves in my classroom for students to place their favorite reads. I know that this "new" thing will take dedication to continue throughout the year. My hope is that once the students get a feel for it, they will continue it on their own.
  • Book shopping: I've tried this in the past, trying to match the right student with the right book at the right time. Honestly, I haven't had much success with it. However, my plan is to do this in conjunction with student recommendations so that any guidance I may be providing will be using the voices of their peers. Although, I've never banned (or discouraged) audio books, knowing my students, I hope to steer some of my ELL and struggling readers in that direction so that they can join in book discussion with their peers as they often feel left out or isolated from this activity. 

That's my list (so far). They all create a different level of unease, but they also create an excitement for all the possibilities that these new practices will bring to my students' learning. Be brave. Try something new. You never know what great places it will lead you and your learners.

I'd love to know what new thing are you trying out this year that scares you. Please feel free to share below.