Personalization Tip #4
Get out of your desk. Better yet, get rid of it! Sit with the kids while they work. For some reason, the teacher desk is scary and easy to get stuck behind.
Time is starting to get away from me. I had every intention of posting this yesterday, but laundry, meal prepping, and The Great British Baking Show took priority.
Usually I start falling behind a little later in the school year, but this is 2021. And I would argue 2021 is worse than anything 2020 threw at us. (At least… that’s how we’re feeling in my neck of the woods).
For us, we have wrapped up Unit 1 officially and are working our way through the learning of Unit 2. Below, I have some notes on navigating end-of-unit, all-or-nothing blackout deadlines and two group activities.
Our first hard deadline (“blackout deadline”) came and went last week. That means I had to put some zeroes in for the first time this year. Because I use a decaying average, these will be replaced when I assess the same standard again, but until then, those students are sitting with a 22% in the standards they did not submit work for. (Which - as you might guess - for some of them, is all of the standards thus far). It’s slightly panic-inducing for those kids, but as I tell them, it just means we reflect on where we went wrong and make the appropriate changes.
Similarly, I had a handful of kids that waited until this blackout deadline and rushed through their final assessment. Not surprisingly, I saw a host of inadequate work. Work that usually would have been revised. However, because they waited for the last second, they didn’t have the time to make these revisions. I have fielded a few questions about improving their grades - as you might expect. Instead of offering more time or re-attempts, I turn these into conversations about time management and making better pacing choices in the next unit. Again, we look at the mistake and make appropriate changes.
In other words, the kids who needed a reality check got one, but the mistakes won’t bury them in the long run. Instead, we focus on what we can do differently. I’ve found that kids will dwell in the past if you keep offering re-attempts or revisions. Sometimes, it is wiser to just move forward. (It’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone back since switching to a standards referenced grading system).
More Group Activities
I feel I mentioned it before, but even if a class is personalized, there should consistently be times where the class comes together. For my kids, I shoot for two group lessons and pick out the learning targets that I anticipate will slip them up. In this case, it was rhetorical appeals and composing defensible thesis statements.
Group Activity #1: Being a Compassionate Writer
One initiative that many schools are starting to implement is a portrait of a learner - or a list of dispositions that the school hopes to foster in students before graduation. Ours is called a Profile of a Graduate. As I designed units this year, I tried to design group activities that would line up with different dispositions. For this activity, I was aiming for compassion.
I used the following PowerPoint to guide the lesson. Notes for each slide are below.
Biden appeals to ______ in order to….
This is evidence when he said, “...
This shows his appeal to _____ because…
By using this appeal, Biden hopes to…
Group Activity #2: Defensible Thesis Statements
This is an activity that I have used for a couple years. It is a simple review of what makes a thesis statement defensible.
Here again is the PowerPoint with notes below.
Personalization Tip #3
Ask students how it is going. OFTEN.
God bless you if you are teaching and still, somehow, making time for professional learning outside of school. I have not spent nearly the time I normally do reading blogs, checking out teacher content, or creating shared resources.
Mostly, I am watching TikTok and crying at how accurate all the teacher creators are. (I am also simultaneously guilt-ridden that I support TikTok when it is single-handedly making a job that already felt impossible actually unbearable. #amiright?)
Other than combatting "Devious Licks" and the far worse upcoming challenges, how are things? I mean, we're only handling the politicizing of COVID, subbing in every spare second because of crippling staff shortages, and being accused of "indoctrinating" children....
Lockdown isn't looking all that bad now.
But we persist. Somehow, we keep doing what is best for kids and sacrificing our own well-being (and sanity) for theirs. And listening... which is kind of what I wanted to focus on in today's personalization update.
My tip above is one that I think applies to all teaching, but especially to personalized learning. The entire goal of personalizing learning is to get students to use their voice and make positive choices about their education so that they can so the same outside of school. Without habitually checking in with them, they slowly lose that voice and just surrender to the traditional teacher-driven form of learning. In other words, without listening - personalization fails.
There are two types of check-in that I try to employ consistently: Conferencing and Surveys.
While I try to do quick "How's it going?" checks while I move around the class during learning time, I also try to ask questions about their learning. For instance, as they were coming up with assessment ideas this week, a lot of them were asking me about finding articles to analyze. My response has usually been: "Well, what do you care about? What is going to make this interesting?" Then... they look at me blankly, as though they've never been asked such a question in school.
I also try to ask about the best approach. I had a few students who were taking a long time on the teacher-designed assessment (CHECK), so I asked: "Would it work better if I asked you the questions instead of you writing out all of your response?" Again... blank stares, usually followed by "I can DO that?"
While conferencing is sometimes about questions they have on the content, I also use those moments to ask them what is working and what isn't. From conferences I've had during Unit 1, I learned that a couple students needed to be added to my oral response group for assessments (as mentioned above) and that my teacher-designed assessment was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It motivated me to look at my Unit 2 assessment and eliminate some redundant prompts. One of my favorite things about personalizing the learning process is that I have time for these conversations.
When I want to hear from everyone, I use a survey. Especially, as I am learning about a new group of students, it is important to give them a chance to speak up anonymously or privately. Survey's give that opportunity.
This week, I created a survey about my LMS (Schoology) setup and pacing. It also had an open spot for kids to pose other questions. Based on their responses, I made some slight changes to Unit 2, but for the most part, they were on-board and positive.
Actually, what I liked about this check-in survey - which I created entirely to have them reflect on MY work - was that the kids used it more as a chance to reflect on how they were doing. I got a lot of comments about how they had the tools they needed, but they needed to avoid procrastination and focus in class. Or comments asking me what my expectations were in niche situations.
Surveys seem simple, but they are a powerful tool to hear from kids. And, as I learned with this one, a subtle way to get them reflecting on their learning.
Because this week and last have been focused on finishing assessments, my time has been largely spent in conferences and talking to kids. I have also started some of my usual interventions for those students who begin to fall behind.
This - the point where kids fall behind or struggle to manage their time - is what frightens a lot of teachers away from personalized learning. First of all, honestly, they're usually the same kids who fall behind regardless, and secondly, there are so many ways to keep kids on track.
Here are some strategies I've used over the last two weeks:
You'll notice that as of now, I have not contacted home. Part of building agency is giving students a chance to handle it themselves. I try to give them as much chance to right mistakes on their own before reaching out to parents.
That said, our "blackout deadline" for unit 1 work is Oct 13. (These deadlines are the final cut off for any work related to Unit 1. I usually schedule them a week or two after my suggested deadline). Because my blackout deadline is Oct 13, I will probably message parents the Friday before if I am worried about a kid finishing on time. At that time, I send a list of their specific tasks to complete and the final blackout deadline.
I want to clarify that flexible pacing does not mean a free-for-all. Its more about allowing for a window of time in which kids can complete work. Completely open pacing - which I have also tried - is not successful and honestly, the kids didn't want it each. They love the flexibility, but they have told me every year that they need some hard deadlines to keep on track.
So these weeks, it was listening and intervening where I needed to. Without the daily lesson planning of traditional learning, I have time to do these things. As I mentioned in previous posts, personalized learning gives me the time to do all the things that I actually enjoy about teaching. Mostly, it allows me to really know kids...
...which is just enough to make up for stupid TikTok challenges.