Celebrate Spring & Celebrate Learning

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Teachers — When we return from Spring Break, we need to start with a celebration!  Yes, celebrate the learning we have accomplished this year… make the return to school fun!  There will be only 7 weeks of school remaining and look what we have all we have done this year!

This is the idea generator!

What Do GHS Teachers Think?

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What do GHS teachers think … about engagement?  The recent publication of the Goochland Instructional Newsletter  featured short quotes from teachers on page 5 detailing what they thought about engagement.  One was from Jennifer Abbott, teacher of English at GHS.

When I asked her for her definition of student engagement, she wrote, “It’s so interesting that you should ask this because I introduced my students to Edmodo today, and I feel like the level of student engagement shot through the roof.  If a teacher can successfully engage his or her students, the majority of the battle is won in that classroom.   Engagement leads to less classroom discipline and more productive interaction between one’s peers and teacher.   Edmodo is offering just that.  It’s offering my kids a unique opportunity to interact with me and with one another in a way that they can not only understand but relate to.  They’re accomplishing the same thing that a worksheet can do, but they’re not fighting me the whole way.  They want to answer the question or complete the task.”  One way you can see her engaged ideas is through her blog. Ms. Jennifer Abbott uses active strategies to keep her students thinking, participating and writing; she enjoys the tools of technology and so do her students.

Another high school teacher, Preston Gordon, who teaches mathematics had thoughts about this subject as well: “Student engagement is the ability to provide a learning experience that allows a class to participate and enjoy instruction.   A teacher can evaluate the engagement of students by their performance in class through one-on-one questioning, group activity, class discussions, projects, along with numerous other activities that allows for student participation.  Teachers need to sell themselves, their class, and lessons everyday, so the students will have the best learning opportunity available.  I have found that being energetic and entertaining has helped me improve student engagement.”

Mr. Preston Gordon when on to say, “One of the best teachers that I have been around at GHS is Ms. Erin Yearout-Patton, and the kids love her along with her teaching methods.”  Erin is on the cover of our recent instructional newsletter.

Erin Yearout-Patton regularly presents lessons that model engaged learning.  She comes at teaching from the perspective of being a student herself.   “As educators, we too remain students, because many of us have a commitment to lifelong learning. As a student myself, I know I am engaged when the professor ends class, and I find myself wanting to continue the class discussion or activity. Sometimes, I will stay after class or email my professors because I am very interested in the concept.  As a teacher, I apply the latter to my own classes. When my students compliment the lesson, provide ideas to improve it, tell me how the lesson applies to a principle from another course, or an event in their daily life, I know I have made a connection. A more concrete example: students will send me emails or tweets on events they want to cover in class. They also send me copies of letters they write to their Congressmen, concerning legislation, and the response they receive. Last year, it was SOPA. They also enjoy bringing in political signs and banners to support their political ideas. Furthermore, I know they are engaged when I go to vote and they are working the polls, ensuring a just and fair election. This is exactly what the Class of 2012 did, thanks to our community partnership with the Registrar’s Office. Every year our students complete their Senior Projects. The Class of 2011 raised over $15,000 for charities. It will always be an honor to be a small part of the process that engages our nation’s future, our children, in creating superb and dedicated public servants!”

Finally, our secondary instructional technology resource teacher (ITRT), Bea Cantor, who helps teachers connect technology with their lessons, knows first hand what engagement looks like. “Students are engaged when they are learning by doing, when they are active in a meaningful task rather than repetitive busywork: using technology, collaborating with their peers, applying knowledge to solve problems. This engagement is most meaningful when students are aware that what they are learning is not just to pass a test, but something that will be useful somewhere beyond the classroom walls”  Bea Cantors blog reveals the many engaging lessons she assists with from the 6th through 12th grade.  She is also writing a eBook about the photography of insects.   All of us can learn more about engaging lessons from Bea Cantor’s blog, Tech Salad.

Invested… Stakeholders in Learning

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In the upcoming newsletter from our schools, Explorations in Learning, one GMS teacher, Leona Barnes is quoted — “Student engagement occurs when students are actively invested in their own learning . . . they see themselves as stakeholders in their own learning.”

This statement is the tip of the iceberg for Ms. Barnes.  She is the epitome of the teacher/facilitator who works daily to keep ‘her kids’ involved in learning.   When she was asked to define engagement she wrote:  ”Tom, thanks for asking me.  It really allowed me to step back and analyze what I do with the students.”  She appears to reflect frequently about the way she teaches.  Her full statement describes her philosophy of engagement.

Definition:  From my vantage point, student engagement occurs when students are actively invested in their own learning.  In other words, at this point in the learning process, they see themselves as “stake-holders” in their own learning.  I feel like I’m in “teacher heaven” when this happens in my classroom. 

 As I was reflecting on this question, I realized that there were several strategies that I keep in mind to foster student engagement:

1.  Each unit begins with a big question.  Students have to view their learning with a sense of “wonderment.”  Giving them an opportunity to express what they would like to learn in relation to our unit engages them right at the beginning.

2.  Material is presented in small “chunks.”

3.  Students are given a variety of ways with which to work with these smaller pieces of information.

4.  Once students have mastered all of these pieces of information, they have to put it together to make sense of the whole. (Sometimes, I start with the “whole” and then we analyze the “pieces.”)

 Because the lesson was broken into smaller steps, students will arrive at #4 feeling a sense of confidence and security, so it’s easier to take risks when learning.  I’m also very careful as to what kind of feedback I give when students are engaged.  The feedback must always be stated positively, so that students will continue to feel confident and secure during this learning process.

Thanks Mrs.Leona Barnes for your exciting teaching and your visionary instructional leadership at GMS.

Learning from Tweets

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David Warlick tweeted that he was watching project based learning at a middle school in Vermont.  This example included writing a script for a Wonder Years episode for the study of the 60′s era.  What a quick and easy way to connect; n this case, hearing about students engaged in a fun activity imbedded with learning!

As this blog embarks on exploring the engaged learning we hope to continue encouraging and providing in Goochland, a good source will be the tweets and links of so many experienced educators.   Another suggestion from David Warlick: TeachThought.

A walk down Fairness Boulevard at BES

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Visiting Byrd Elementary School (BES), this morning I was struck by the positive engagement of students with their lessons. Just walking into almost every classroom in the school to view what was happening on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day, our small team of administrators, witnessed good instruction in action.  We are talking more and more about going beyond the minimum, going beyond the standards, going to a place called “engagement” and active learning.  I will talk more about this in blogs this year, but I can say . . . you know it when you see it.

Of course, this is not good enough.  We need to be able to identify it, quantify it, describe it, talk about it, and duplicate it.  Engaged students does not just happen.  It takes good planning.  Much like the well-organized learning environment we found as we walked the halls of BES yesterday, teaching and leanning is obvious around every corner.

 

Hallways at BES have names and one of them, “Fairness Blvd” already has some student work posted on the wall.  Here again, good planning produces results.  Here is a sample