Offering Choices – for Teachers and Students

Ways to offer students choices was the theme of Session #4 of the Virtual Book Club! If you weren’t able to join us, listen to the recording here: Virtual Book Club Feb 18th/19th and please share your thoughts on this blog: Virtual Book Club. We have been reading and discussing Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis  and our focus this time was Chapter Seven (Choice) and Chapter Eight (Creation).

We began with some great comments:

  • @Durff shared that she tells students on 1st day that they are all intelligent (Gardner), it is her job to find out how to make them shine
  • Jim shared that he believes teachers should be helping students learn, not giving them the answers
  • Laurel mentioned that some students need content delivered directly from teachers before they are able to make choices in the classroom (and shared an interesting book: Why Students Don’t Like School?)
  • Monica added that she likes to model how she learns so that students feel comfortable making mistakes in her classroom

We also struggled with considering how teachers can create choices in the classroom in a time of standardization and high-stakes testing (at least in the United States).

  • Paul shared that part of personalizing the classroom is establishing relationships with students – it isn’t just about content, it is about connecting
  • Michelle talked about the need to let teachers have choice as well – when something is working, having the freedom to pursue it, not have to stay lock-step with a scripted program
  • Elena introduced the idea “of individual teachers being ‘experts’ with specific tools and working collaboratively with their peers is a more manageable and realistic approach for interdisciplinary teams.”

We also shared our own struggles and challenges with creating and maintaining electronic spaces for learning with choice in mind. We all agreed that monitoring electronic spaces are difficult to maintain and that we would love to have ongoing eportfolios that follow students through their years of learning in a school (Google Sites, KidBlog, Evernote, Weebly and even PhotoStory were shared as ideas). We debated a bit about how to choose new tools – what is trendy, and what is trendy with a purpose? Paul raised a great point about involving students in planning electronic spaces and many shared stories about ways they’ve done this.  As part of this, we also wondered how to make sure more students have access to technology beyond the classroom.

From there, we talked about how to structure learning experience that offer students ways to make meaning. Rocky shared the idea of students meeting with teachers to create useful materials for them and Robyn shared a bit about a project her students are doing to save rhinos! Interestingly, we found we have less experience offering students chances to invent or build. It would be fun to talk more about how we could build these concepts into our teaching more.

We ended by trying out the break-out room feature in Blackboard Collaborate. I guess I modeled the idea of the “teacher” not being perfect but willing to take risks since I had no idea how it would work! 🙂 Thanks to everyone who was there for humoring me and experimenting along with me.  I think we’ll try these small groups again next time with a focus question. Big virtual hugs to @Durff for telling me more about how to use this effectively at future sessions. And my apologies for those of you listening to the recording since there will be a long pause when you are listening (another important aspect of this tool for me to understand!).

Thank you again for everyone that participated. I’m reminded of the quote by C. S. Lewis cited on page 34 of this book:

The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.

Thank you for being in my circle and adding to my wisdom! And to Mara for agreeing to co-moderate. If anyone is interested in co-moderating next time, please leave a comment or send me an email, I’d love your help!

Our next meeting will be Monday, March 4th at 7:30pm EST (that’s Tuesday, March 5th at 12:30am GMT). For your time zone, click here. We will be discussing Chapters Nine and Ten – Celebrating, Designing, and Managing Global Collaborative Projects. Hope to “see” you there!