Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflex vs Reflect: Which Promotes Change?

Question: What did you like best
about our learning environment?
I asked my students to reflect on their Fall Semester performance and after reading their reflections, I figured that I had better do some reflecting myself. 2013 was really different for me in many ways. I created a number of changes during the Fall of 2013 and I wanted to look back and see what was successful and what needed adjustment for the Spring semester.

This part of the year is always a time for me to review what I have done during the past 12 months. Typically, I get maudlin' over what I have forgotten to do and then I plunge ever forward in an automatic manner whether I am considering my personal life or my classroom.  In other words, in the past, things generally did not alter all that much from year to year. Reflex reactions do not necessarily promote positive or productive change.

Here are three things I did differently this year:

1)  I have been reducing the amount of copy paper I use in my classroom. One example of this is that I used to have students use a bi-weekly calendar that I copied and gave out. We went to using the Student Handbook that has an assignment calendar inside. Many students used to throw the Handbook away. Now my students also have access to schedules, school information, contact data and their assignments in my class and others as well. By the end of the year, this act alone will save approximately 8 or 9 reams of paper. I have been trying to reduce the volume of paper I copy and hand out all year. Before I print a copy of anything, I ask myself "Could this be done digitally? Could students use their spiral notebook to record their answers?" Things like lab conclusions are now done entirely online, using Quizzes are done on smaller documents, so that I can print a couple or three answer sheets on a single piece of paper.
One of the Apps I use to reduce
paper in my classroom

Here is why I am working toward paperlessness: A) The cost of paper and printing is ever increasing B) Physical papers get lost- but if you save/file the work correctly in the cloud- digital work stays where you put it and C) Reducing paper is better for the environment in many ways- reduce the energy/resources to make the paper and print on it as well as reducing the landfill pressure.

I will continue pushing to reduce my paperwork ever further. Until I have a class set of Chromebooks or iPads, there will still have to be a certain quantity of paper associated with some of the work my students do.

2)  I have been working toward "Flipping" the instruction in my classes over the last couple of years. I eliminated some lessons and paper based work in favor of a more exciting, dynamic learning environment. I have not completely gotten rid of all powerpoint lectures,  and worksheets but most of them are now available in some form of digital format or a screencast video to be watched outside of school hours. This school year I have taken it further by having students doing more lab activities and more content discussion than I had in the past. I have added some projects designed to be used for review prior to tests. We are doing fewer paper/pencil vocabulary quizzes in favor of team flash cards, individual white board activities and "Bring Your Own Device" electronic tools to record learning and to help students prepare for tests.
New Flipped Lesson-  Lab Instructions using the
Tellagami App to explain how the activity is set up

Here is why I have moved toward a more interactive (flipped) learning environment: A) Students can adjust the pace of the screencast lecture based on their individual learning style. B)
Students who are absent during a vital learning experiences often have trouble catching up. If lectures are recorded the information is available to absentees and while class discussions and labs support the learning of those present, the base information is available in a format designed to be reviewed by anyone. C) Discussion and Lab activities are powerful motivators for learning - students perceive this kind of learning as "more fun". Students often need a hands on experience to help them bridge the content gap from knowledge level to deeper levels of Bloom's such as application and synthesis.

I will continue to expand the variety of learning opportunities for students of every learning level. I hope to reduce and eventually eliminate unit summative multiple choice style testing, but I find that big summative projects and essay style tests are very time consuming for me to provide timely feedback. I need to find a happy medium in which I engage students in more projects, but that can be easily reviewed to determine the level of mastery my students have achieved.

My Blog helps me focus on what I am currently doing
and my plans for future instruction
3) I started blogging about my experiences in the classroom and as a learner to document and analyze changes I am making. I am using my blog as a sort of journal of my experiences as a teacher and as a learner. I am proud to say I have averaged about 1 post per month. It takes me a long time to compose my work, mostly because I am a picky writer (Thanks a lot, Miss Schowalter). I always write too much and have to reduce my language to keep focused on the task I set for myself. Finding some quiet time to think about my posts can be difficult. I have begun rising at 5 AM just to get a few moments to myself with nobody demanding attention or intruding on my thought process.

Here is why I have been blogging. A) When I am considering "how things are going," I find that I have to slow down and think about what is going on around me. B) I have become more of an author of my educational destiny rather than a reactant in a series of events happening around me. I can direct my learning and focus on my response to events happening in my world. C) My blog has caused me to be braver and more self confident in my activities. A couple of my posts have helped me to make important career decisions.

I will continue to blog and maybe try to increase the number of posts I make. My posts are long, so perhaps I should attempt break them into smaller chunks. I have several future blog posts rumbling around in my head and even a couple started on the boiler plate for future writing. So far, the blogs have really been for myself, but when I finish a post, I have published it to my PLN, so they can know me a bit better and maybe glean some ideas out of my musings. I will continue to reach out to other educators to adjust my learning for myself and for my students. I would like to help my students to develop a learning network of their own.

I want the remainder of this school year to be one in which I reflect and revise, rather than do things reflexively- they way they always have been done. I have several areas I want to adjust and I need some time to consider what I can do to make those parts of my learning, teaching and personal life more productive.