One of the best parts about being a principal of a small school is that I still do a fair bit of teaching. I have the luxury of teaching Social Studies and Science that lend themselves to Project Based Learning. I have been thinking and reading about Personalized Learning for a while now and have been “tweaking” my practice, but I figured it was time to go “all in” and truly begin practicing what I preach.
For my latest unit I made two fundamental shifts. First, I began with the end in mind. Second, I turned the learning over to the students. I began by explaining that we were starting a new unit on weather and that they were going to be responsible to create an atmosphere (end/summative product). They were pretty engaged right from the start. I heard lots of “cool” and “sweet” and then the questions began. “How do we….What are we….When are we…?”
I then laid out the criteria. I told them that before they began planning their atmosphere, they had some learning to do. I gave them a list of key vocabulary. The needed give definitions in their own words, then they had to put the vocabulary in logical groups and finally they had to explain the connections between all the words in each group.
Then the learning was turned back onto them. We brainstormed different sources that kids could get information. They could only come to me (the teacher) if they have already looked in a book, asked other groups and looked it up on a computer. I also said that as a group it was up to them to ensure that each member in their group learned the material. At the end of each class, each group needed to fill out a reflection on how well they shared ideas, listened to each other and shared their learning.
The first class went outstanding. Kids were so engaged and on task. Each subsequent class we started with a debriefing of the previous day and share some exemplary examples of collaboration and then set them off to work. I am 2/3 of the way through the unit and the results have been outstanding – I cannot get over the engagement and more importantly the learning. Some of the great things that have happened:
- Students have been solving their own problems. If someone is off task or not engaged, they are working together to get back on track. They know I won’t let them move forward until everyone has learned.
- Everyone is learning…and I mean everyone. It is so cool to watch the kids working together and truly collaborate.
- I am no longer the centre of focus in the classroom. I am free to wander and clarify or ask questions to prompt further learning.
I am so excited with the results. The students are just beginning the first part of their summative assessments (a mind map) and I can truly say that I know every student will be successful. There may be one or two that need more coaching, but now that I am not the central figure in the classroom I can spend some extra time with them clarifying a few things.
One of the things I am most proud of is that the kids are not only learning the content, but are also really focusing on the 21st century skills of collaboration and problem solving. The stuff they are learning about weather may stick, but learning how to get along, work with others and the realization that true success happens when everyone succeeds are the lessons that will last a lifetime.
Thanks for reading!