Lessons I Learned from My Students' Reflections:
1) Students Love CHOICE - A number of students wrote about loving the choices on both how they learn the material and how they show their understanding. As I see it, this is one of the central parts to the plan and the key ingredient to getting student buy in.
-Student Reflection: "I like how we have freedom and we can show our learning any way we want."
2) The Power of Reflection - Having students reflect upon their learning is such a powerful tool. It is so important for students to develop an understanding of how they learn and work. I am also amazed at how honest students are when given the opportunity to reflect when they feel they are in a safe environment. I know I need to improve getting students to reflect more on a daily basis and more in depth than they currently are.
-Student Reflection: "That I can work by myself and get stuff done.
-Student Reflection: "I really like the freedom of this class. It's great being able to go at your own pace. I also like learning on my own and being able to have the option of how I learn.”
3) Reflection + Choice = Student Ownership of Learning - I have seen my students begin to take ownership of their learning. They are becoming more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. I have seen how students become more confident in their learning.
-Student Reflection: "I have horrible time management and I really need to find out how to improve it."
4) Students Enjoy the Combination of Choice & Activity Days - The balance is crucial, but students have really enjoyed the combination of choice days and activity days. It keeps things fresh and always changing. One change that I made halfway through the unit was to create a second seating chart that I assigned, whereas the other seating chart was based on student choice (part of their dream classroom of having the choice of where to learn). Students are then sitting around different people creating a different mentality between choice and activity days, which I have found is really important.
5) Students are Different - Reading student reflections and reflecting on the first unit it has reinforced how different our students are when it comes to their interests and learning styles. What does it mean for teachers? Create an environment that provides structure with a balance of freedom that comes in the form of student choice. It takes planning and structure, but the impact on student learning is powerful. And as I will discuss below, yes the iPad makes this a lot easier for teachers.
Lessons I Learned from the Process:
1) The True Power of the iPad - During my first semester with a class set of iPads (Spring of 2013) I struggled to find a true vision/purpose for the iPads in my classroom. I could see the potential and I experienced a number of successes, however, I still didn't see a clear picture of where I wanted to be in the future. However, after a summer of reflection and a discussion with my students during the first week of school I realized it came down to providing students choices. Students want choices, which in education talk really means students are asking for differentiated instruction. Most schools and districts are pushing for differentiation, however, many teachers, including myself, have struggled to consistently implement it into the classroom in a way that has a real impact on student learning. The iPad has opened that door for me and more importantly my students. The iPad provides an easy and efficient way share a large amount of diverse learning materials while also allowing students a wide range of ways to show their learning. It is truly a powerful learning tool, but it is nothing without the teacher creating the learning environment and support students need to discover and own their own learning.
-Student Reflection: "I learned that using an iPad to make projects can sometimes be a lot
easier because you don't have to worry as much about messing up. There are also a lot of different apps that are fun to show your learning with."
2) My 1:1 Classroom (I am Not Talking about the Student to Device Ratio!) - The part of my plan that has been the most challenging, has also been one of my most rewarding. On Choice Days I spend the class period moving (actually rolling around in my chair!) from one student to the next checking their work, assisting them in their learning and checking for understanding. It is difficult because it is non stop interaction and usually more than one student wants my attention at a time. However, with the help of the students we have created a plan so that students know when they I will be working with them. The most rewarding part is discussing every single objective with every single student through a one on one conversation. Talk about timely feedback and holding students accountable! Plus, it really challenges students as they can't hide behind a worksheet. They have to answer specific questions and discuss information before they are given credit for completing an objective.
3) Teachers Cannot Create their Dream Classroom Alone - I have learned through this first unit that creating an IEP for every student is not an easy task and it is never ending. Furthermore, I have come to realize that in the past I have neglected one of the most important resources inside my classroom, the students themselves. My students have become more invested in the class because they have been involved from the beginning when it comes to the design of our class. From day one I have included them into the decision making. This does not mean every decision. However, their involvement and more importantly their ideas have been crucial to the success of the class up to this point. The feedback they provided at the end of the first unit proves that we are on the right path to creating our dream classroom, but we aren't there yet. Students should be the center of our classroom focus, and as a result, their input and ideas need to be included.