Welcome to Year 16, the second half or turning point in my teaching career. The same school and same grade level, but the beginning of a new focus with a new direction, and trailblazing a new path. Inspired by a summer program through EdTech Team, I am a teacher leader anxious to implement some new ideas. A school committed to preparing students for the future can no longer look like a school of the past. A shift needs to be made from making children compliant to creating engaging activities for students, to ultimately encouraging and empowering learners.
What is an empowered learner? An empowered learner is someone who makes decisions about their learning, has a voice in the process, reflects on what they understand, and pursues their passions. (Empower, Spencer & Juliani) As an innovative educator, I am trailblazing a new focus for my classroom. I am committed to empowering my students and guiding them on a path towards lifelong learning.
Project Based Learning puts the process and the product in the hands of the students. A driving question is posed and students take the reigns. Teachers creatively weave in the required content but students decide how to answer the driving question and present their final product to an audience outside the classroom. Over the past few years, I have revitalized myself and my classroom by incorporating more and more PBL units into my teaching. Students have created zoos, life-size deep-sea submersibles, proposed changes to improve our elementary school, taught kindergarteners about Matter through Hands-On Science kits, directed movies, and attempted to colonize a recently discovered planet.
The change in student engagement and enthusiasm for learning has been monumental. I have become a facilitator of their journey – prompting, questioning, and redirecting their focus; then celebrating their successes. Life skills that include teamwork, leadership, and accountability naturally develop as we proceed through these projects. Students are challenged to think creatively and critically and learn to communicate their ideas to peers, adults, and younger children. The learning has been contagious beyond our classroom because we have invited other teachers and students to see our products and they become eager to take their own journey.
Project Based Learning has engaged and empowered my students, but I want to expand – how else can I hand over the reigns? I believe I found the answer in Flipped Learning. By flipping the learning in a classroom, teachers create lessons, compile resources, and design activities to allow students to explore lessons at their own pace and in their own space. Like PBL, teachers facilitate student learning. In this case, they support students that need help and push learners that need extensions and challenges.
My focus in flipped learning will be on teaching students honest reflection on effort and understanding. After just 5 years in school, these learners have already been trained to be compliant. They wait for a teacher to tell them how well they understand a concept; they listen for the teacher’s directions, and they don’t always monitor their own behavior but wait to be redirected by the teacher. What if I taught students to reflect on their understanding of a concept and to spend more time with resources when they realize they don’t understand an idea? What if I provided challenging activities and students could decide when they were ready for a push and took it upon themselves to move further? What if my 5th graders were guided to realistically reflect on their effort and to realize when they could give more without a teacher managing their behavior? Students who accurately assess their understanding and manage their actions and effort towards learning are empowered to know how to learn for life. I can only imagine that by guiding my students on this path in 5th grade, I will set them up for a deep, meaningful, educational journey throughout their schooling thus developing a well-prepared adult to join and lead in the workforce.
While both project-based learning and flipped learning are pivotal ways to change my classroom to empower students, there is one more approach I want to take. In both of these models, the content and guidance are still created by a teacher. What if students had the opportunity to fully create the content, the process, and their understanding before deciding who they want to share their product with? This truly would epitomize a self-directed learner.
This year I plan to engage my students in the LAUNCH model. (Launch, Spencer & Juliani) LAUNCH is an acronym for Look, Listen, and Learn, Ask questions, Understand the problem or process, Navigate new ideas, Create a prototype, and Highlight what’s working and failing. Empowered learners will be the people who change our world. They will be the leaders in the future, making decisions and innovations, and trailblazing new paths. Why not start now? What if 27 5th graders looked around and had the opportunity to make a change, fulfill a need, design a prototype, or help another person? I believe guiding students on this journey now will give them the ideas and confidence to continue this path on their own in the future.
My final thought is that sadly, teaching can be an isolating profession, with teachers alone in classrooms juggling full schedules and scarce resources. Collaborating with colleagues can be difficult due to time constraints, but also due to varying philosophies. In my career, I have seen many styles of teaching as well as passionate beliefs about what is best in education. Jumping into a global professional network of educators I align my own beliefs with has empowered me as a teacher to do what I believe is best. Through Twitter and Facebook groups, I have connected with and begun to learn from experts and colleagues who share my passions. My global PLN will be my idea bank, sounding board, and support system as I trailblaze my own journey to empowered educator. Join me on my path toward empowered educator and empowered students at www.melissadyas.com.