Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Another Year is Over---Student Feedback and Reflection

As the school years comes to a close it is a time of celebration.  It is bittersweet each year for me as I watch another group of fourth graders eagerly prepare for their transition to the middle school.  It is especially emotional for me this year as my daughter will be among them...AND it is the first group of students that I have worked with from kindergarten!  I cry when I say my goodbyes to those that are moving first kids are silent when they see my tears, then they usually laugh nervously or make a joke, and then some cry too....or just smile at my silly 'teacher tears'! I share this at the start of this post, because I think it is important when reflecting about the year and the lessons that we have learned that we do so by valuing the relationships that have been formed and the weight that these relationships give to any feedback we receive.  I receive feedback from colleagues, my administration and parents in an effort to improve my teaching each year.....but the most critical feedback (for me) comes from students.  I make sure they know this as I ask them to help me improve as a teacher.

I am happy to report that my students know that I want feedback--the good and the bad.  I try to model informal feedback methods throughout the year (students rating an activity, or book, or my lesson, or their understanding with a quick thumbs up,halfway or down OR students writing me  quick message about things they need or problems they are struggling with, students meeting with me both formally and informally,etc).  In years past I have asked students to give me feedback on our year of learning together via post notes on my white board.  I have also just asked for feedback sitting with classes as I take notes on their comments.  This year I created two Padlets (this is basically a web based tool that allows you to create a board that people can post messages to).  One Padlet was for students to give positive feedback.  I told students I wanted to know what what worked for them, what they enjoyed, what they wanted to make sure we kept for future students (and in many cases for themselves).  The other Padlet was a place for students to post comments for change.  I asked students to think about what they did not like, what they would do more of, less of or ADD to our learning experience.  

After each class has had an opportunity to post their comments, I reviewed them. I thought about the results in several ways:
What big ideas are embedded in the feedback across grade levels?
How will this information inform my future instruction?
What surprises me and why?
How does the student feedback make me feel, and what do I want to keep and change in enrichment programming to make myself satisfied with our joint learning experience?

When searching for big ideas, I was happy to find some of the underlying goals of my teaching philosophy--that of student choice and voice.

"I liked the capstone projects. I liked that it gave me freedom to learn anything." Grade 4 student
"It was fun when we had choice time.  I like that you can do your own things and not do the same thing as everyone else. " Grade 2 Student
" i like choice" Grade 1 Student
"I like that we got to be creative about our own blog and make our blog our own choice. " Grade 2 Student
"Please keep choice time!" Grade 3 Student

I also found students enjoyed making connections to their own classrooms and curriculum.

"I like the westward expansion presentation" Grade 3 Student
"I think you should keep doing the light unit with all the second graders. The activities were fun." Grade 2 Student
"Learning about plants. Working on our science notebooks drawing the plants." Grade 1 Student (in positive feedback)
"I like that we got to do some things that we were working on in the classroom " Grade 3 Student

Students varied in their opinions of technology.  There were many positive comments about technology projects and tools, but there was an equal call for more time spent on 'arts and crafts', building and creating 'off-line'.  It is clear from my students that most enjoy technology in a balanced environment that includes other choices and opportunities.

A large item that was voiced by several students in multiple grades was the idea to go outside more. Students in first grade loved our trips to the garden to connect with their plant unit, and wanted to do it more, while third graders mentioned our outdoor study of erosion as an example of something they would like to do more of. And some students just wanted to go outside more period!

Students also added a variety of things that they would like to see added to the enrichment curriculum:
More arts and craft projects
Sewing (this was a big one!)
Chemistry Experiments
More Toys in the kitchen name a few!

This is just a sampling of the comments I received and some of the ideas that will shape my instruction.  I appreciated all of the comments and they will all be taken to heart as I spend the summer planning and creating new and fabulous experiences for next year!  I am so thankful to spend time learning with such a reflective and curious group of students.

Happy Summer Everyone!

Do you want to provide feedback for enrichment programming at RES?  Here is a quick survey:

Want to check out the Padlet tool?  It is free to use and can be found at:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Enrichment Challenge SuperStars!

At the beginning of the year all students at RES in grades K-4 were given an enrichment challenge booklet.  The booklet is full of challenges for students to try throughout the year.  Some challenges extend their classroom learning (use math to solve a problem at home) while others introduce new and creative projects (play a new instrument to you). This year our enrichment challenge superstars cooked their family a meal, learned to play chess, went to a community event, taught someone younger than themselves, ran a mile, and so much more!   Congratulations to all the enrichment challenge superstars. GREAT work!!!

Didn't have a chance to participate this year?  Feel free to use all those great project ideas over the summer! AND, I highly recommend the following two summer challenges:
Vermont State Parks (for all the beautiful Vermont summer days):
Wonderopolis Online Summer 'Camp' (for the *hopefully few* rainy days):

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Extending our Artist in Residency Learning with Curriculum Connections!

At the end of April our whole school had the great opportunity to dance with Jeh Kulu as part of our Artist in Residency.  We also took a whole school field trip to the Flynn theater to see the African Children's Choir.  At the same time the second graders were kicking off a social studies unit which focused on comparing cultures.  During this comparative culture unit, students were thinking about many big questions--

--What is culture?
--How is culture the different and same around the world?
--How does your life/culture compare and contrast with other cultures?
--What are the major land and water features on the globe?

The Jeh Kulu visit was a great opportunity for us to make a connection to these essential questions by looking at what we had learned about West Africa.  I was excited when the second grade team asked if I would collaborate with students to create a digital book that shared student knowledge as they thought about culture and these topics.

Each class created a book using the iPad Application Book Creator.  I met with small groups and individuals as they created pages that represented the topics that they were interested in.  Students did a great job connecting to learning in their classroom about geography, sharing some of their knowledge and learning a new technology tool.  I had a great time meeting with students in small groups and getting to experience excellent conversations with them about culture.

Below is a book created by each class. You will notice that some format items are the same (the structure of the book) but that each book shares the unique perspective of the class and students. You will also find a lot of information that shows excellent critical thinking about the essential questions of the unit.  Students not only understood what the different aspects of culture were, but they were able to apply this understanding to compare and contrast this to their lives.  It was also great to hear students make connections to learning that they experienced in art, music and library classes!

Please take time to view these books (made into videos for your online viewing pleasure) and leave us a comment!

Ms. Darling's Class Culture e-Book:

Mrs. Robinson's Class Culture e-Book:

Mrs. Riggs' Class Culture e-Book: