Now that the school year is in full swing, teachers may be starting to come up for air to look for new ideas to try in the classroom. It's always fun to kick off a new school year with a new method or a digital tool, but there are always many other important tasks that may impact the implementation of new ideas. First, we need to get to know our students and build relationships. We also need to set up our classroom procedures and familiarize students with any tools we are using such as an LMS or other methods we have for teaching our course. Educators may find little time to explore new ideas until after the first grading period ends and the classroom “routine” has been established.
What better time than the fall to try some new methods and create opportunities for students to direct their own learning. Providing more student choice in the ways that students can share their learning makes a big difference in student engagement and motivation in learning. In providing more choices, we must continue to focus on the development of social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As we strive to prepare students for the future so they are equipped with the right skill sets to be flexible and adjust to changes in the world of work, we have to be willing to take some risks in our classrooms. When we can enhance what we are doing by not only helping students to develop their skills in the content area, but we facilitate the development of in-demand skills like collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and even resilience depending on the methods used, we will transform the learning experiences for students. These are some of the most in-demand skills sought by employers and with the right methods and tools, we will amplify the learning potential for our students and foster student agency in learning.
Educators need to embrace opportunities to co-learn with students and what is even more impactful, is when we can learn from them. When students are placed in the lead more, we empower them as they then shift from consumers to creators to innovators.
Here are three ideas to consider trying now that the school year is in full swing. Fall is a great time to explore new ideas and then reflect on the benefits. Choosing any of these will provide students with authentic and meaningful ways to engage with the content while also building skills in many other essential areas.
Choice Boards. By creating choice boards, we offer students an opportunity to explore and create on their own. It also helps us to differentiate instruction and provide multiple ways for students to process information and build their knowledge. By including a variety of options for practicing with the content, rather than having each student complete the same assignment or worksheet, a choice board offers nine authentic options for students to choose from. Choice boards can be created on paper or digitally which means they are great for anywhere learning. Offer a variety of options to have students create using tools that are versatile. Some examples are Buncee, Genially, Nearpod, WeVideo, which provide a variety of multimedia options for students to choose from as they create and engage with the content. Choice boards also boost student engagement through authentic, meaningful, and more personalized options for students to choose from.
Learning journeys. We know that assessing our students and setting goals are important for learning to occur. Being able to understand where we are in the learning process and to reflect is essential to our personal and professional growth. Students need a “space” where they can chart their progress over time and develop self-awareness, as these are key for their growth. Whether this is done through audio or video or a written reflection like a blog, these reflections of their learning journeys are beneficial for SEL. Another benefit is that leveraging digital tools will help students to develop digital citizenship skills. Using a tool like Flip, students can record their thoughts and even share their reflections with classmates to receive and give feedback. With Book Creator, students can design a book and add their learning takeaways to it throughout the year. By providing more student-driven learning opportunities, we support students as they develop skills of self-awareness and self-management and they appreciate the process of learning itself as they see their growth over time.
STEM Exploration. Engaging students in STEM activities is not something that should be reserved for a STEM-specific course or a certain grade level. There are lots of ways to bring STEM into all classrooms for all students. Think about the content area that you teach or a certain topic and create challenges for students. When I started with STEM, my students used Hummingbird robots from Birdbrain Technologies to create design challenges. As a language educator, I was not sure how to bring STEM in, but this was the perfect way! Have students work with a classmate to solve a problem or come up with a new solution to something. Provide students with a list of items or ask them to come up with their own ideas about how to design a prototype for something related to the content. For example, if teaching about history, task them with improving the design of a famous landmark. Perhaps in science, have them select a technology that exists today and how might they improve it using some emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented and virtual reality.
Each of these options offer many possibilities for promoting student agency and fostering the development of future-focused skills, especially SEL skills. These ideas can be used for any grade level or content area. As students work through challenges, plan their workflow and become better able to understand their skills and the steps they need to take to grow, they will engage more in learning and be better prepared for their future.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.