Earning their Learners Permit -> 13 year olds at the wheel

I have been very fortunate to have a designated period of time with my Grade 8 students focused on taking a pause and reflecting on their past two years of math. The background is it gives the girls time to review before their placement assessment completed at the end of January which has been used to help identify which level of math they should enter in Grade 9. This is because the middle school at BSS uses a reach a-head model that allows students to complete Grade 7, 8 and 9 math courses in their Grade 7/ 8 years and provides them the option of moving into Grade 10 or Grade 9 math in September. Over time this assessment has evolved to become a valuable check-in for both the girls and middle school teachers to see what concepts have stuck, which have become valuable and useful tools and which are needing a second tools. This pause has allowed the girls a chance to have the time without the pressure of grades or new material to seek improvements in their understanding and learn the importance of reviewing past ideas to see what improvements have occurred over time.

With this being my first year teaching Grade 8 at BSS I wanted to use this time to also implement some of my personalization goals stated in my previous post. I wanted my girls to use this time effectively, identifying what they need to review, use resources useful to them and see the result of their personal dedication to improving their understanding. I didn’t want the review to be teacher directed or have students isolating themselves to complete pages and pages of questions.

My plan in a nutshell was to put the students in the driver seat while I sat as a driving instructor. I would be calmly aware of the danger that could happen at any moment with a new driver, but also the thrill of being there when someone finds that independence of directing a vehicle for the first time. But of course you don’t give a new driver the keys right away and hit the highway, but let them practice on side roads and develop their personal driving style.

On the first days back after the holidays the girls collaboratively created “I Can” statements for all of the concepts they had learned over the past two years using a google doc. They did this by looking over all the old notes and assessments, digging deep and using the Bloom’s Taxonomy of questions for math to guide their statements. This process allowed the girls to see all the things they had learned how to do which made a few of them say “I can’t believe we learned all of this!”. This was their start, going through and identifying concepts of confidence and areas of challenge.

Next, a diagnostic. The girls have been using diagnostics throughout the year before any new unit to help them see what they already know, take a guess at ideas and also check their past understanding. They know that diagnostics are for their own learning and used to help show them where they are coming from and also what we are moving towards. And then the review began!

Students came into class with personal goals. They were not waiting for me to tell them what we would be reviewing, but driving the questioning themselves, guided by their personal reflections and diagnostic. As their driving instructor I provided them with a framework to use that focused on concept understanding rather than question completion. They used this framework and graphic organizers found by clicking on the flowchart to help guide their review time and ensure their understanding. Through this process they have shared what they have learned with their peers by creating a group glossary of important terms with urls that help explain ideas further, a list of valuable online resources to help review and understand concepts, creating screencasts on ipads and also designing their own review package of great questions.

At the end of our time, they will take the check in to see their improvement. As their teacher I know that the main outcome that won’t be shown by the results is the ownership the girls now have over their learning. They are not waiting for me to tell them step-by-step how to parallel park, but seeing their peers, websites, analytical skills and also their own creative methods to find answers to questions, and generate new questions to help them move forward.

By having my girls learn these 21st Century Skills when not learning new concepts or with a calculated grade at the end gave them the time and comfort to take the wheel and cruise their first solo test drive. I don’t know if this was done during an assessed unit they would have accepted the independence as readily.

Moving forward I am eager to see how these skills and confidence will transfer into our next unit. Will they be able to identify when they properly understand a concept, find that multiple explanations are important? In the end I do wish that they see me as not the driver of their learning, but just along for the sometimes scary but exciting journey.

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6 Responses to Earning their Learners Permit -> 13 year olds at the wheel

  1. Domenica Michela says:

    Ruth, great post and vivid analogy. It sounds like your Gr 8 students are on the path to greater responsibility and accountability for their own learning. I am looking forward to reading your follow up posts.

    • Thanks very much Domenica! They are going to be taking their “Check in” next Wednesday so I will be able to get some data to back up what I am seeing in the classroom. I will follow up to see how these actions follow through.


  2. I like your analogy. Perhaps think about creating a google doc per student where they can “check in” and ask questions. Or a tab to the spreadsheet where they can leave questions or add comments. The commenting feature in docs and spreadsheets is very powerful. I am exciting to hear how this goes.

    • Funny that you would mention that. The students created this as well. I am now looking into the Google Groups option to create a more formalized place to do this in the future.

  3. Derek Doucet says:

    Wow! This is great stuff Ruth! I like your flow chart and the reflective nature with which the students have identified their strengths and areas of growth. Do you have any students who have not bought in to the process? I am very excited to hear about what you do next with them. Have you checked out Voicethread at all? It’s an online tool that I use in Languages in order to have students communicate, interact and then receive feedback in one place. In turn they can reflect on their work, after having seen what others have produced and can make changes or express what they will remember to do for the next task.

    Looking forward to digging a little deeper into personalised learning with you and the rest of the crew on Saturday!

  4. It has been interesting for those that did buy in, over bought and those that found it harder to work with. From the group, it was a great method for those students that don’t know how to study or look back over their mistakes. They realized that when learning from their mistakes they needed to go back to the concept itself rather than just the question. For those that didn’t buy it, it was due to a lack of motivation. I feel that if there had been more teacher intervention and check-ins with them they would have done more.

    I have heard of Voicethread and I am looking at using it in our next unit when we are moving towards a problem-based learning outline. I am hoping that certain girls will be identified to post their solutions and the others can comment on them online. I would love to hear how it worked best for you (ie. specific group size, you checking if they comment, it being assessed).

    I am also looking into using Google Groups as a way to give the girls a location for group sharing and threads for helping each other with homework throughout the 4 classes that I teach rather than within their form. Have you had any experience with Google Groups?

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