Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thankful for Personalized Learning

Thankful for these learners!
All my friends are posting on social media about things they are thankful for, and if you’re like me, then you are probably scrolling through the images reflecting on the way your life has been blessed. Of course I’m thankful for the obvious things such as family and friends...but I started thinking about what makes me feel overwhelmed with thankfulness. You see, usually that word, “overwhelmed,” is used in a way to express the massive amounts of stress we may be feeling due to deadlines, grading, administering assessments, juggling work with a personal life, etc. Well, while that may be true, (and trust, I feel this way A LOT!) I thought maybe it was time to use the word in a positive way. I am overwhelmed with thankfulness.

I am overwhelmed that I get to work in a district that supports innovation. I am overwhelmed that my principal is as passionate as I am about personalized learning. I am overwhelmed that I get to work alongside the best teachers in the field who will stop at nothing to do what’s best for kids.

You see, I’ve talked with a lot of educators from all over the country over the past few years about personalized learning, innovation, and the support they dream of having. I know how blessed we are at Lincoln to be able to do push beyond our limits to see what’s possible.

Finally, I’m thankful to all of you that take your time to read this blog. It’s been awhile since our last post. A ton has changed in the past few months, but I promise we are still doing incredible things, and I will post about all of that after the holiday. I just thought maybe we could reflect on what makes us “overwhelmed” this season. Please leave your comments below! We would love to know what you are thankful for!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Top 5 End-of-the-School-Year Realizations of a Personalized Learning Classroom

It's been awhile since our last post, and we wanted everyone to know how truly wonderful this year has been!  I've been awake many nights thinking how I could convey the amazingness of this past year, and it hit me...I'll share the top 5 things we've noticed this past few weeks:
We took learning outside the last week of school.  Learners chose reading and math activities all on their own and worked toward their goals independently.  

  1. Learners are blowing their goals out of the water!
    • I can't express it enough...when kids have choice in their learning, when they are invested in their goals, you CANNOT hold them back.  They are cheering each other on, learning from each other, and pushing themselves to "challenge their brains" as we call it in Team RISE.
  2. You are never done creating, tweaking, and changing to make instruction better.
    • Wow!  Did my co-teacher and I ever become reflective practitioners this year!  It felt as if every minute of every day was spent discussing how well, or how poorly something went and what we could do in that moment to change it.  A lot of work?  Yup!  Worth it?  You betcha!
  3. Teaching is that same at the end of the year as it was 3 months ago.
    • What we mean is this:  We are still pushing our learners to do more than they thought possible.  Do we have assessments to give?  Of course we do!  Do the teachers feel overwhelmed by all the deadlines?  You know it!  But the awesome thing that we have noticed, is that the students don't feel that stress.  They are excited to show us what they have learned.  If anything, they beg us to test them next!  Cross my heart, that happens All. The. Time.
  4. Learning still happens on the last day of school!
    • Right now, you're probably thinking that we are crazy.  Kids don't learn on the last day of school!!  Well, in a PL class, they sure do!  Our routine has been the same all year.  We do math in the morning and reading after recess.  Even on the last day of school.  No students even questioned it.  In fact, we had an assembly in the morning, and we had so many kiddos asking us if they could please do an extra reading time after lunch!  OK!  If that's what you want to do on our last day, I'm down with that! :)
  5. We can't wait to come back in the fall and do it all again!  Of course there will be improvements, and of course we will share those ideas with you as they come up.  So, stay tuned!

Have a wonderful, restful summer, everyone!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

PL Night for Parents

Lincoln recently hosted a Personalized Learning night for parents, and it turned out awesome!  Parents were invited to school for an ice cream sundae bar, as well as a chance experience school through their child's eyes.  
In team RISE, we wanted the learners to take the driving seat and show their parents how they learn, but since they are still so young, we came up with a neat way to guide them by giving the parents a "must do/may do" very similar to the one our learners complete each day.  As soon as a family walked in, we told the learners that their parents needed to complete the "must do/may do" and the kids' jumped right into teaching their parents all about their iPads, their PLP goals, how they use the resources in the room, etc.  It was awesome!  
One of the "must do's" we included was a form to fill out which included questions about their feelings thus far regarding PL, how they feel their child is learning, what they like, what they need more information on...and the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive!  Here's a few comments to share:
In regards to the question: "What do you like about PL?"
~"I like that Pl teaches him to set goals to obtain success.  It also teaches him independence.  I also like the use of his successes to help other students, this creates pride in the student."
~"(He) has the chance to learn at his pace."
~"My child has the opportunity to make choices and show her learning in a way that is at her pace and based on her own interests and creativity."
~"They set their own goals!"
~"More 1 on 1 time."
~"I like that he is so excited about passing goals."
~"(He) doesn't have to sit still to learn."
~"Learning is catered to each child."
In regards to the question: "What do you like most about the multi-age classroom?"
~"She is helping other kids."
~"Opportunity to teach others."
~"How the kids learn from each other."
~"The way the kids all work together as a team."
~"I like that not a single child will be singled out due to excelled or slowed progression in the classroom."
~"My child has the ability to work with and learn from students of varying abilities regardless of their age and grade level."
~"Having 2 teachers."

We also made a video starring our very own learners to give a little insight into how the students are learning.  When we started the video process, we wanted to interview some learners who have had experience in a traditional classroom so they could compare the 2 differing experiences, but we only have 2 kiddos in our entire class of 46 who have experienced a traditional classroom!  What a unique and fun "problem" to have!  When I asked one of the kiddos to tell me about his old school, he said, "You mean WAY back in Kindergarten?"  Haha!  Yeah, WAY back then :)  So, here's what we were able to capture...welcome to a day in the eyes of Team RISE :)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What is Personalized Learning Anyway?

If you're looking for more info on PL for yourself, your colleagues, or for parents, please check out our school's January Lincoln Link which gives a terrific synapsis of PL, what it is, why we do it, how we are implementing it, and what's to come!  There's some great stuff in there :)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

It's Probably Worth It

I've never been one to lie, so I won't start now...the multi-age class, personalized learning... it's all been tricky at times, tons of work, and exhausting to say the least.  There are times when you want to throw in the towel and revert back to "old ways" because it would seem simpler, and easier for you to manage.  You get tired of always needing to defend what you're doing in your classroom to friends, family members, substitute teachers, and even strangers.  Strangers who have absolutely no experience in education, but for some reason think it necessary to give you advice, but you forget that you have the expertise and suddenly start to question it yourself.  Are they right?  Should I try something else?  Is this really working?  If this happens to you, please, SLAM ON THE BRAKES!  Take a minute or two, run some data, do some self-reflection, and you will see amazing things.  This very thing happened to me very recently.  I love what I do...I love the people I get to do it with....but I felt unsure.  So I stopped, did some self-reflection, and ran some data.  O.M.G!  This data blew my mind!  Are you ready for it?  For the sake of keeping things super simple, I'm going to focus on Kindergarten.  The only real reason is because then I am comparing apples to apples since that's what I have taught the past few years.  First grade data will come later on :)  This is preliminary data, so I will be sure to share the final results as we get closer to the end of the trimester, but here's some positivity for you to draw on: 

By the end of the Kindergarten year, we aim to have all Kinders reading at least 20 sight words from the first 100 Fry Words.
2 years ago, I taught traditionally.  By the end of trimester 2 (beginning on March), 28% of my K class was reading 20 or more sight words.
Last year, I implemented Personalized Learning and by the end of trimester 2 (beginning of March), 47% of my learners were reading 20 or more sight words!  **Holy cow!  This alone is AMAZING!!
This year, I'm teaching in a co-taught, multi-age, personalized learning classroom.  As of RIGHT NOW....December 26.....62% of our Kinders are reading 20 or more sight words!  

So, that's amazing, right?  Like, holy buckets kind of amazing.  Jump up and down, screaming from the roof-tops kind of amazing!  It's small data, but it's more than enough to re-energize my co-teacher and I.  It hasn't been easy, but it's been worth it!  The learners are making huge gains, they are confident, independent, loving school, and stepping up.  What more could we hope for going into the new year?  Bring it on 2016!  Team R.I.S.E is ready! 

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Parent's View of Personalized Learning

I asked a parent of one of our first graders to share his perspective of PL.  His son was one of our students last year when we started PL and is now in the K/1 multi-age class.  Here is his father's side of the story :)

Just a little over a year ago, my wife and I met Carrie Mergen who seemed VERY enthusiastic; a good fit for a kindergarten teacher. She explained to us that they were going to try something "NEW" in kindergarten called PERSONALIZED LEARNING. She informed us that this is a whole "NEW" way of learning and that she had to forget the conventional way of teaching and fully embrace this process. She explained that Personalized Learning was a process of getting children involved in their own education, by teaching them to set "GOALS" and make a "PLP" (personal learning plan) to achieve these goals.  Once a child "MASTERS" a skill, they can then assist fellow students who may need additional help with these goals. Oh, did I mention that the kids can do all this at THEIR pace, HOWEVER & WHEREVER they see fit! I don't know about you, but the thought of a bunch of 5yr olds having that much freedom was SCARY!  It left me with a visual of unruly circus monkeys having a food fight! She did give us some assurance,though.  She told us that she'd told the principal if it's not better, I'm going back to the old way. Then asked us to trust her, and told us this COULD be really awesome.

I had no choice but to trust her and see where this would go. I had some real concerns with the unknown, mostly personal, more than with the process as a whole. Our son Landon from a young age has shown that he advanced in most areas.  Would this new Personalized Learning, with what seemed to be less structure than traditional teaching, really keep his interest in learning?  I didn't want to LOSE Landon, meaning, I didn't want him to get lost in what I perceived as a less structured learning environment.  If he did have questions or problems would he be able to get any additional help? If he was going to be helping other students learn, would he still be learning himself? How in the world do you keep 5yr olds from creating complete chaos?

Well it didn't take very long to see the answers to my questions.  Landon seemed to be well engaged in his learning process, coming home from school daily and telling us about where he was on his PLP's and what GOALS he had accomplished. When your 5yr old comes home and tells you, "I'm the count by 10's master and I helped a classmate learn how to count by 10's!" it gives you, as a parent, a great sense of pride.  Something else I noticed was that Landon was always striving to learn something NEW, which always kept him wanting more.  This also meant that Carrie also had to be on top of things to keep challenging Landon.  There never seemed to be a time when either of them were at a stalemate. Seeing that Landon was staying engaged was proof to me that personalized learning was a better process than the old "one shoe fits all" format of traditional teaching. Personalized learning also helps hold students accountable for their own actions, because the format gives them so much freedom to learn at their own pace.  There are rules in the classroom that must be followed and if the rules aren't followed there are Landon has even found out for himself.  By allowing students to learn at their own pace, and making them accountable for their actions, it actually creates a less disruptive environment!  So much for my concerns about "less structure."  This also allows the teachers to have more 1on1 time with students, whether it's because someone needs more help, or because someone needs to be challenged.

We have even seen the process of personalized learning in Landon outside of school.  It has taught him that he needs to come up with a plan (PLP) to achieve his GOALS. Here's an example that took me a couple days to realize myself:  I come home from work and Landon was on the computer.  He was on the LEGO website and said to me, "Dad, I would really like to get this LEGO set.  I have $35, so I need another $15 to be able to get it.  What can I do to get the other $15 so that I can get this LEGO set?"  At first, I just chalked it up to Landon telling me that I needed to chip in $15 so that he could get the LEGOS.  It was only after hearing Carrie explain personalized learning to another parent, who's not familiar with the platform, did I realize that Landon wasn't asking me to just chip in the rest of the money, he was asking me to help set his plan (PLP) to obtain his GOAL!

Being from the "one size fits all" school, of course I had my concerns and doubts.  After experiencing personalized learning with Landon all through last year and into this year, I can truly say that this is an AWESOME experience. My advice to all those who have the chance to experience personalized learning is....SIT BACK AND WATCH THE SHOW BECAUSE IT IS TRULY AWESOME!!

PS...Trust me even you are going to learn something too!!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why are we doing this??

In the words of Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin, "I had an epiphery."  For all those that aren't avid Office fans, I'll explain that I had a bit of an epiphany this past week.  I mean, I didn't see it until I really stepped back and thought about it, and I guess it wasn't so much of an eye opening experience for me as it was for my husband.  You see, I have this amazing husband who can fix anything, knows way too much about all topics found on the Discovery Channel, and who never sits.  While I love him more than life, he just doesn't get what I do, why I do it, or why I talk about it so much.  But we had a GREAT conversation the other night.  
I came home from school BUSTING with excitement over what I had just realized, so of course I had to share my thoughts with him!  It all started early this past week when a co-worker had this great idea to read the story "I Need My Monster" by Amanda Noll.  I was video-taped reading the story, being sure to not show the pictures from the book, and uploaded it to YouTube where we pushed out the link to our kiddos and had them listen to the story on their own.  At the end of the video, I gave one direction.  Only one.  It was to go draw a picture of what they thought Gabe, the monster in the story, looked like.  That was it.  Hannah and I both raved about how awesome we thought it was that all the kids were on task, they all enjoyed the story, and they all created these great pictures of what they thought the monster looked like based on the description from the book.  I know...right now you're thinking, "Great lesson, Carrie, but where is the cool part?"  
Well, I didn't realize it until 2 days later as I was driving in the car, reflecting on the week, and it dawned on me.  Something amazing happened during that activity!  The ONLY direction I gave was to draw a picture of Gabe.  We had kiddos drawing with paper and pencils, some chose crayons, some pulled up Doodle Buddy on their iPads and made Gabe there, some used Educreations, and some even used a dry erase board to create their image of Gabe!  WHAT?!  I never told them to use any of those things.  To me, that was a great moment.  Our students are thinking for themselves and using all the materials and devices at their disposal to accomplish their tasks!  So, going back to my conversation that night with my hubs...
I asked him how he would have drawn Gabe and he says, "With paper and colored pencils.  Why?"  I then tell him how excited I am that the kids all chose different things and he goes, "So?"  And I told him to fast-forward to 25 years from now and those same kiddos are working for someone who says, "We have a problem.  How are we going to solve it?"  And those adults (who were a part of this amazing thing called Personalized Learning) are going to think outside the box to solve the problem.  They aren't going to have to rely on one way to do things because it will be second nature to them to be critical thinkers and problem-solvers.  BAM!  And he looks at me, after all this time, and says, "OHHHH, that's why you're doing this!"  Yup.  That's why I'm doing this.  Finally, he gets it.  So, if someone is asking you why you're doing this, here ya go.  Use my example.  It may seem small, but make no mistake!  These kids are gonna change the world!