Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rethinking Student Goal Setting

Photo Credit
Kate and I have been doing a lot of reflecting about how how we have done student goal setting up to this point in our Personalized Learning Journey. It was great for a helped us helped our previous students gain some metacognition felt like we could do it better. It felt like something was missing. We wanted to push ourselves more, as well as our students. In all honesty, it sometimes felt like "busy work", rather than pushing our personalization further.

Up to this point, we had always required WEEKLY goal setting with our students. They need to write quality goals using action steps, as well as reflection for each and every subject area. We set new goals on Mondays, and our students wrote reflections on how they did that week by Sunday night. We would check their goals. Give them feedback. It was part of our Digital Portfolios. It was...a lot. Not only for us, but also for them.
Kids, by nature, have difficulty setting goals. It isn't something they walk into our classroom automatically knowing how to do. We did A LOT of modeling and coaching. The problem often ended up that our students did not meet their goals by the end of the week. We talked about carrying over goals to the following week, and that could be noted in their reflections, but some goals took weeks to work on. This is normal. This is still okay. But, nonetheless, hard for 9 and 10 year olds to wrap their heads around. For many of our kids, it became "one more thing" that they "had to do," not the meaningful metacognition we were hoping for.

In our reflection, Kate and I were looking for how we could do this differently. How could we make it more developmentally appropriate and meaningful for our kiddos. We started exploring the option of Unit Goal Setting. 

We pre-assess for everything we teach. This helps us set up different pathway with our kids. It helps us know what they know, what they don't know, see gaps, and more. But the pre-test was really a "teacher tool." It was meaningful "Assessment For Learning"--but primarily for us. We have been discussing assessment a lot over the last few months. How can we get kids more involved. How can we help them "drive the bus" of their learning. It was then that we had one of those "a-ha" (or possibly "duh!") moments. Why do we only see those results? Why have we never put those pretests back in the hands of the kids? Ultimately, this conversation really forced us to re-evaluate our practices.

So, this year, we will be tackling UNIT GOAL SETTING with our students. We created new "Personalized Learning Plans" (PLPs) that we will be supporting students with. 

Our plan: Each unit we will still pre-assess and score the results. We will then put the pretests back in the hands of the kids and help them set UNIT goals with action steps on what they will do to meet their goals. This will help them work with us to set personal pathways for their unit of learning. For a large chunk of our kiddos (your typical 80%), their goals might be similar. They need grade level materials/instruction. They need the largest group mini-lessons. They might work through things in different orders, but there will be large chunks of them that have similar needs. The last 20% will need gaps filled or challenges to go deeper and beyond. We are eager to see how these conversations go and how the pathways play out. Students will then complete a reflection on their work at the end of each unit. When we confer with kids each day, this will become a touchstone in our conversations. We have decided that we will do this in Math, Reading, and Writing this year.
Click me to see full tool. You can "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of it, to tweak and make your own!
This PLP is also in the same Google Sheet as the reading one!
Click me to see full tool. You can "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of it, to tweak and make your own!
Each of the images above link to the Google Sheets that we made. You are welcome to "FILE, MAKE A COPY" of these documents and make them your own. The Reading and Writing PLPs are part of what we are calling our "Digital Literacy Binder" this year (a twist on our Digital Reading Binders from years past). This updated digital "binder" will also house their book log, journal, and personal literacy data. 

We are confident that we will make tweaks as the year goes on. We need to see how they do and what they think their needs are. We want their input in improving the tools. These tools will also be significant links within their digital portfolios this year.

We'll keep you posted! How are you goal setting with your students? What have you found to be the most successful? Would love to learn with you!

Happy Teaching!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Last Literacy of the Year

Again...better late than never! This summer has been CRAZY busy for Kate and I! We've been attending and presenting at different conferences and supporting teachers all over the state! All other time has been spent being moms to our littles! August?! When did you get here? Geez...time flies.

At the end of our school year (May-June), we tackled our final literacy units of the year. Our focus?--Author Study & Literary Essay! I love this unit. I love exposing kids to authors that they might not have known before. I love the excitement when I wheel a cart full of books into our classrooms. I love the buzz of "Oh. My. Goodness! Have you read this one yet?? You HAVE to!"

This was our last unit of the year, and we chose to organize it as a book club unit...more "Author Club." We co-planned as a 4th grade team, and brainstormed various authors that we felt would be meaningful to our kids. We wanted authors that had a wide range of levels, which wasn't always possible, but we tried our best. We ended up with mix of chapter book and picture book authors. Our goal, was for kids of all levels to be in each author club, to really add to the rich discussions. This was not going to be a traditional "book club" where all kids read the same book--the kids in these clubs would all be reading different books by the same author. With this kind of format, our lowest readers wouldn't be "bound" to be together, as often happens.

Our other major focus for this unit was theme and theme development. Due to this, we really wanted strong authors and texts. Why theme?--so we could tie their reading work to writing. Our last writing unit of the year was Literary Essay. They could use all of the texts they read and discussed with each other to develop an "author theory" to write about within their literary essay.

We launched our unit by introducing the kiddos to the various authors we had selected. We did take their suggestions in developing this list, but we also had kids after the launch that came and wanted to study different authors. We were pretty flexible and open to all ideas presented by the kids.

Following this introduction, we provided them with a Google Form to vote on their top choices.
Click to see the full form.
We also developed an "Author Hub" website (Using Weebly for Education) for the kids to use throughout the unit. It included author home pages, interview videos, book trailers, and more! Kids found others along the way that we later added to this collaborative site.
Click to see the full website we created!
Once we had their votes in, we looked at their top choices and got them into "author-alike" groups. We found that some authors had NO votes, and others had SO MANY, we didn't have enough texts. When this happened, we moved to their 2nd and 3rd choices. All of our kids ended up getting one of their top 3 choices. We also had pretty mixed-ability groups, which was awesome!

Then came my favorite day...BOOK DAY! Kids got into their Author Clubs for the first time, selected their first books, wrote the "norms" they wanted to follow as a club, and set their reading calendar! The "buzz" that is in the room on these days is so contagious!
We provide each kiddo with a packet of "templates" that they can use to track their thinking throughout the unit. At this point in the year, some choose to use it, and some choose to make their own. We love seeing what they come up with! They now know themselves so well as learners, that they know how they learn best and what they need in order to be the most successful in literacy! <proud teacher sigh>
This is the packet of templates that kids could choose to use. Click  to grab this from our TpT store!
Here are a few pics of different templates our kids created! Many chose various digital tools like: Slides, Sheets, or even Google Keep!
As the unit progressed and kids had made their way through multiple books, we started to tie in writing. We brainstormed theories we were generating about our author:

  • Did you author write about similar themes?
  • Did your characters face similar struggles?
  • Did your author have a particular style? How do you know?
  • And more!
The kids discussed these different theories & trends in their author groups and collected evidence from each other. Each of these graphic organizers are linked to the Google Docs we used! Feel free to snag them and make them your own!
It was our last big writing project of the year...they were a little burned out...but we were SO impressed with the deep thinking they did and the end results!

It was another amazing unit and a great way to end our school year! How do you teach Author Study? Literary Essay? We'd love to learn from you!