by Ashli Breit & Cheryl Bledsoe, 6th Grade Teachers
While contemplating how to best meet the needs of students, we read Shift This: How to Implement Gradual Changes for Massive Impact in Your Classroom by Joy Kirr. The ideas seem so simple, yet are far-reaching and exciting for the possibilities in the classroom. Five small shifts were selected to begin the year: the Daily Question, virtual space, no homework (combined with choice boards) and feedback. These shifts were incorporated into the plans, rooms were rearranged and syllabi have been updated. Let the year begin!
The Daily Question will set the tone for the classroom: I am interested in you as a person and what you think matters. Some of the questions are low investment (what is your favorite ice cream topping), while others ask the kids to be more introspective (Which do you think would be the hardest to live without: eyesight, hearing , smell?). ‘What percentage (of your waking hours) did you spend outside this weekend?’ provides insight into who the student is outside the classroom, and ‘How many tries will you give yourself before you give up trying?’ provides a window into the work ethic being faced in the classroom. This small shift will take minimal time as students enter the room, placing their magnet on the answer, but can have significant impact on relationships built within those four walls.
In a perfect classroom, students would have complete choice and voice in what they learn each day and how they learn it; in a world of high-stakes testing, this may merely seem a pipe dream, but it doesn’t have to be. Homework and choice boards seem like a logical place to begin shifting our mindset about student learning. As we prepare learners to be college and career ready, we must reflect on our own experiences in those realms. When we walk out of a college class, professional development, staff meeting, project meeting, etc., we determine what we do from that point: file the information, explore the topic more, or study and ponder what we have heard. Why have we been unable to allow students that same choice in their own learning? Assigning no homework seems an easy step in that direction and is another small shift being implemented.
Joy is right, “Everything is worth a second glance.” When I read the section in chapter 4 about creating/updating your class website, the only thought I had was ‘been there, done that’. We had made multiple classroom sites to put on our district page. Parents looked at them the first week of school and that was about it. I’m glad I didn’t stop reading because of my bad experiences in the past. Everything is worth a second glance, and we are very excited about the shift that Joy inspired in our classroom sites.
The main job of sites this year will be to help us communicate with our parents. We will be including our mission, curriculum, standards and videos just like Joy encouraged us to. Our hope is to allow students to be the curators of the class calendar and photo pages as the year progresses. Right now our sites are at the beginning stages. We have a lot to add, and I’m sure a lot to tweak, but we are hoping that this shift in the role of our classroom site will be a bridge between our classrooms and our parents.
Nightly reading (with reading logs) has been assigned 5 nights a week every week in our classrooms, but we had to consider the actual effect of this homework. Too often, students were not completing the reading and it was frustrating to them and to us. It was decided that we would give the students a choice to read and participate in the classroom reading challenge, or not to do so. That being said, there are still required reading projects (student selected novel) every quarter and students are responsible for deciding when and how to accomplish the reading to complete those tasks. This small shift gives students power over their learning, while modeling real-life skills such as time management and organization.
Along with that, is more student choice in what they do in the classroom as well. There are standards that must be taught and even a curriculum map to guide us, but within that map are multiple opportunities for students to complete work in a manner of their choosing. Choice boards have been developed to guide the process in some areas, and Genius Hour will be used to tap student interests in a long-term project about a topic they select. This inclusion of student choice fuels engagement, lets learners shine in areas we may not otherwise see, and gives them a unique voice in the classroom.
All throughout the last school year, we worked tirelessly to give our students feedback on their writing assignments. We stayed up late and got up early to make sure that every student had comments made on their assignment. We thought we were really helping our students. There were only two little problems with our strategy. One, students weren’t reading our comments. Two, some students didn’t understand the changes we were suggesting. We hadn’t built in the time to discuss our feedback with the students so that they could truly grow as writers.
After reading chapter 7 of Shift This, a light bulb went off. We weren’t giving quality feedback to our students. We thought we were, but we weren’t. Then, the brainstorming began. How can we make this shift? How can we give students feedback that is meaningful to them? We decided on a two-step plan. First, we will give students time to collaborate and give each other feedback. We will model what quality feedback can look look like and give our students feedback starters like Joy suggested. Second, we will build in small group time where we will give skill-directed feedback and allow time for students to work on making corrections. Our hope is that not only will these shifts make our students stronger writers, but they will show our students that we truly care about them and helping them through the writing process.
Change is hard, but can be very effective. Is every shift going to make a positive difference? Maybe. Maybe not. Will there be stumbling blocks and adjustments? Probably. But the shifts will certainly move the classroom in a direction that is engaging and productive for students. We are excited for our shifted class to begin!