Jump In: Empower Students
Just jump in. That's where I started. When it comes to education, I am a jump in kind of person. I would rather jump in and try something, and figure out the details later. If you don't want to jump in, at least take a baby step. Any step forward is forward momentum.
I hear often, how do you start project based learning (PBL) or student led work? I think this is a hard question to answer because every student, every school, and every teacher is different. You need to start where you are comfortable and where your students want to start.
Here are some baby steps. Start with a Genius Hour or a STEM activity. You could start your day with a Smart Start. Within the first 15-20 minutes of the students' arrival, they get work on whatever interests them. These small steps can start to give your students more freedom and voice in their day.
Here is how I jumped in. I started by asking my students what they want to learn. We wrote their responses on the board, but I struggled to find time to incorporate the topics. Also, as we explored each topic, it seemed to only excite less than 50% of my students. I needed something to engage all of my students. Each and every one.
After reading a few inspirational books and journaling about my experiences, I thought of a new way to interest each student. I listed what each student wanted to learn. This quickly became unmanageable, so I turned it over to my students. Now, the students keep the list updated.
Using EPIC, a free digital library, I made 'collections' of books. If you do not use EPIC, start! There are tons of free engaging books, many that are audio books, which is great for my kindergarten researchers. We then scrapped the morning plans and headed to the library. I frantically helped students find 2-3 books on their topics. Finding books for some topics was easy, but other topics came up short. This was my first bump in the road.
Finding books that kindergartners could read and learn from was hard. I quickly learned that I may need to guide some students to different topics. This may seems like a big no-no in student led work, but guiding, modeling, and assisting is what some students need. As a facilitator or coach in their learning, you are meeting each student where they are by doing this. Think of it as a conference for project work.
Ok, back to my jump in moment. I started by making a slide with topics and pictures for students to view (check out my picture slideshow above). I then made a basket of books for students to browse through as topic options. This helped my reluctant students choose a topic. We used EPIC and Pebble Go to research our topics. This student led work fit perfectly into my Writer's Workshop block. What better way to make teaching books than on topics the students are interested in! My writers who would normally be done in 10 minutes, wrote and researched for an hour. Every time we worked on this, my kids begged me not to stop. If you're a kindergarten teacher, you know that an hour of writing and researching sounds too long, but my kids were engaged! They felt heard and valued as they had the freedom to search and read about their own topic of interest.
Not only did they research and write their teaching books, they had an audience. We started by presenting to each other. Some students made only teaching books. Others added posters and things from home to enhance their presentation. Although I loved that my students presenting to one another, this quickly lost their interest. I noticed my students needing a larger and more meaningful and authentic audience. One that made them excited to present. I met a high school teacher at a local conference and remembered her wanting to connect our classes. I simply emailed her and we got started. My students recorded a video of themselves reading their teaching book. Other students made an iMovie. We uploaded these to Flipgrid and sent our code to our HS students. Our HS students replied with a compliment and a question to help my students dig deeper. My students loved this connection! They were so eager to get on Flipgrid to listen to the responses and research more. Thus, keep your eyes and ears peeled for people who want to connect with other teachers and classrooms.
Even though this was my jump in moment, you don't have to jump in. I often have to remind myself that others may need to try this work at their own pace. I encourage you to try something. See for yourself how empowered your students feel. How excited they are to come back the next day. See their faces light up when their audience compliments them. Whatever you do, just move forward. You might fail forward, but your moving forward, and that's what matters.