Make Your “Summer Resolutions” a Reality This School Year

As another school year approaches, teachers are scrambling to set up classrooms, make photocopies of syllabi, attend mandatory meetings, and prepare their curriculum. Amid the back-to-school frenzy, it is easy to focus on the minutia and lose sight of our “summer resolutions.” I know a lot of teachers who spend the summer reading, reflecting, and refocusing, but it is hard to take those resolutions we make in summer and put them into practice during the chaos of first few weeks of school. However, the first few weeks of school present the perfect opportunity to create the classroom we imagined while on summer break and to set ourselves and our students up for a successful year.

As I work with teachers, I encourage them to prioritize the following so they can take their summer resolutions and make them a reality.

#1 Articulate Your WHY and Revisit It Daily

The summer break gives us time to recharge and re-evaluate why we do this challenging work. We can see beyond the daily challenges associated with teaching and remember why we chose to pursue a career in education.

  • What is our purpose?
  • What drives us?
  • What are we passionate about?
  • What do we hope to achieve?

The beginning of the school year is a time of renewed energy and excitement, which makes it the perfect time to articulate our WHY. Once you have articulated your why, capture it! Make a visual reminder of why you teach and post it somewhere in your classroom where you can see it each morning. Reread your why statement each morning before students flood into your classroom. This daily reminder of why you teach will help you stay focused on your purpose at the start of each day. Start the New Year by Articulating Your WHY

#2 Build a Learning Community Both On and Offline

It is tempting to dive right into the curriculum given how much we have to cover in a year. I remind the teachers I coach that students will only lean into learning if they feel comfortable and safe in our classrooms. It is critical that we proactively develop a learning community in our physical and online spaces.

First, we must learn our students’ names as soon as possible. I realize this is a challenging task for secondary teachers with 150+ students, but it makes students feel valued when we use their names. Last year, I shared my Time to Take a Selfie Icebreaker strategy that can help teachers put names to faces more quickly.

Second, icebreakers and community building activities are critical to helping students develop their social presence in the classroom and online. Teachers who want to explore strategies for building community can check out the following blog posts and articles.

#3 Onboard Students to Class Routines and Technology Tools

Teachers who are using blended learning models and technology tools with students must onboard, onboard, onboard! We cannot expect students to know how to navigate new instructional models or technology tools. We must dedicate class time to teach students how to move around the room, where supplies are located and how to care for them, what the expectation is for their behavior on and offline, and how to use technology tools and online resources effectively.

Onboarding students to classroom routines, new instructional models, and technology tools can be a time-consuming process, but it pays dividends. If students learn how to navigate different types of lessons (e.g., whole group rotation, station rotation, flipped learning, individual rotation with hyperdocs or playlists) in the first six weeks of the school year, teachers can select the best lesson design for the learning objectives and feel confident that students can navigate that lesson. Blended Learning: 8 Respectful Routines

#4 Teach Students to How to Think About Their Learning

The teacher cannot be the only person in the classroom thinking about student learning. We must teach students how to set goals, monitor and track their progress, and reflect on their learning. We must explicitly teach these skills and give students time in class to practice them.

Starting the year with routines designed to encourage students to develop their metacognitive skills can yield deeper learning all year long. It also sends a clear signal to students that they must be actively engaged in the learning happening in the classroom. 4 Strategies Designed to Drive Metacognitive Thinking

#5 Strive for Balance

It’s easy to get swept up in the current of a new school year and revert to old habits. As you begin a new school year, you have the opportunity to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

  • What are you assigning and why? What is the learning objective or value of each assignment?
  • What are you spending time providing feedback on? Are students using your feedback to improve the quality of their work?
  • What are you grading and why? Do your grades evaluate knowledge, skills, compliance? Do you feel the time you invest in grading results in improved learning outcomes for students?
  • What do you spend class time talking about? Is this information that students could get another way or discover for themselves?
  • How much work are you sending home with students? Is this work they can do successfully on their own? Is this work more valuable than allowing students to relax and recharge before another day of school?
  • What do you spend your time outside of class working on? Is this work draining or energizing? If it is draining, are there other ways to approach this work?

In general, I think teachers do too much. Many of the teachers I work with do the lion’s share of the work in the classroom. Over time, this causes many of us to feel tired and frustrated. If we begin the year by evaluating what we do and why, we can eliminate some of the work we do that does not improve learning for students. In other cases, we may find ways to engage students in sharing the load and use technology to be more effective and efficient.

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Creating Digital Notebooks with Google Slides

In my role as a blended learning coach, I work with a lot of teachers who are intrigued by the idea of digital notebooks. They recognize the value of having student integrate text and media in an online notebook. They also like the idea of housing student work in a central location that is viewable to both the student and the teacher.

Teachers working with younger kids or special needs groups may not want their students posting their work online for a global audience. A simple alternative to creating a digital notebook using a website creator is to use Google Slides to create digital notebooks for each unit.

Below are tips for setting up a digital notebook with Google Slides.

1. Create a new Google Slide deck in your Google Drive.

2. Give your Google Slide deck a title. I’d suggest using the title of the unit to keep things simple. I encourage teachers to share a new digital notebook template with students at the start of each unit. This makes it easy to customize the categories and content for a specific unit.

3. Adjust the page setup so the Google Slides look more like paper.

4. Create a table of contents and list the sections of the digital notebook on the front slide.

5. Separate each section of the notebook with a title slide that states the category of that section (e.g., guided notes or vocabulary). Have fun with the background colors to visually cue students that they are entering a new section of the digital notebook.

6. Link each item in the table of contents on the first slide to that section of the digital notebook. This will make it easier for students to add to and retrieve information from their digital notebooks.

7. Insert the media you want to include. If you flip your instruction or record video directions, add your videos, customize the “video playback,” and pair the videos with a task.

8. Once your digital notebook template is complete, share it with students via Google Classroom and select “Make a copy for each student.” This makes it quick and easy for you to jump into and out of individual student’s digital notebooks to check their progress, provide feedback, or reference when conferencing with your students.

The benefits of a digital notebook for students include the ability to:

  • Insert media (photos, images, videos), charts, and tables to complement their notes. If they enjoy writing notes by hand, they can take a photo of those notes and insert them into their digital notebooks.
  • Add additional slides.
  • Add to and reference their work from any device.
  • Create artifacts of their learning that can be shared easily with parents.
  • Reflect on their learning and growth with an embedded reflective blog.
  • Add comments and tag the teacher to ask questions and/or request support

If you are working with secondary students and want them to use Blogger or Google Sites to create their digital notebooks, check out this blog!

If you are a secondary English teacher looking for a standards-aligned digital literature circles template, check out this blog!

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Developing a Community of Inquiry in Your Blended Classroom

A consistent theme in my work on blended learning is shifting students from passive consumers in the classroom to active, engaged members of a learning community. The Community of Inquiry framework can help teachers blending online and offline work to cultivate a blended classroom characterized by respect, dialogue, inquiry, and exploration.

Too often classrooms are spaces where kids do not enjoy the flexibility or freedom to ask questions about topics or issues that capture their interest and pursue exploration that may extend beyond the boundaries of a particular subject area. Instead of allowing students to engage in the messy business of asking questions, seeking answers, and understanding complex problems, education focuses on presenting the answers to questions and solutions to problems for kids to absorb and retain. However, if the student has not played an active role in asking questions or investigating topics, they are unlikely to be interested in or motivated to remember the “answer.”

Cultivating a Community of Inquiry both on and offline can help students learn how to think independently, imaginatively, and resourcefully. There are three overlapping elements of the Community of Inquiry framework: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence.

Developing a Community of Inquiry in a blended classroom can function to:

  • leverage student curiosity.
  • encourage exploration and investigation.
  • help students to appreciate the interconnectedness of the various subjects.
  • develop the ability to communicate and collaborate both on and offline.
  • give students more agency and autonomy to enhance intrinsic motivation.
  • build meaningful relationships among students.
  • drive deeper thinking about topics, issues, and problems.
  • shift students from a passive to an active role in the classroom.

Ultimately, classrooms should be spaces where students develop the skills necessary to explore and understand their world. They must practice approaching unfamiliar concepts and situations to make sense of them. Using the Community of Inquiry framework provides blended teachers with a structure they can use to design learning experiences that combine the best elements of online and offline learning and allow students to drive that learning.

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