Today’s Contributor: Kaeli Helmink
I am a middle school learning strategies teacher. I am in my 5th year of teaching and truly believe I am living out my passion. My philosophy is to teach the whole child, so you will frequently see me implementing social-emotional learning, guided meditations, mindfulness, and yoga into my daily lessons.
I teach an intervention class where I have some 6th and 8th grade students who come to me reading at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. There are varying reasons for such large gaps, but for the sake of this post, that is not my focus. Reading is NOT fun for the students I get to work with because it is truly challenging and often times creates a feeling of vulnerability and defeat. Although my primary focus is to close the learning gap, I am a firm believer in building and fostering relationships with students, so I am very intentional with creating opportunities for community-building and collaboration. I have found when I spend time on this “stuff,” I end up saving time that could have been spent on discipline issues.
Say you were to put on the shoes of one of my students. When you enter my class, you will likely get a whiff of my essential oils and be asked to “settle in.” (The settle in activities serve the purpose of preparing my students’ brains and bodies to learn. I use the Breathe for Change Social Emotional Learning Facilitation (S.E.L.*F.) handbook. For more information visit https://www.breatheforchange.com/about/our-research) Once you have settled in, I usually incorporate technology in some fashion. Whether we are doing whole group or small group rotations, I have found the following websites to be the most engaging and useful: https://goformative.com/ and https://app.nearpod.com/. You will use this to follow along as I guide a whole group discussion, or you will complete the assignment at your own pace, depending on the type of instruction for that particular day.
Both websites create opportunities for true blended learning. The teacher is able to facilitate conversation and all students are able to participate by sharing their voice through polls, collaboration boards, drawing, quizzes, verbal responses, and so much more! While I really do find these websites to be useful tools in the classroom, I have encountered some challenges. The first dealt with the embed code, and the second with creating student rosters. Thanks to my wonderful technology design coach (TDC), Howard Martin, changing the embed code was a simple fix. (One could say I am new to this whole technology incorporation thing.) The problem was that after inserting the embed code into BLEND, the page display was tiny. It turns out, all it takes is adjusting the code to enlarge the image. SO SIMPLE.
As for the second challenge, I do not believe teachers can create rosters for students on the aforementioned websites without purchasing the “Premium Package.” Although I am not able to create classes and specific logins for my students, I continue to use them in my instruction; however, I feel a word of caution is necessary: this does create a little extra work for the teacher. It requires more time for grading because each day you pick up from where you left off: the students sign in as guests all over again thus creating a second set of responses to sort through. Even with this inconvenience, I encourage you to give one or both of these resources a try in your classroom. I have found it to be transformative in my delivery of instruction and student learning outcomes, and hope you find them to be helpful, too!