“My students can’t do that!”

Today’s Contributor: I am Melani Novinger, a fourth grade self-contained teacher at Davis Elementary.   This is my fourteenth year teaching fourth grade in the district. When I am not encouraging students to ask questions and find their passions, I enjoy being outside camping, biking, and hiking with my husband and three children.

How many times have we gone to trainings or seen videos of model classrooms and thought that?  “If only they knew my students” or “they haven’t been in the classroom for years,” we think. I know have fallen victim to such thinking over the years.  What I have learned though is that it is possible for my students to do “that,” whatever that may be.

My latest “that” was goal setting and self-reflection.  I had adopted a blended station rotation model for math a few years ago.  I worked with a small group while another group worked independently on technology and a third group worked with a partner on a math game or open-ended activity.  However, I found it hard to believe my students could effectively reflect on their own learning and set goals for improvement. Maybe some of the kids could, but not all of them.

Three quarters of the way through the year, I started occasionally adding math reflection questions into my stations.  I started with a list of reflection questions. Students chose one and responded low tech-good old paper and pencil. In class, I modeled how to answer the questions and gave clear expectations for the length of response I expected.  As the students became more comfortable answering a question or two once a month, I started to look for other ways for students to share their reflections. I wanted to make the reflections more accessible for diverse learners, not just those who could communicate fluently in writing.

I found two great technology tools that helped my students demonstrate their learning.  The first I tried was Flipgrid. Flipgrid is a favorite of my students because of all the extras-especially the emojis and editing tools.  I love it because you can set time limits. I quickly discovered, time limits are a must for students who love a captive audience. 

The other tool I use most frequently is Seesaw.  I had always thought of Seesaw as tool for primary grades, but I quickly discovered that it works great for intermediate students as well.  A big advantage of Seesaw is the ease to set up, the ability for students to choose typed or video responses, the archival system, and the ability to invite parents to view students’ work.

As the year progressed last year, I came to rely on the video reflections to discover misconceptions in students’ thinking.  They became more adept at explaining what they understood and what they didn’t understand and why. Did we look like the model classrooms in the beginning?  No. Videos were all over the place and focused too often on the fun of talking to a camera. As the year progressed, though, students became more thoughtful and articulate.  Over time, setting goals happened naturally. 

It’s the beginning of the year again.  Reflections are happening more frequently this year–I aim for once every week or two–and are occurring in math, writing, and reading.  Kids are figuring out what they know and what they need to do to get to where they want to be. The reflections are still a little all over the place.  We are still learning how to explain our thinking thoroughly. It’s a beginning though.

Start small–with a few reflection questions to choose from.  Find a video tool to help you out (Blend also works, but kids seem to prefer the usability of Seesaw or Flipgrid).  Set up a video station (or two or three). I like the Ikea storage bins. A Chromebook fits nicely inside those and they are easy to store.  Watch what your students know and personalize their learning from there.

Good luck!!

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