Today was our Big Body Bonanza: a great way to showcase student learning at the end of our unit on the human body. Little did I know how much learning (and thinking) I’d be doing today. I do apologize, as usually I blog about a single subject, and today, my learning is a little more varied but all manages to stem from this one Science activity.
My learning began with the fact that today was my second (and final) TPA (Teacher Performance Appraisal a.k.a. teacher evaluation) visit. My principal, Paul Clemens, saw the students last week as they started creating their organ systems, and so I invited him in today to see the students sharing their learning with others. Knowing that things might be a little bit busy once the other classes started to visit, I arranged for Paul to come at 10:00 to see the introduction of my short mini-lesson and the sharing of organ systems with parents and special guests. At the end of my prep Period 1, I sent out this tweet:
I think this best sums up how I was feeling at that time. Well my time calculations were incorrect: Paul arrived early! Students were finishing up their agendas and getting their last minute display details in order. And Paul had a clipboard and was taking notes! Yes, I was terrified. All of these questions were racing through my head: How was I handling things? Should I tidy the students up early? What if everyone wasn’t ready to join me in a couple of minutes? What should I do? What was Paul writing? And of course the magic words of, “Breathe Aviva. Breathe.” 🙂 This is where my learning started: I had to forget about Paul. I had to be there for the students. So this is what I did. I made a quick joke to Paul, which made me relax a bit, and then I started doing what I do every day: I circulated. I listened to students. I helped with problems (if I could). I gave a warning about the transition, and then I had students tidy up and join me. I taught. I used my reflections from my last lesson to try and improve this time around: I forgot about the script. I tried to really live and teach in the moment. I think that I liked some of my scripted questions better than the ones that I used, but I liked how I surveyed the room more. I liked how I continued to give wait time. I liked how I was really there for the students and genuinely teaching.
When I let the students went off to their displays, I circulated around and spoke to the different groups. I asked questions. Did I listen to the ones that Paul asked as well? Yes. But I learned that overhearing right and wrong answers is a good thing. I could then target my questions based on the areas of need I noticed eavesdropping on Paul’s discussions. And I think that it’s okay that all of the answers weren’t perfect because this led to some good conversations with students and an evolving knowledge of their topics. This also resulted in a fantastic discussion with Paul about when to correct students, when not to correct them, and if a few misunderstandings are okay. (I do love these kinds of conversations with Paul, and I so appreciate how much he got me thinking today.) The truth is that students have gained some incredible knowledge about the human body as a part of this unit. They’ve also uncovered much of this information on their own. They’ve had some great conversations with peers and with me about their new learning, and they continue to learn more from these conversations. I think that Paul and I both realized that a few misunderstandings are okay. This is an in-depth unit, and students have really pushed themselves to learn more. These are topics that they’ll re-explore in upcoming grades and even into secondary and post-secondary school. As they get older, experiment more, and read more, they will learn more as well, and these misunderstandings will start to clear up. Do I want students to believe the wrong information? No. But if they understand that the organ system that they researched connects to other organ systems in various ways, then maybe that’s a good starting point with a great opportunity for future learning. Asking questions and giving access to more resources now can help clear up misconceptions, and even better understanding will likely come with even more time. What do you think?
The learning continued as the day went on, and classes started to visit. For the first time ever, I gave all visiting classes a very specific job to do. I had the students bring along a notebook, paper, or device to record their questions, wonderings, and observations. I learned that giving students an open-ended task to do during a visit increases accountable talk and increases student learning. Talking to the various students on the way out the door told me just how much they learned from their visit.
And then the day ended with a little more learning. Throughout the day, many students mentioned to me that they missed having our vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, come to visit. While a few students said why, I didn’t ask everyone, so I decided to do so during our podcast reflection. Their answers really got me thinking: students missed having her visit because she asks hard questions that get them thinking. This is so true. I also feel the same way. I love how Kristi’s questions never end. I love how she genuinely wonders, and is totally interested in what you have to say after each comment that she makes. I love how she pushes you to think in new ways, or reconsider your approaches. I love that she never fails to help everyone learn more. So while meetings kept her from visiting today, I mean exactly what I said in our Twitter conversation tonight.
Today wasn’t just a big day for “organ systems,” but a big day for learning: for myself as well as for my students. What are your thoughts on this new learning from today? What are your experiences in similar situations (i.e., inquiry activities, TPAs, sharing of student work, etc.)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Yours always in learning,
Thanks for sharing your learning with us all again, Aviva. As Tony said, great to see students teaching each other. Sounds like you learned a lot, too, i.e., that focus on students instead of adults in the classroom makes all the difference for you.
Thanks Sue! I definitely learned as much as my students through this process. It really is best to stay focused on the children … makes all the difference!