BIG. That’s how I would describe my innovation plan now.
When I began, I thought it was a simple enough concept and definitely not very earth shattering: Blended learning in the world language classroom. Finding how technologies could help to personalize the learning process and create success for students seemed like an achievable yet also challenging project. I was excited, but felt it was a small goal in the end.
I learned that I was very very naive…as most beginners are.
Creating a blended learning world language classroom is nothing short of writing an entire course myself, and then creating every little assessment, assignment and activity. Normally, even with the help of the textbooks and ancillaries, teaching a foreign language is an exhausting endeavor. But add to that the audacity of attempting to morph it into a blended, active and student centered class, and you have a small revolution on your hands. Everything needs to be looked at differently, rethought, planned and set up from a different viewpoint – that of the learner as his own master, and the teacher as simply the guide. It is a monumental task to start mid-year.
I tend to learn most by doing, so once I had figured out my all important WHY, I jumped in with both feet. I sought out advice and implemented it. I experimented with finding balance between freedom and control in a student centered vs teacher centered environment. I sought feedback from the kids constantly and we were like a team going through this. I received push back and complaints and sat through a few awkward parent-teacher conferences where all the parents wanted was a “normal” class and teacher for their student. I fought to maintain the growth mindset and the vision. I truly believed that having them own their learning was in their best interest. Students need to learn how to learn – I want them to value the growth, not the grade. Over the course of 12 months I tweaked and adjusted. I used checklists for months and then scraped the checklists – too much work! How are they owning it if I check everything? They are doing it for ME, not themselves. Instead I gave them passports where they receive a stamp every time they accomplish a learning activity…same concept but a little looser. I watched youTube videos and ordered books and read blogs and watched webinars…I met with other influential teachers. Through it all, the biggest way I learned was through trial and error and from feedback from the kids.
However, when not in the midst of the experimentation at school, I was hard at work digging through research and learning everything I could in my DLL program. I was figuring out that planning – while not the most fun – is absolutely crucial. I was able to step back and do more of that once I completed my 4DX and my 3 column tables and Understanding By Design…The literature review helped, the readings helped, everything was adding gold nuggets to my bag of tricks. Honestly though, at the end of the day, the greatest teacher was simply doing it. I got hooked. I will never go back to a teacher centered classroom… even now, I only gravitate to the “front” of the class when I don’t have time to plan out the stations…
Mapping and planning has proven impossible to do while in the midst of the whirlwind. I will need to use my summer days wisely in order to rethink every aspect and map out as much as humanly possible. I also need to use that time to set up my course in my new LMS, so that all of the planning is already well thought out and calculated, including activities, assessments and lessons. During the whirlwind year I will simply execute what I already planned out.
In order to promote this method of blended active student centered (BAS) approach I created a Professional Learning plan which flowed from the recommendations given in the Teaching the teachers study. However this implied many more hours of training than would ever be given, so if I ever do this I will need to cut it way down. I designed with the ideal in mind. But as I was doing it I realized how few of my topics I felt like I could speak intelligently about. I developed a day long PL around the topic of stations since I have actually used that one and so feel like I could teach it. But the other aspects of this crazy technique that I am applying in my own class feel way too murky and young to present to others. I do want to promote this, but since it has created more work for me than before I know that I still need to tweak it until teachers might actually consider it. Teachers are already overworked, so I need to be able to present a solution – not pile more work on their plates. They will only change and move towards BAS if I am able to show them a method that truly helps the student WHILE also helping them to maintain their sanity. BAS has yet to do that for me – although it has greatly renewed my love of teaching and I do believe it has benefited a majority of the students.
I intend to continue to pilot these ideas and methods in my classroom and refine them until I have a well designed and manageable system which I can then share with my colleagues. It is not an easy nor a short road, but I’m on it anyways, and I would love to share what I have learned with others.
What exactly have I learned so far?
That students are capable. They are wired to learn, and they like to feel accomplished. They also love the encouragement a teacher provides.
Students are wonderful allies, and are willing to try and experiment with new things in the classroom. They are also terrific at giving you honest feedback, and appreciate being asked for it.
Too much monitoring defeats the purpose.
I cannot force ownership – some students will always focus on the grade instead of the learning and they will find ways to work whatever system I set up. This is why I need to move towards a competency based assessment approach instead of allotting points for participation and accomplishing activities in the classroom. While these are beneficial and I want to encourage them, if they get 40% of their grade from simply “jumping” through the hoops I set up and they can skate by pretty easy in the assessment area, they only need to have a general knowledge, instead of a more true and competent knowledge. Other teachers have encouraged me to weigh the assessments much higher, and let that be their motivator for doing the practice activities.
I also learned that students don’t like too much technology – this may seem surprising but this has been my observation over 12 months now. Too many sites and logins only create frustration for them. They are not fans of taking tests online either. I had to convince them that the benefits of being able to immediately see their results and take it again (I give them 2 chances since the goal is learning) outweighs the benefit they see from taking it on paper.
I also found out that even though they use their phones all day long, they are truly helpless when it comes to doing things online that involve searching beyond the first two clicks. I have had to walk them through everything, from finding an online quiz, to setting up their Duolingo accounts, to simple things like finding the area on the web page that housed the answer they needed. However this served to remind me that I need to truly understand the technology I am asking them to use and I myself need to be a master at it. This means perpetual learning for me, since the technology is always evolving.
Perpetual learning is the name of the game when it comes to innovating, and I know that I will be continuing the cycle of do, observe and correct for many years as I help to perfect this BAS method for my students and spread it to other colleagues who are interested. Lucky for me, I picked an innovation plan that not only continues to inspire and excite me, but that I truly believe has the ability to impact student learning when it comes to foreign languages. Feel free to follow along and try any of the ideas you find on this site in your own classrooms!