Student Voice

A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Nancy Doda and Mark Springer at a Middle-Level professional conference. Their passion for education, especially the education of middle schoolers, was inspiring. Attending sessions with them led to a lot of the work we do as a seventh-grade team, but it also has influenced how I teach.

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As a teacher, I am always striving to improve my craft. In addition, as I become more comfortable with transitioning from a more traditional pedagogy to leaving the stage, I have looked for ways to incorporate more student voice in my classroom. In an ideal world, I would love for students to drive the curriculum more than I do, but one of the common constraints many teachers feel is a lack of time and a more-or-less mandated curriculum. I am fortunate that I do not have to worry about state mandated testing, but unless we move away from a structured grading system, I will never be able to fully relinquish my mandated curriculum.

A personal goal that I have for myself is to generate lessons where students are able to construct meaning on their own within the confines of my structured curriculum. Each year, I get better at doing this, but the students are different every year. What works for one group of students does not work for others. That is still a work in progress. However, I have been finding other ways to incorporate student voice in my classroom:

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Grading tools and feedback

Working in a 1:1 laptop school has its advantages and disadvantages. Of course, one of the biggest issues is how technology changes so quickly. Also, there are a lot of tech that is gimmicky. It might be flashy or fun, but it rarely moves learning forward in a meaningful way.

But, I love when I find a tool that is useful and practical. An add-on to Google Drive called Doctopus is very helpful. It allows you to distribute files to students, automatically shared with you and the student(s), organized into folders. With another add-on called Goobric, you can attach a rubric of your creation or one made through rubistar. This tool can be used on any platform as long as you are using Google Drive.

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Erasing Doubt

“And though she be but little, she is fierce.” –A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Recently, I was watching the regional competitions for American Ninja Warrior.  I’m obsessed with the level of fitness people must have to compete in this obstacle course. However, I was watching this particular Regional for one purpose—to watch Kacy Catanzaro. She was the first woman to complete the qualifying course and to complete the full course on American Ninja Warrior to qualify for nationals. I wanted to see her run for myself. The question in my head was why did it take six seasons for a woman to get this far in this competition.

In an interview following her successful run, Catanzaro explained why she thought no other woman had made it that far yet, “It’s just because there was always that doubt in the back of their minds, that no girl’s ever done it, or that some people might say no girl can do it, or girls aren’t as fast, girls aren’t as strong—all of these things that women are used to hearing.” She refused to listen to the negative thoughts, and she succeeded.

So, what does this have to do with education? Reading Catanzaro’s interview, made me think of my students. Those students that say they just aren’t good at _______.  By the time students reach middle school, they have a lot of preconceived notions about what they can and cannot do. Perhaps, their well-intentioned parents tell them that it was okay that their grades were lower in one subject. It must not have been their strength. Perhaps, a teacher told them they were good at math, but writing just isn’t their thing. Perhaps, a content area takes a bit more work for them, so they convince themselves that they will never be successful. Whatever the cause, I feel that teachers can work to erase these doubts. However, it is the “how” of erasing these doubts that can be harder to articulate.

While I am not always successful, here are a few ways that I feel I have helped students erase doubt over the years:

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