By Rachelle Dene Poth, Teacher at Riverview School District
About two years ago, I found myself struggling to find ways to keep my students engaged in lessons. I tried to get them involved more in class activities by offering more choices and providing opportunities for them to be part of the decisions made about what we were doing in the classroom. Why did I do this? Partially because I saw – and could feel – a decrease in student motivation and engagement. It was approaching the end of the school year, and the focus had shifted more to “when does summer begin?”
So I tried to do things a bit differently, think creatively, and take some risks. I wanted to keep us all moving, to finish strong at the end of the school year and begin summer vacation with a sense of accomplishment, to celebrate all that we had learned throughout the year and also what we had gained from these new experiences.
Using Technology and Digital Tools with Purpose
Educational technology provides so many resources that enable students to learn anywhere and at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for each student. We can instruct from inside the traditional classroom, ”the brick-and-mortar” as it is called, or from anywhere around the world.
Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and provides opportunities for the students to move from consumers to creators. When students have choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued, and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made personal to them.
Creating Interactive Lessons
What did I change? I started by having my students create interactive lessons using educational technology tools like Formative, Nearpod, and EDPuzzle, or even games with Kahoot! and Quizizz. It proved to be a very beneficial learning experience for all of us. By doing this, we had extra resources available that could be shared with students who might need some extra practice. I thought it went so well that I decided to take it a step further and start a “teacher for a day” activity during which the students create interactive lessons based on grammar topics or vocabulary.
I stepped back and had the students lead our classroom. It was a really good way to learn a lot more about the students, to better understand what their needs were in terms of the content material, and for the students to learn about each other. Giving students the control and the opportunity to become the creators and leaders in the class has tremendous benefits and it has been something that we have enjoyed.
At first when students created interactive lessons, I would launch the lesson and control it on the SmartBoard, but find ways to involve the student who created it during the presentation. I eventually decided to move aside, and took a seat in the back of the room, having the student lead the lesson, give explanations, answer questions, call upon students for answers, and provide feedback.
Having the opportunity to sit back and experience this was tremendous. The students enjoyed the activity, supported each other, collaborated, and provided some positive feedback to each of their classmates. I was very impressed with how well they taught, led, and learned during each of the “teacher for a day” lessons.Not only are we bringing in real world context to our classrooms, but our students are taking real world issues and problems and working to solve them and developing solutions applicable to the world or community around them. This is the future of learning.
Empowering Students in Learning
The use of these digital tools means that the “time and place for learning” is no longer confined to the traditional time and setting of the physical classroom. It opens up the learning environment to anywhere, at any time, and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well. Learning and having timely, purposeful and authentic feedback is critical for growth to happen.
When we shift our focus to creating opportunities, giving students the control, leaving the decision making to students to choose how to show what they have learned, or letting them design their own assessments, they are more empowered in their learning.
Have a conversation with your students and ask for their honest feedback:
What did they like? What did they not like? Which lesson or format seemed to help the most? What did it feel like to be in control, decide how to deliver the lesson, and experience being the teacher?
You can have this as a face-to-face conversation, students can respond on paper, or use one of the many digital tools available for communication. No matter which way you choose, look to your students for the valuable feedback to decide your next steps. Be sure to ask yourself these same questions and continue to reflect on steps taken and progress made!
Rachelle teaches Spanish and a STEAM course called ‘What’s nExT?’ in Emerging Technology at Riverview High School. She is an attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is President-Elect for the ISTE Teacher Education Network, Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network, and PAECT Historian. She was honored to be selected as one of “20 to watch” by the NSBA and PAECT Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017. Additionally, Rachelle is proud to be involved and connect with other educators through ambassador programs and as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.
She enjoys writing and contributed chapters to Edumatch’s Snapshot in Education 2016 about her experience with Blended Learning and the upcoming Snapshot in Education 2017 on Project-Based Learning. She also wrote Chapter 6 of ISTE’s “Gamify Literacy” and a chapter on Social Presence for Online Learning to be published by IGI Global. She looks for opportunities to continue to grow professionally and ways to promote student voice and choice in learning.