Reconciling my Desire to Give Students Autonomy With . . . Reality – Reflection Two

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How Does the Coffee Get Into the Cup?”  This student’s burning question would have been a perfectly legitimate topic to explore for his senior project if his passion happened to be growing coffee beans or learning about entrepreneurship. However, it became very clear very quickly during his presentation that he was under the influence of a different crop during the brainstorming process (and while he was presenting the project). Unfortunately, a semester long class was dedicated to this “project” and the end result was an embarrassing presentation in front of a panel of educators and community members. I was one of the panel members, and all I could do when I was offered a filthy cup of lukewarm water with instant coffee grounds floating in it was feel really bad for this kid. The Senior Project which is a required course in our district is very similar to the flipped classroom except students learn from mentors who are experts in their chosen topic instead of using technology. Classroom time is dedicated to planning, and to writing a proposal, a research paper, and thank you letters (to the mentors and panel members). The Senior Project has proven time and time again to be a positive and sometimes life changing activity for students who have the skills to complete each step in the process. 

And a not so positive experience for students who lack basic skills and the ability to complete tasks without a lot of supervision.

When I consider my experience as an intervention teacher and my goal of wanting to create a blended learning environment which promotes student autonomy, the coffee kid is the first thing that comes to mind. What happened in the process that allowed him to fail so miserably? What instructional methodologies, skills, and strategies would I apply in an online and blended learning environment to insure that in a worst case scenario (a coffee kid scenario), students would be successful?

I would . . . not write the coffee kid off . . . I would . . .

1. Provide a calendar with all assignments, due dates, and expectations (rubrics). Make sure that parents are aware of expectations and deadlines as well.

2. Offer multiple forms of communication with me as well as other students.

3. Meet with each student (online or in person) to discuss what they perceive to be their strengths, weaknesses, talents, passions. . . , and how I might be able to help them by providing them with additional resources and/or creating a curriculum together with them that builds on their strengths and allows them to focus on their interests. In other words, allow for as much flexibility as possible for topic selection as well as project selection (blog, website, video, game, etc).

4. Provide all students with links to resources on basic skills such as how to write a paper, how to read an article, how to study for a test, etc.

5. Have daily, very brief and hopefully engaging pre and post assessment activities via a shared online tool like padlet.com, Makes Belief Comix, a class blog . . . adjust curriculum as needed (by providing additional resources or pairing/grouping students with individuals who can help them).

6. Choose online activities that recognize different learning styles and accommodate students with disabilities (I am partially deaf and tend to be a very visual learner – I like online learning because I can replay and never miss anything because I did not hear it).

7. Choose activities which employ skills across the spectrum of thinking skills.

8. When students meet in class have them work in mixed ability groups.

9. Provide simple step by step instructions on how to use the online tools I assign (such as VoiceThread or Animoto).

10. Closely monitor discussion groups for appropriate content, language, understanding, and make sure that nobody is falling through the cracks (there must be a better web metaphor for that).

There are probably many things I would need to change in my current approach to teaching in order to be an online teacher who promotes autonomy, but two things come to mind:

1. When teaching a concept, my approach in a nutshell (over the course of one week) is: pre-assessment, whole group lesson, review activity, small group activity, review activity, individual activity, post assessment. 

It seems like the flipped classroom and/or a classroom that is student-centered would require me to rethink that approach. I am a little surprised by my own rigidity when it comes to giving up my presentation role and becoming more of a guide.

2. I need to learn to be more concise. Most kids do not like to read a lot of words, and I have a tendency to “talk” too much when I write.

I am sure as we move through this class, I will find many more changes that need to be made in how I approach teaching in order to be a successful online teacher.

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