Friday, September 12, 2014

My Student-Focused Future

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 12: How do you envision your teaching changing over the next 5 years?

For the first time in 12 years of teaching, the new school year started without me explaining a single classroom "rule" for my students. In past years, I'd read numerous articles about teachers who worked together with their students to develop the classroom rules, and although this option felt okay to me, it still wasn't quite what I was looking for. Finally, this fall, I came across this article from Edutopia about establishing classroom norms.  Here was an approach that made sense to me. I liked the combination of student independence and community-building inherent in the process. It took us over 3 weeks to step through a process of creating classroom norms, but it was definitely worthwhile. After students generated norms individually, as teams, and then as a class, we chose key words as reminders of the type of learning environment they wanted to create. The photo above shows each of the key words the students felt were important, signed off on, and hung around the room.

The reason I share this anecdote is because I believe it symbolizes a significant shift in my learning philosophy. I have found that my teaching has become more student-centered over the past five years. I've begun to focus less on "getting through" the content and more on helping students ask questions, creating opportunities for student choice, and emphasizing learning as a process.  This shift started with small changes like incorporating teams and flipping the classroom. Last year I took a big leap by eliminating traditional tests from Biology classes and incorporating project-based learning. This year, I'm focused on standards-based grading, e-portfolios, and allowing student questions to drive the curriculum sequence. I can only hope that my teaching in the next five years will continue to follow this path.

What is most interesting to me as I reflect on this shift is that the catalyst for the change seems to be watching my own two boys grow and learn. Anyone who has spent any time around young children knows that they have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and boundless curiosity. Left to their own devices, kids are great at learning. While I teach high school students, who have generally had this instinct driven out of them by years of highly-directed learning, I have to believe that they still harbor the potential to be curious and excited about learning. The way that I assess student learning, the "assignments" that I design, and the classroom environment that I work to achieve are now all conceived with this end in mind. In five years, I would love to be teaching in a classroom where each student has true autonomy over their learning.

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