I am fully aware of the common saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”. I totally agree with this. In fact, I think as educators we shouldn’t get lost in the trivial things that happen in the classroom. Trying to micromanage the class and the behaviors will inevitably lead to less trust by the students. It will be detrimental to your learning path as a teacher and/or administrator.
On the other hand, I think we should be grateful for all the little things and “small stuff” that happen in the learning space. It is these little happenings that make a space beautiful and full of love. I stop and acknowledge the person who holds the door for the class or helps clean up a space without being asked. I smile at the student who takes their time working through a challenging problem without backing down or complaining about it. I thrive off of a collaborative classroom where students freely help each other. That help might come with a pat on the back, a hug or helping with an assignment.
These are all little acts that I thankfully see everyday by my amazing #MultiageAHES students. They can be easily missed but these moments help build a community of learners. So, I don’t sweat the small stuff but I am happy the small stuff happens.
The more I work, the more I learn. Teaching is such an unique profession. As soon as you think you have something figured out, something changes. The variables involved in education are huge. Each learner is so unique and special that the job is never the same. It also means that learning should be happening all the time. If eyes are open and ears are listening, learning will take place.
Recently, the idea of space has been a focus of mine. Space is an important element in the learning process. When I discuss space, I am talking about academic space and physical space. In my eyes, academic space is giving students the freedom to make instructional decisions. For me, this is of utmost importance in the classroom. The more decisions students make, the more investment they will have in their learning. Even if we give students physical comfort with space, that doesn’t mean they are going to invest in the process of learning. I think they have to have a say in their work as well. Don’t get me wrong, comfort is undoubtedly important. I value it immensely. Anyone that has ever been in one of my learning spaces would attest to that. But in my opinion, it needs to walk side-by-side with academic choice or space.
Below are some pictures from the last 2 weeks. In the captions, I will explain how space enabled the activity to happen. This is a brief glimpse into our multiage classroom. You can follow our learning experiences at @mthornton78, @MrCraftMultiage or #MultiageAHES .
Within the last few weeks, we completed a writing/making project. The students made something out of cardboard. Then they created stories based on their creations. Finally, they created comprehension questions for their story. This was one of the final projects. Check it out. Box Stories 2016
This year, it has been my honor and privilege to help start a new learning experience in Albemarle County. Agnor Hurt Elementary added a new addition to their school. The new multiage learning space has over 115 students. The students range from kindergarten to fifth grade. There are no walls in the space and the students are free to move as they learn. In fact, they are encouraged to do so. Even though they undoubtedly know their grade-level, it is not emphasized in the space. We emphasize learning regardless of age. We emphasize progress regardless of level, and we push our learners to become independent thinkers and makers in the classroom. Please follow along with us as we continue this amazing journey. You can follow me at @Mthornton78 and my teaching comrade, Drew, at @MrCraftMultiAge. You can also view our class work via the Twitter hashtag #MultiageAHES.
How do we do this?
@MrCraftMultiAge and I work primarily with third through fifth graders. Everyday is a little different. We do not have a set schedule. We don’t go from math to reading to science to social studies. We created an interdisciplinary learning environment that fosters creativity and critical thinking without regulating our daily schedule. Students work independently and collaboratively. There are times for direct instruction, individual instruction and small group instruction. For Drew and I, we rarely have a break because the learning is always happening. Often, we decompress at the end of the day and marvel at how much was accomplished in one school day. The lack of a set schedule allows us to get more done and allows the students to work without the headache of time. In addition, when students have more say in their learning day, I believe more can and will be accomplished.
Over the last month we have had a lot of visitors come and talk with us about the space. These discussions have helped us broaden our view and understanding of the space. There has also been plenty of media coverage from the local news station, newspaper, and even the Governor of Virginia.
Regardless of who has stopped by, there have been similar questions asked. The question asked the most is…
“How do you assess learning?” We are assessing learning the same way we have always assessed learning. We informally and formally assess students on a daily basis. We are utilizing online tools to help students learn independently as we monitor their progress. One such site is Khan Academy. They are given daily assignments and missions via Khan that enable them to learn on an individual level regardless of their age. Drew and I can monitor their success as they progress and help them on an individual or small group level when needed. There are also times when we pull big groups for direct instruction. These groupings happen based on academic level not grade level. This means students are soaring ahead of their “grade” while others are floating where they need to be but can also get help with some skills that should be reviewed. Along the same lines, we are utilizing Raz-Kids to help with literacy. This site allows us to individually monitor student progress which again allows us to pull kids on an individual level for direct instruction. We are also doing novel studies, biography reviews, and working on grammar and writing everyday. The students typically blog everyday using KidBlog.
Learning is organic. If it is forced, students are more likely to remove themselves from the activity. In the picture below, these students started to work on place value on their own. They went from the trillions all the way to the millionths. They were engaged, proud and happy.
As we should, we value creativity. It is really the foundation of the space. It comes in many ways, and sadly I believe is often overlooked. We really try to emphasize original thought and praise students when they are creative. For example, the picture below is of a Golden Ticket. We were all reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and we asked the students to create a Golden Ticket and write about where they would go with it. This student’s ticket is simple but really creative. In 2015, the ticket would most likely have a bar code. To me, that is creativity and it should be praised.
The amazing thing about student creativity is that it goes beyond what we thought would happen. I love those moments. For example, this student believes donuts could be used to help stop bullying.
Collaboration and Project Based Learning
The students are always collaborating. They want to work together. Drew and I create projects for them to work on but they take them and make them their own. There are projects happening all the time. They just completed a project making 3D geographical maps of Virginia (example below).
They also created cycle infomercials for each other. After learning about cycles in nature, they wrote scripts and created infomercials. Lastly, they developed quizzes for the class to complete on their cycle. The students are making all the time but we specifically have a #make project on Fridays. This last Friday, the students worked on making cars from cardboard, rubber bands, tape, and CDs.
They are also working on collaborative, interdisciplinary task sheets each week. They can complete these independently or collaboratively. Most choose to work together. Here is an example. The students also collaborate on morning work each morning. In fact, they are creating the work for each other. Two students created this for the entire learning pod.
Having an open learning environment is fun, exciting and ever-changing. The students are consistently rearranging the furniture to allow them to learn in different ways. Below are some of the pics I have taken of the space and the students using the space. Follow along with us on Twitter to see more as they happen.
Today was the beginning of a journey that has been over a year in the making. I work at a school, Agnor Hurt Elementary, in a district, Albemarle County Public School, that values building and developing student-centered learning spaces. Agnor Hurt opened a new addition to the school this year. The new learning “classroom” is a multiage space that has over 115 kindergarten to fifth grade students. I am working directly with @MrCraftMultiAge, @CWoodKids9 and 3 other outstanding educators. Thanks @MicheleCastner1 for your leadership!
These are a few of the pictures from day 1.
I sent the following message as an email to my class this morning. Since I created it as a Google Doc, it will remain in their “Shared with Me” folder so I hope it is viewed again in the future. Here is the message I sent.
Dear 5th Grade Graduates,
It has been a pleasure working with you this year. I have learned a lot from each of you. Your unique personalities and abundant gifts enabled me to step back and let learning happen organically in the classroom. There were a few last words I wanted to share with you as you move on to the next chapter in your life.
Never Stop Learning
- Remember that learning is not a school thing it is a life thing. Never cease to learn. Learn from your mistakes and learn from your successes. Learn from each other and learn from yourself.
- Find passions in life and use those as an avenue for new adventures.
- Life can be hard. There are many hoops to jump through. Don’t let those hoops hinder your ability to learn and move forward. You must find your motivation to success.
- In life, people will try to label success. Sometimes they might be accurate and sometimes they might not be. Don’t lose hope and be ready to define SUCCESS for yourself.
- Don’t always settle for what is. Be prepared and willing to ask questions so that you can help bring change when needed. Seek answers and work hard to be the future that society needs you to be.
- Lastly, have fun. Learning is fun. It truly is. Read books, write, create, build, PLAY, invent, challenge, solve….and so on.
It was my honor working with you this year. I will miss each and every one of you. Your enthusiasm and energy will never be forgotten. Thank you for making my first year at Agnor-Hurt fun, exciting, and a great learning experience. Happy Summer.
I have long been against traditional lesson planning. I do plan. In fact, I plan quite a bit. But, I don’t fall victim to developing an over-planned lesson nor do I feel the need to follow some lesson plan template. I am sure there are plenty of nice lesson templates that serve a purpose and help many educators feel confident and in-control. For me, I measure control and confidence in my students more than myself. Meaning, I know a lesson has gone well when my students are engaged in the activity. My confidence is raised when student engagement leads to more questions and independent exploration. Lastly, my confidence continues to grow when I know an objective as been met.
On Wednesday, as my students were completing another #20SheetPaperChallenge with @Stumpteacher’s class in Chicago, I was asked by an educator, how are you going to end this lesson? What is your wrap up plan? Truthfully, as we planned the collaboration, we did not specifically detail how we would end the Google Hangout. Now, I am fully aware that traditional lessons have a set conclusion. The idea being to help bring the lesson to a close and make sure the students have met the objective. I remember in graduate school, I would have to submit every lesson the exact same way using the exact same template. It did not take long for me to see that lesson plan templates are not my thing. This does not mean I don’t know how I want a lesson to end. I have ideas and I move toward those ideas but I don’t force it. I maneuver around my initial thoughts and direction to work with the directions my students take the lesson.
This week I tweeted out this thought.
It seemed to spark some interest. For me, if the end of a lesson is thoroughly developed then there are a lot of assumptions being made by the educator. There are too many variables during a learning period. Students are creative. Their creativity will lead lessons in multiple directions. I like to move in those directions with my learners. It helps me grow as an educator. I would love to hear how you typically end your lessons.
Recently, I experienced two “moments of understanding” that will affect my approach to the classroom. They both happened over the last three weeks. I understand, as many do, that a student’s background will affect their connection to the curriculum. That is nothing new. But, sometimes, as is the case with my recent experiences, the extent of that disconnect is hard to see.
Example 1: Over the last few weeks, we have been discussing the American Revolution and the formation of the United States. George Washington, for obvious reasons, was a big part of our conversation. In my mind, I felt the students should easily understand the concept that George Washington is the “Father of our Country”. He was a strong leader, the first President and a principal character in the founding of our nation. Given his moniker, I compared George Washington to fathers and their traditional household role. I did this countless times until one student awoke me from my ignorance. This student politely said to me, “George Washington is like my mother.” I sat back and internally asked myself, “how can I be that disconnected from my students?” I needed that “moment of understanding”.
Example 2: I was putting my middle child, 5, down for bed a few nights ago, and she made a statement that has stuck with me. That night, she wanted me to come in and tuck her back in bed before I went to sleep. She asked, “when are you going to bed?” I told her I would be in bed by midnight. Then the “moment” happened. She said, “when your phone strikes midnight, come and tuck me in”. Wow. To her, my phone is my watch. I wear a watch a few days a week but I almost always check my phone for the time. Even though this is true for many of us, analogue clocks are still a part of the math curriculum. Regardless of your feelings about the necessity of learning how to tell time on a traditional clock, it is undoubtedly true that her generation will be disconnected from the standard.
I enjoy these types of moments. They help me in the classroom and at home. Do you have any similar stories? If so, I would love to hear them.