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Archive for February, 2010

Reflections from EduCon: Fun

I had fun at EduCon 2.2! It was great to get away for a weekend and spend time with colleagues. I loved meeting people from my PLN face to face and talking to educators from around the world about what we do and how we can improve education. It was a thrill to listen to so many really smart people share their ideas and debate. For two and a half days we joined in conversations, facilitated discussions, learned, relaxed, ate, drank, laughed, and had fun. Conferences should be fun. Learning should be fun. Spending time with colleagues – whether they teach in the classroom next door or at a school halfway around the world – should be fun. I need to make it a priority to have more fun with my colleagues. There are times when the work of teaching needs to be set aside so we educators can talk, share, laugh, and have fun.

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It’s been a few weeks since I returned home from EduCon and now that we’re on February vacation I have some time to reflect on what I’ve taken away from EduCon 2.2.  Over the next few days I hope to write some more about specific conversations I had and people I met. It was energizing to spend an entire weekend with educators and students who care passionately about teaching and learning.

This school year has been a challenging one and I’ve gotten frustrated more often than not. Many of my (high school) students are not interested in school or learning; their lives are complicated by illness, financial struggles, broken families, drugs and alcohol. Others are merely apathetic, going through the motions just to earn their credits and move on. Don’t get me wrong, I do have many other students who are interested and motivated. But so much of my energy as a teacher seems to be spent supporting and encouraging students who just don’t care what (any) school can offer them.

What I realized while I was in Philadelphia was that I had been missing the passion that used to drive my teaching. When I spoke with the students of Science Leadership Academy I was struck by how clearly each one could articulate the mission of their school and what that education meant to them personally. They didn’t spout some party line about each having a laptop (though many cited this as a reason for them to check out SLA in the first place). They didn’t talk about test scores or the number of AP classes or the other measures that seem to drive education policy. What excited them was the personal relationships they had with their teachers and the individualization of their learning. They cared deeply about their projects, the choices they had and how they demonstrated their learning. They spoke clearly and confidently about how their school has molded them as learners and as individuals.

My first thought was that it was already too late to make meaningful changes in my classes this year. After all, the school year is half over and we’ve already established our routines and expectations. At least, I had established them. But talking to Liz Davis on the flight home helped me think about things differently. The Latin curriculum and learning expectations were mine – not my students.  When I returned to school, I sat down with my two most challenging classes and spoke honestly about my frustrations and my hopes for the course. I told them they still had to meet curricular goals, but I wanted them to help design how we met those goals for the rest of the year. At first they seemed skeptical, but then they spoke honestly about their learning.

They asked for more independence and creativity in how they demonstrated their learning. They asked for more projects. They still wanted structure, but with the independence to move through the work at their own speed and ability. Every student in these 2 Latin classes has been diagnosed with a language based learning disability and has been with me for more than a year and a half. And perhaps for the first time they were being given an opportunity to truly individualize their learning. I agreed to implement some of their ideas, but only if they agreed to commit to doing the work as well.

The next day I made some modifications to how I present material and what I ask of my students as they come into the room each day.  I committed myself to smiling more and being truly glad to see each one of them every day. I focused on the essential elements they need to learn – to translate Latin accurately and to recognize verb forms, for example. I showed them the big picture and then allowed them to progress through activities more independently and creatively. I offered them choices in how they demonstrate their understanding. I encouraged them to support each other in learning and to contribute positively to class each day. I put on Pandora so they could listen to music as they worked. To be honest, these were small changes that brought about some big results. All but one of my students has embraced the changes. They are working more steadily and translating more thoughtfully than I’ve seen since they started Latin 18 months ago.  They are asking specific questions and participating in their own learning. As a group, they seem happier to walk into my room each day. We still have work to do; this will involve more planning as we move forward. And I have one student who will need to be supported differently from the rest. It has only been two weeks, but I am feeling more positive each day when I see them walk into my room.

Ultimately I’m hoping I’ve rediscovered my passion for teaching and for Latin. I don’t delude myself with the belief that my students will suddenly become passionate about translating Latin or even continue their studies past this year. I do have hope that they will find that putting effort and care into what they do can make a difference in their lives. And that taking responsibility for their work will make the experience of learning more meaningful overall.

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