Then & Now: Shaping the Start of the Year

At the close of a school year, we are often asked to consider our individual learning journeys and construct words of wisdom for folks following in our footsteps.  The responses below offer insight gleaned from a team of teachers we had the privilege of learning with over the past year:

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Letting go of control is hard but giving kids ownership over their learning makes it worthwhile.”

“There is tremendous value in the process!”photos-7398484@N02-potter

This is not too complicated for students or teachers. This process allows you to see your classroom instruction and your students in a new and developing way. Be open to it!

Consider skills students will use in this process and create opportunities for students to practice these skills in everyday learning. Practice will build their confidence and fluency!

It won’t be perfect. Give yourself time to figure it out. You are learning with the students!

“Let the students guide the research, even if you are not sure their ideas will work.

“It’s okay to FAIL (teachers & students), as long as you are sure to regroup and reroute!”

As you reflect on your own learning experience and efforts, consider the impact they have had on your everyday practice.  In what way(s) have you & your students started this year differently?

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64 comments to Then & Now: Shaping the Start of the Year

  1. Alex says:

    Much much much less homework and much more in-class group sharing, group thinking and group work. – Why bother? Not a bother at all. It is fun and exciting. The search for the right method of teaching, the exciting input of students, the marvelous detours, interesting surprises and failures make every day more interesting.

    What if I could offer my second language students more natural and exciting ways in which they could implement their skills? How can I enhance their communication skills to include interactions that are meaningful to them and can motivate them beyond the texts and exercises?

    A growing concern is the cost of this somewhat adventurous way of learning. Can I use more efficient ways to enhance the same skills? What could be integrated into the lesson to make the learning deeper? How can I empirically test the value of one method over the other? Is my gut-feeling and intuition enough to judge the merit of the lesson or the unit? How do I measure success? Is this success preferable to my successful results in previous years?…

  2. Theresa says:

    I hope to create an environment where not only students but also teachers will feel safe to take chances, make mistakes and learn from them. What I see is teachers working hard, committed to expanding their own learning, challenging students and themselves.

  3. keith clark says:

    I continue to tweak and include more student-centered activities in my classroom. It has gone pretty well so far. I am using my blog more as a teaching tool. I did a one day propaganda piece in APUSH that went quite well.

  4. Bill says:

    It’s technically the fourth week of the school year. I’m still working on a modified version of #thefirstfivedays, and I haven’t opened my grade book yet. I am exploring inquiry-based instruction, and my classes are conducting a critical analysis of the new New York State Common Core Social Studies Framework (NYSCCSF for short). It’s an experiment, and my students know they are the guinea pigs. They are invested, engaged, and energized. I can see their natural curiosity on a daily basis. I heard an interview with one of the creators of LOST some time ago, in which he explained their creative process. He likened writing his story to climbing a mountain in the dark; you have a plan to get to the top, but you don’t know the exact route just yet…

    I feel like I am starting the best year of my career in education.

    • sewilkie says:

      Bill, I am drawn to a forward reflection you made last spring – about wanting your students to feel empowered, inspired & invested in their learning and, above all, accomplished because of their ownership in the process. I had the honor of witnessing elements of this when I was in your room on my last visit. I am hugely curious, however, to hear what you are seeing on a day-to-day basis. What evidence do you see that your collective investments in this process are paying off – in the ways and to the degree (beyond?) that you had hoped? Even for those who are harder to reach?

  5. Angie says:

    I started this year being so much more explicit with my message that it is not only all right to fail, it is expected and is necessary. I have stressed reflection throughout these beginning days and have truly given them time to reflect in class. We also approached our bonding day a bit differently as we set it up as a challenge with only a few guardrails, and we finally invested the time to bring it all to close with the kids in the auditorium. In addition I started witha real focus on connection to community.

    • sewilkie says:

      It’s exciting to see the benefits of investing that time up front. What a powerful way to start your year! What evidence of their efforts are you seeing linger as the year progresses? What elements of continued growth have you noticed? How does that shape the learning culture in your classes?

  6. Jason says:

    Everything is new to me. I just remind the kids that I’m on the learning journey with them.

  7. Dana Damp says:

    I am making learning more visible than I ever have. One way I am doing this is using large sheets of paper and colored markers for students to record their group work on and then sticking them to the white board w/ painters tape. As a class we then discuss.
    In my planning, I am making sure that the students are doing the work. Students are answering other student’s questions.

    • sewilkie says:

      You are such an inspiration to me! I appreciate how thoughtfully you have approached this opportunity. What benefits are you seeing to having students respond to one another and/or answer peer questions?

  8. Jodi says:

    “The first 5 days” – that is how I started my school year. I am trying to shift the control of learning and the flow of information from me (the teacher) to the students. I am just beginning this journey of relinquishing this control – I am doing this with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement.

  9. Laura says:

    I have iPad Minis that I started using this week. I have downloaded Write About This on all the apps and am using it to have students respond to text. One student, who is very reluctant to write, wrote 3 sentences in less than 20 minutes. The day before it took him 40 minutes to copy one sentence from the board.

    • sewilkie says:

      Isn’t it interesting how digital writing can be so different for some learners. I have students who write far more and far more willingly when writing digitally – and for a wide range of reasons!

  10. Tom says:

    For the start of this year my goal was to infuse technology into the grade 5 curriculum. Social studies classes documented learning about their team partners, classroom and school with cameras. After the first 5 days students video blogged about what they learned, favorite thing, and goals for the year.

    • sewilkie says:

      Tom, it looked as though the kids really enjoyed this experience! I would love to hear more about how they (the kids) are taking their experiences (and the skills they learned from them) and building on each, as they move through their year!

  11. Tammy says:

    I have found that I am giving students less this year. They are becoming more responsible than in the past and are more interested in learning. I am trying really hard not to ask them questions that they can google, but that is really hard

  12. Vicki says:

    Instead of “leading the charge” during whole-class instruction, I’m letting the kids work in small groups to support each other. It’s so much fun to listen in on their conversations. It definitely provides me with the feedback I need to determine the direction that my teaching should go.

  13. Jennifer says:

    In starting the year I have tried to have students reflect more. We have also talked about things we wonder about and have written about them. We have not created a wiki or website yet, but it is coming soon.

    • sewilkie says:

      Sounds like a thoughtful start! When during the day and/or activities are you having students reflect? Are they sharing out loud or recording them somewhere?

    • Eric says:

      Do you see it as just getting used to reflecting, or are you designing it as build up for what’s come? What I mean is, are you having them reflect in this format first, then deepening to that format, then next, and so on so that when they get to a potential PSI project, they’ve had the build up? Just curious.

  14. Amanda says:

    We started talking about embracing mistakes on the very first day of school. I’ve encouraged my students to try new things even when they aren’t 100% sure how to proceed. We’ve talked a lot about how it’s ok to try, that all ‘mistakes’ can be ‘fixed’, and that by taking risks you will learn new things. Celebrating mistakes has been a nice way to start, and will be a important mindset as we go on our yearlong journey together.

  15. Lauren Miller says:

    I started out this year with the goal of implementing elements of PSI into my daily instruction. I’ve been more conscious in my instruction of providing choice to students. I’ve changed weekly reading logs to biweekly research questions that focus on content areas. Early on, I’m teaching students the difference in types of questions, and developing an atmosphere where inquiry is the goal as well as what drives much of my instruction. Planning for projects, and reflecting about the process is a change as well.

    • sewilkie says:

      Interesting shift from reading logs to research Qs – it will be exciting to see how these play out, especially when coupled with your discussions about types/styles of questions!
      Would you mind sharing examples of where/when/how you are providing students more choice in everyday activities?

    • Jeff says:

      It’s great to hear that you’re integrating this philosophy into your everyday instruction. That’s the goal of this effort – to make school more student-centered, not just for a few experiences. Kudos to you for selecting this as your goal!

  16. Regina Fortman says:

    I decided to start the year front loading skills for research, learning to properly use digital tools, and introduce Notice and Note so that the children could practice taking notes on their reading and thinking critically. Blocked time to eventually be dedicated to PSI.

  17. Kristin says:

    After jumping right in last year, I’m rethinking how I will start PSI. This year we are going to take it slower and do lots of mini lessons to introduce questioning, how to research, planning, and reflecting. We are going to start the year doing the whole process together and then they will get to pick a topic of their choice when they are comfortable with the process.

    • sewilkie says:

      I like the scaffolding, especially when working with the younger ones 🙂 From your experience last year, how often might the kids need to engage in mini-lessons and/or practice of questioning skills, research skills, planning, reflecting, etc? I am working with a younger class right now and am wondering if I am allowing enough time/opportunities for the range of learners to practice the skills they need to develop.

    • Jeff says:

      What’s the phrase.. Slow down to go fast? Don’t forget your friendly neighborhood LMC Director to assist with the teaching of research skills!

  18. Colleen says:

    Having had last year’s experiences, I am already more comfortable with letting my students explore the technology in the classroom and use it for classroom research and other activities. I plan to begin introducing some of the skills that I taught students last year, at an earlier time this school year. I’m looking forward to a great year with PSI!

    • sewilkie says:

      Isn’t it amazing what we can learn from watching our kids explore? What are you finding students struggle with? What are you finding they are able to noodle through on their own, or with their peers? What things are you finding they need help with from you, or other adult learners?

  19. jamie molnar says:

    As we began our content unit, solar system, I laid the groundwork for a future PSI project by guiding the students through effective questioning with iWonders. We then started researching answers to the iWonders where we were able to explore various research resources.

    • sewilkie says:

      Another example of scaffolding – this is terrific! I would love to hear their wonders about the solar system and how their questions took shape and reshaped, as you guided them through “effective questioning”. It would also be interesting to read or listen to their reflections on the answers they discovered based on the shape of their question(s). Can’t wait to come and play in your room, again 🙂

    • Jeff says:

      Way to lay the foundation within your current content – two birds with one stone! It’s also great to see the elements of this philosophy spread into other areas rather than just during “the experience.”

  20. Kristen says:

    I am ready to hit the ground running this year–beginning to work on questioning with my students. Last year, I didn’t start building that foundation with my students until later in the year. With the training from last year, we can start instilling some questioning/reflecting skills early on for our first and second graders.

    • sewilkie says:

      I am learning that multiple iterations are the way to go with many of my learners, especially when looking at the skills you’ve mentioned here. I appreciate your headstart focus and am wondering where you might start with each?

    • Jeff says:

      Great idea to start right away. It will be interesting to see how much the second graders are able to assist the first graders with the process, having gone through it last year.

  21. Kristen Clark says:

    Setting up structured questioning activities with Vicky is going to help set up the PSI time before we begin researching topics of choice. This will give students more defined expectations for their research questions and activities.

  22. Jen says:

    I want to plan a regular weekly time for talking about and exploring our wonders. I want to facilitate more discussions and activities that will help the students understand the different types of questions. I feel if I start this early in the year we will be better prepared to work through the PSI process later. I have already sent home an interest survey with my students to get a sense of what their passions are!

    • sewilkie says:

      Great start with the interest survey (I was surprised by how many kids struggled to identify their interests when I first did this in my class)! Shannon & Kris (& others? see below) are working to regularly secure time for specific and foundation-building discussions and activities…perhaps they can share some strategies?

  23. Colette says:

    It’s nice to start the beginning of this year with a wide variety of lessons to help launch PSI. Last year we added things in throughout the year such as goal-setting, research skills, and reflection. This year, before we actually begin researching we are starting with lessons that teach these skills. It’s nice to have these things in place before actually beginning the process. It helps the students to put everything together right from the beginning.

  24. Paul and Paula says:

    We feel like we have a clearer plan of attack this year. Our goals of reflection and self-assessment, along with students driving their own learning facilitates how we work with each student through the process.

    • sewilkie says:

      That must feel good 🙂 Can you elaborate on your reflection and self-assessment goals…what, specifically, are you looking to shore up or strengthen with your kids?

  25. Carrie Cioni says:

    As we plan out lessons this year, we have given more consideration to the elements of PSI. Teaching the students from the start to plan their time, ask questions, etc.

    • sewilkie says:

      It sounds like these will become a part of the learning grain in your classroom this year. Have you noticed any identifiable shifts in your role or the students roles, as well?

  26. Shannon Watanuki says:

    Last year’s PSI experience provided me first-hand , in the classroom, experience with PSI to apply in my new role as ALF. I have ideas of what components I feel worked well and should continue and ideas of what components I’d suggest doing differently. Being part of a multi-grade team allowed me insight on how PSI works in various grades.

  27. Shannon says:

    I have tried to build daily (or as many days as I can) reflection time into my schedule. I haven’e done anything digitally yet. We have simply used a journal to think back about our day and consider the things we learned. They also reflected on their behavior/effort.

    • sewilkie says:

      Reflection is such a critical skill, yet it’s one most of our kids haven’t had enough experience or opportunity with to do well. I’m looking forward to learning how they develop over time!

  28. Kris Adams says:

    Blocking a dedicated time each week at the beginning of the year has been very helpful. Reviewing necessary tech skills to ensure a smooth transition to independent learning online. The best part is having some students from third grade that have experienced PSI and are chomping at the bit to get started!

    • sewilkie says:

      What a great idea for front loading – I greatly appreciate the need to find & protect time for this! Which tech skills did you decide to focus on, first? How are or might you leverage the “experienced” PSI students to support the class process?

  29. Cathie Schwarz says:

    We discuss the Habits of Mind frequently and having a wonderful list of wonderings already. I allowing the students to direct their own learning more.

    • sewilkie says:

      Love the explicit connection to Habits of Mind! It will be interesting to see where the kids recognize their individual Habits of Mind surfacing throughout their PSI journey 🙂 What a thoughtful start.

    • Jeff says:

      Way to start the year off with wonderings – that will prime them for selecting topics for their first experience. It also sounds like you’re providing student-directed learning in areas other than PSI – kudos to you!

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