Monday, August 17, 2015

Teach Small = BIG Rewards

Next week, like many educators, I begin the journey to a new year. I am prepping new lessons for a new class I have never taught and revamping curriculum for my regular classes. Doing this, for me, always brings a grand reflection of the past year. And this past year was incredibly special.It was my first year going 1:1 with Chromebooks, using GAFE through our school domain, and revamping myself and my teaching.

Plus, I became a mom. Becoming a mom through adoption has been quite the journey, and it was one I shared with my students. 

Each of these BIG things that was happening in the classroom included many small teachable moments. It is these small moments that make the biggest impact on learning and, more importantly, my students.

When you hear "teaching small," you may think of small lessons, or less impactful ones. I did, too. However, think about how the small moments truly make up your classroom. The small moments are the ones that last and create memories that are not soon forgotten.

Each year, I have my students create a sort of yearbook for me. Each student gets to create pages on themselves and their year in the Duck Pond. They don’t write about lessons in grammar or even using Chromebooks each day. They write about those moments that mattered to them. The moments that made them laugh or say "Awwww" or "Did that just happen?" 

One of my favorite #teachsmall moments happened when we were reviewing conjunctions and I mentioned the "big ol' but," which always gets a laugh. Then, when students were practicing identifying and using conjunctions, one student, Maddie, stood up and yelled “BUT” when she saw the word on the screen! Everyone passed that review and giggled or yelled "but" all year whenever they stumbled upon the word.

Another moment was the first time I did a picture walk for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This novel is already powerful enough, but in a small town in California, many of my students didn't realize that prejudice and racism still existed, so we took the time to study prejudice in history and the present day. Before we even mentioned the novel, students took out sticky notes and checked out five different posters about the culture of 1934. The posters had quotes and pictures depicting the nation, the world, the cost of living, and how people lived. Because most of my students had never encountered such hate, their minds ran with thoughts and questions that they jotted down and posted. Discussions like these are so valuable and memorable, and they open students' minds to how they treat one other.
Finally, each year I get to teach one of my own favorite subjects, the Titanic. We dive into the personal stories of those who were on the ship, and each student takes on a persona of an actual Titanic passenger. Students love to hear "their" names come up in texts, videos, and research. This year, I added a little "STEAM" to the unit. We took a Titanic walk to get a true feel of the length and size of the great ship by counting the steps we took. Then, in the process of each student's research and discovery of their person, they had the opportunity to design and build their own "unsinkable ship." We weighed each ship to see if it would float and tested which could hold the most marbles. We even checked out the MythBusters episode on Jack and Rose from the movie. 

Which leads us, of course, to the movie. What is a Titanic unit without the Titanic movie?! Watching the movie is great because many students haven't seen it, but more importantly, they could point out the movie's flaws and shortcomings. All this is fun, but what makes it memorable to me is how students go beyond the learning in class and discover cool tidbits about the Titanic and her people.

In each of these moments, it wasn't the lesson or the text or even the technology that mattered. What mattered were the connections I made with students and the connections students made to the content. I could have the best lesson, material, or most awesome technology, and none of that would matter if my students or I didn't care.

Students need to know that you care: about them, about learning, about what is going on in the classroom. And I do care about my students, about their sports games, videos, pets, siblings, friends, and hobbies. And they care about me. This past year, each time my phone would ring, my students held their breaths hoping it was the call for our baby. The moment the call did come in...I don't think there was a dry eye in the room!

When we connect, we can learn. It is these #teachsmall moments that matter the most. Learning doesn't come from a textbook; learning happens in the the small moments.

For even more #teachsmall moments, check out Remind HQ's site here.

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