One Small Change Can Transform Your Practice

A process of design, implementation, and reflection helps one teacher change not just one student project experience, but her entire approach to instruction.

The classroom buzzes with excitement as 21 second graders zip around the learning space. As if in a game of musical chairs, they scurry into an open desk as their teacher counts down from 5.

Once seated comfortably, their focus shifts to the laptop in front of them. The screen displays the final draft of one of their classmates’ Google Slides presentation, showcasing the results of their research on an animal of their choosing.

Beginning their five minute review, each child soaks in the created slides. One student puzzles over a “True or False?” guessing game around whether or not great white sharks have gills. Another considers what snapping turtles eat before clicking to the next slide to see what their classmate had learned.

Adding comments to the slide deck, each student showers praise for what they liked most about the slide, along with questions related to what they didn’t quite understand. And after those five minutes, the cycle begins again, repeating until each student has reviewed 4 different decks.

This moment is one of many in a larger narrative from Lisa Blancarte’s classroom at Caldwell Elementary School in Pflugerville, Texas. Blancarte is one of dozens of educators in Pflugerville ISD to work alongside ALP’s coaches toward earning the credential of Dell Certified Educator. During the process and its associated job-embedded coaching rounds, she embarked on a goal of making her classroom instruction more student-directed, specifically as it related to how students communicate their thinking both with an audience and with each other.

Following the close of this unit, I was able to engage in reflective dialogue with Ms. Blancarte around the shifts in lesson design that she employed.

In what ways was this year’s approach different from previous years?

I really felt like every step of the project was different in some way to how I have done it in the past.

For the kids’ brainstorming of potential topics, we used Answer Garden instead of writing on the board, which helped each student have a voice while making the most popular responses more easily visible. When students choose their animal of study, we used GoFormative as a more organized way of getting their preferences collected.

The parts that were the most different though were the research process along with the actual report.

In the past, I printed out a fact sheet about their animal, and they pulled out the information they needed from that single source. This year, I provided them with a Padlet filled with several websites for them to use to find information about their animal. This gave them experience with doing the actual research. That’s a huge step for my second graders.

The final product was also very different. Instead of handwriting their report and drawing pictures of their animals, they were able to type the report using Google Slides as a final product. This allowed them to include photographs they found, as well as to use a variety of types of presentations to engage readers (Traditional info overview, True/False, or Q&A style). The Google Slides approach also made it much easier for the students to give each other feedback and ideas on their reports.

What was the best part about the project?

For the kids, the best part was making their report look cool with color, fonts, and pictures. That’s not really all that surprising, is it? They love making their work look cool.

For me, the best part was how easy it was to give the kids feedback and for them to be responsible for asking for help. I could quickly go through everyone’s report through the collaborative features and give a few notes, or they could send me a comment directly with a question.

I loved being able to copy and paste a link to help a kid find an answer to a question instead of me pointing to it on a piece of paper or just telling them what to do. It gave me the chance to give the “just right” feedback based on their needs.

What was hardest about making the shift?

The hardest part was definitely supporting my struggling readers and writers, which is always the hardest part. What was nice though was that since everyone was working at their own pace, I was able to target those students as their needs arose and give the right support at the right time.

If you had a chance to do it again, what would you do differently?

I found that the hardest part for the kids overall was going from the research to the writing. Next time, I would probably have them do an outline first before starting to write, so they will at least have their topic and a few details that go with topic before they start writing. I created a rubric to score their reports with a Google Docs add-on I found. Next time, I would give them the rubric before they started as well.

Overall, this was an amazing experience for me and the kids. I had so many kids working on it at home and sending me comments at night! They were really proud of their final products, which looked great even if they are a kid who struggles with reading and writing. I’m excited to see how I can put these ideas into practice in other lessons!

The process of design, implementation, and reflection has helped Ms. Blancarte transform this unit into one that puts her students in the driver’s seat. More importantly, it has led to a different way of thinking about instruction- one that will influence her lesson design for years to come. It will be fascinating to see what her second graders will do next.

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