Am I Overwhelming My Students??

I just presented the list of work required, included deliverables, for our next unit of Geography.  You should have seen my students’ faces!  After some prompting, one girl finally was able to tell me that she felt overwhelmed.  “I feel like it is too much and I can’t do it.” Wow.  I feel that way everyday I work on building this blended learning environment. How could I be so blind to the fact that my kids are feeling that way too?

In an effort to give them a clear picture of how they are expected to show me that they understand the content, I have been building assignments in Google Classroom that take them through the content and require them to create something that shows they are understanding, can combine this new knowledge with what we have already covered, and do some analysis or synthesis.  These are the same goals I had with no Chromebooks in the room, but now there are more options for them and better ways for me to present the information to them.  I front load a great deal of stuff – resources, files, links, etc.  Clearly, some of them are not comfortable with this new model.

Part of the issue could be that they have arrived in this blended classroom having experienced predominately teacher-led learning.  They struggle with independence and having to help themselves as they are conditioned to ask for clarification constantly.  They will ask me a question before even reviewing the content of the assignment instructions.  I am redirecting them but they have such a look of betrayal on their faces – like I am refusing to help them. They are not used to having a choice about what to do during each class period or having a list of to-do’s rather than one assignment at a time.  Choice is really freaking them out!

For my part, I tried to be more explicit about the actual deliverables this time.  I am still seeing a lack of familiarity with the Google Classroom interface and how they can see and track assignments.  In order to help them with that, I created a tracking spreadsheet and posted it in the room.  Each student is listed and there is a column for each assignment. They have been asked to physically “x” out the box next to their name and under each assignment as they complete them and turn them in, whether physically or electonically.  I think this will help all of us to have a better picture of progress and pacing.  It will also up the ante a bit for those who are not particularly motivated to complete anything in a class period.  I plan to keep referring back to it and to remind them to keep it updated.

Today was a wake-up call for me.  I have to slow down a bit and make sure my kids are ready to absorb all of these new procedures and ways of receiving and submitting information.  Although I was trying to be super teacher, it turns out I was making it more difficult for them because I was moving too fast and assuming a comfort level with the model that just doesn’t exist yet.  It is no wonder they are looking at me like I have three heads!  I have been sprinting – it’s time to slow down and make sure everyone is with me.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

We’re back in school and I am busily familiarizing myself with the kids, their individual talents, and quirks.  I’m sure they are feeling the same way about me.  Looming over all of the work I am currently doing is my plan for piloting a blended classroom using a station rotation model this year.  A number of challenges have emerged, but I have also experienced some wins during these first few weeks.

The set of chromebooks I am supposed to be receiving for my classroom (8-15?) is supposedly in the building but the charging and storage station for it has not yet arrived. To sidestep this issue, I have been booking one of the building chromebook carts and ignoring the nagging voice in my head whispering, “Don’t hog the chromebooks!”  I really have to get my kids used to the routines involved in daily use of technology.  There is a whole list of introductory messages I need to make clear to them about responsible use, the routines of using Google Classroom, and ways of interacting with me in nontraditional ways.

My current students span two grade levels and two subject areas, which makes planning more complex.  Half of them are old enough to access gmail and the other half are not (district requires age 13+).  This adds an interesting wrinkle to efficiently using Google Classroom for communicating with them.  I am trying to narrow down my main apps for communicating assignments and stay with Google Classroom for the full year exclusively. I am going to have to create some routines for myself for working around this limitation.

Behaviors have emerged as an ugly reality this year.  I am encountering many off task behaviors in some of my class groupings.  While these behaviors are challenging with or without technology, trying to get full class tech adoption off the ground with these occuring in the background is making my days interesting. Luckily, technology use can be leveraged to help with these behaviors and I see a huge increase in engagement and attention when we do use tech to drive learning.

We are moving forward, however.  All of my students have joined the Google Classrooms I have set up for each period and subject and have completed a number of warm-up assignments.  They have verntured out into Blendspace, Glogster, and thinkCERCA to get a feel for what is possible for them going forward.  I am seeing excitement and a high level of engagement and productivity from many of them.  Changing their traditional mindset is emerging as a new wrinkle for me as they are just beginning to see what is possible as we move forward into our year of blended learning together.