The Journey to Independent Learning

INTRODUCTION – The Innovation I Am Trying

Throughout the past year, I have been taking a professional development course on blended learning and what that means for the personalization of education for students.  As the course progressed, I was tasked with creating a prototype of blended learning that I could use in my own class that would help me to meet my goal of creating independent learners in my classroom.

My overall goal was to be able to incorporate more small group situations and increase the amount of individualized learning that my students had, in order to foster personal ownership over their own learning.  My prototype focused on a blended learning model that included station-rotation and providing playlists of achievable goals for each student. The idea being that they could then move at their own pace and master the learning concepts for the year.

My plan was to utilize the station-rotation model in order to provide different types of instruction or practice for my students. In this way, it should help to transition them away from viewing me, their teacher, as the source of knowledge and begin to become more autonomous learners.  The main thrust behind choosing this model was because I don’t teach in a traditional classroom.  I teach online and I felt as if this particular model could be modified to best suit the particular medium that I use.  I also felt that this model would allow me to create more opportunities for group work and allow me to better identify the particular needs of each student.  My intention was to also utilize the idea of playlists for my students as this would help in my attempt to personalize the learning experience.  Students could work at their own pace as they learn and master various concepts.

Of course, it’s always important to have a method of measuring the success of such a prototype. After implementing this format in my classroom, I would observe and collect data through surveys and various achievement checkpoints. I would be looking to see that students began requiring less direction from me in order to keep progressing in their coursework, they would start showing initiative in meeting deadlines, they would be able to demonstrate mastery of concepts, and that I would spend less time lecturing.

BEFORE – How My Classroom Was Traditionally Structured

Even though my classroom was not a traditional one, I was finding that my role in the class was primarily the traditional teacher role. I do not have a physical building where all my students meet. Instead, we log into a virtual classroom on a daily basis.  Our school uses the Zoom platform, which allows everyone to be in the same “room” and share our video and audio with each other. It also allows for us to screen-share and create whiteboards to write on.

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike a traditional classroom, I am very limited in regards to what the room looks like. Organizing students in different formats etc. is just not an option in our virtual world. I had found that likewise, I had become very limited in my repertoire of instruction. Not every activity or assignment that can be done in a regular classroom can be translated to online schooling. I found that my classes were often lecture-based and we would close with discussion of the assignments for the week.

This just did not sit right with me. I found that with the classes that I was lecturing in, it would be very easy to lose the attention of my students and that they didn’t seem to be retaining the information very well either.

AFTER – The Key Difference in the New Structure

The first change that I made was to remove lectures from our class time together.  This idea comes from the flipped classroom model. I wanted to create a classroom where students were able to go further with their understanding of concepts and work on applying it in class.  I created and curated video lessons of content that were provided as resources for students.

Each week, I would post a “playlist” of resources for my students on Google Classroom. Those resources would include a mixture of video resources (both created by me and curated from other creators), websites, textbook pages, and activities for the students to use to learn new content and then practice their skills. In addition to their “playlist” of learning tasks, I also provided what I called a weekly checkpoint. This was a short 10 – 20 question (usually multiple choice and true/false) Google Form that covered the content from the resources. I used Flubaroo Grader to automatically score the checkpoint and email immediate feedback to the students.  If students were not happy with their scores, they were able to go back to their resources, re-learn, and then try the checkpoint again.  The goal was to lead students towards mastery of these skills.

With the lecturing and basic learning happening outside of the classroom, we now had time inside of class to work on applying that knowledge. Class was no longer focused on the lecture. Instead, I was able to use a number of different formats depending on the students’ experience with the material the week before. Class sessions can now range from a Q & A session to help solidify the concepts when it has been a little more difficult for the students to understand on their own, group discussions, application projects, to students taking over and teaching the class themselves.

DEBRIEF – Implications For Future Practice

One of the biggest changes that I noted through this process was that my role as the teacher began to shift. My students started to take more initiative and became more confident in their own abilities to learn. The focus wasn’t so much on me as a teacher and what I could provide for the students. Instead, it was more focused on the students, what they were learning, methods that worked best for them, and how I could ASSIST them in the process of learning.

There was such a marked difference in students’ expectations of their teacher at the beginning of the year as opposed to the end of the year. I found that the majority of my students (70% – 80%) developed a strong sense of independence where their learning was concerned and instead of depending on me for answers or as a problem solver, by the end of the year, they would actively try to find solutions for themselves before coming to me.

As a result, I found that my students became more invested in their own learning. They were given more opportunities to see why learning is important and how it affects every-day life for them. I’m happy to say that I saw a dramatic increase in grades as well. This year, over 70% of my students had an average score above 85%.  I also found that where usually students’ scores will gradually slip over the course of the school year, my students’ grades this year only got better as the year progressed.

Because of the positive results I have seen in the areas that I incorporated these changes, I plan to do so to all the classes and subject areas that I teach.


 

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Ms. R.

About Ms. R.

Danielle Rochford has been a certified teacher for over 15 years, practicing her craft with middle school students in British Columbia, Canada. She is also a self-taught landscape photographer and founder of D-Roc Photography and Design.

She has spent the past five years teaching online in such areas as English, Math, and Photography. She hopes to continue sharing her expertise with others now on Udemy. Danielle encourages her students to be interactive and provides many opportunities for discussion and feedback.

In her spare time, she loves to travel and enjoy the solitude of nature. You will often find her traveling through Jasper, AB on a photography adventure.

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