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How I give my students voice & choice


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By Ivan Zeitlin, fourth-grade teacher at Shiloh Point Elementary in Cumming, Georgia. This article was first published on eSchoolNews.

When I walked into my first college computer class in 1995, the room was filled with Macs, PCs, and loads of potential. I hadn’t been exposed to computers before that, and I thought to myself, “Wow. This is pretty neat, but it’s not my world.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and we’re now teaching students who were literally born with technology in their hands. They have technology at their avail and they always will.

Pro-digital since day one
At Shiloh Point Elementary in Georgia, our school has been pro-digital since day one and is one of the nation’s leaders in integrating tech into the learning experience. We know that these kids need choices and anonymity in a world where it’s all too easy to get lost in the shuffle. Using the word “ownership” as our battle cry, we work hard to ensure responsibility and independence among our students.

I do this on the first day of every school year by introducing myself and telling my fourth-grade students, “This is your classroom, not mine.” I let them know that they’ll be working on their own and taking care of our classroom. I’m here to help them, guide them, and teach, but I also give them the freedom to do what they want to do. This encourages collaboration among the kids, who learn a lot from their peers.

I’m always available when called upon to help, like when a student is having trouble with a math problem, but for the most part they’re on their own. The bottom line is that when kids understand what I’m teaching, they don’t need me standing in front of or over them; they can go out on their own, move ahead, and explore what we call pathways. They don’t have to wait for me to get to a particular lesson.

The power of student voice
One valuable tech tool that supports my teaching style is our itslearning learning management system (LMS). Using the LMS’ social discussion pages, for example, students can talk about and collaborate on lessons without me being there. I encourage them to take risks and do what they want, and what they come up with is pretty amazing. For our class book clubs, students use the social discussion pages to share vocabulary words, ask  questions, tell each other about the words they’ve found, and then add their own pictures to illustrate that newfound knowledge.

Using a system I call “Math Path,” my students get all of the targets that they need to learn and a place to keep track of their progress. They use the LMS to grade their own work (with my teacher’s edition), get their grades, and move ahead. They’re owning their learning by doing their own learning. When they need help, they can come to me or talk to another student. This allows them the freedom to take a test early and move on.

When I teach the American Revolution, I create related discussion pages where students can start threads on, say, George Washington. They use the platform to upload pictures, videos, and links about Washington and collaborate with one another in a way that really supports student voice and choice.

One student who wasn’t vocal during class got a big confidence boost from the experience. She narrated videos at home and uploaded them to itslearning. Students commented back to her and that started several conversations that probably wouldn’t have taken place in the traditional classroom setting.

The power of student choice
One of the things I like for students to do is create their own reviews to use with their classmates. For the last few years, they’ve been using Kahoot to review for quizzes and tests, including the state test. It’s been great fun for them to prepare in this way.

During reading time, my students get to choose which books they read. I gather multiple copies of leveled books and offer up to six books for each reading group to choose from. I just make sure there are at least three in each book club.

All of this collaboration is pretty powerful. By giving students voice and choice, we help get them college- and career-ready.

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