Well, another school year has ended. And, like many of you, my thoughts have already gone to, “What can I do next year to make the students’ time in my classroom even better?” This year, I had the kids type out their end of the year reflections. I used a Google Form and was amazed at home much more feedback I got versus when I had the kids hand write their reflections in past years. I was thrilled.
As I sat and read through the kids responses to the questions that I asked, there were a few patterns that jumped right out at me.
1) Kids love choice. Many kids wrote about how much they enjoyed having choice in what they were writing about, what they were reading, how they ran their literature discussion groups, etc. Many students wrote about having the freedom to do the things that worked best for them and how that made their learning experiences more meaningful. They spoke of having the chance to sit where they wanted, to work alone or in a group, to create rules that worked for them, and to choose to write about the things that mattered to them. I will continue to work on finding ways to bring more choice into the classroom because it is clear that it makes the learning more meaningful.
2) I need to stop talking so much. The kids are kind. They used kind words. They found nice ways to say it. But the message was loud and clear, I need to SHUT UP and let the kids word. The time that we spent gathered on the rug, the time that I felt it was necessary to impart a whole bunch of wisdom to them, that was the time when I lost them. That is when they spoke of loosing focus and loosing interest. This is one of my biggest goals for next year and these reflections really provided evidence of how important it is. Kids want to work. They want to apply the lessons that they have learned. And so, I am making it my mission to find a way to say the most important things and then help the students to discover the rest. This is going to be a HUGE challenge for me, but I know that it is one that I must accept.
3) Kids recognize when they are being valued and respected. The students’ reflections were filled with comments that brought me to tears. From when a child said, “When I am sad, I just want to hug you,” to another child who wrote, “You told me you were proud of me and I liked hearing that.” These kids get it. They get when we see them as good. They get when we recognize their strengths. They get when we share with them the many ways that we see them growing. Kids spoke of feeling safe, of feeling as if it was okay to make mistakes, of feeling like I was there for them when things were hard or when they were upset. These things made my heart swell and reinforces the idea that one of the most important things that we can do for our students is to make sure that they feel loved.
4) Learning should be fun. I read over and over again that students appreciated that the learning was fun. They said that they preferred when we did projects and activities to past years when they had classrooms that were more worksheet heavy. I believe that learning is most likely to happen when kids are happy and having fun. It was good to know that my students this year felt that there was joy in the classroom. Some of them even mentioned that they appreciated that I laughed at their jokes or found them funny or even managed to be funny myself. There must be joy in a classroom. There has to be a sense of adventure and fun. The kids feel it and it really matters to them.
5) This is a big one. There must be meaning and purpose to the things that we ask our students to do. The things that were mentioned as things that were not liked were the things that I did because I felt that I had to do them. It was clear that there was not meaning and purpose to these things and the kids recognized that. They wanted their learning to be meaningful and purposeful and I think they felt cheated when it wasn’t. The most common example was the typing program that our district mandated this year. The kids recognized that it did not align with the other activities that we did in our classroom. They felt the lack of purpose and it made them resent the program. I will have to think about how to deal with this one. The other example is more in my control. For years I have been trying to find a meaningful way to have the kids write in response to the independent reading that they do every day. I want this writing to ENHANCE their reading, not taking away from the joy of reading. I have drastically transformed how I have the students write about their thinking, but it still doesn’t feel quite right. The kids feel it too. They don’t see the purpose in it and so they dislike it. I have three things to try next year. 1) Bring in the tech! One student suggested having an online reading journal and it seems like I might be able to make this work with the blogging that I would like to have my students do next year. 2) More closely tie the reading goals that I set with them in reading conferences, to the writing that they do in their reading journals. I am hoping that this will provide more purpose and will also enhance our reading conferences. 3) Have them use the work that they do in their reading journals to have them teach each other how to become better readers. If they are working on a specific goal, they can share that work with the class and provide examples of what they are doing from their reading journals. This, by the way, will also help with my goal of attempting to stop talking so much! So we will see, perhaps some of that will provide the meaning and purpose that I know these kids want!
It is never easy to learn what people DON’T like about what we are doing. Especially when those people are the students that we work so hard to reach. But it was so important for me to read this feedback, to really digest it and to learn how to make things better next year.
There is a lot to work on, but I walked away from these reflections knowing that my students felt loved by me, that they felt safe, that they felt willing to take risks, that they felt it was okay to make mistakes and that they felt joy in our classroom. Those are not small things and as long as I have those, then I know I can work to make the other stuff better!