Third grade teacher Faith Herrick knows it’s the little things that make students feel special – a personalized e-mail to acknowledge she’s received an assignment, or a quick one-on-one conversation to review results of an assessment.
However, with all of the demands put on teachers these days, and the additional pressure for teachers like Faith who manage students in a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) environment, it can be difficult to fit just one more conversation or e-mail into the school day.
So, how does Faith provide a personalized learning environment for her students, while keeping up this daily communication, and getting parents involved, too?
With a bit of help from itslearning.
Making Students Feel Special
Faith says that something as simple as an e-mail can help teachers develop relationships with their students.
“We might read an article on a current events for kids news site, and they can e-mail things they thought were interesting to summarize the article,” she explains. “I try to reply any time they send me an e-mail just because I want them to know that it’s been read, and to develop that relationship.”
Another way Faith helps to individualize learning is by working with each student to review the results of assessments, whether given through itslearning, or paper-based, such as study guide work.
“I find it eliminates your hiders in the classroom – the kids who never say anything whether they understand or don’t understand,” says Faith. “You never really know what their thinking is, so you have that opportunity to have a discussion with every single child without having to put them on the spot.”
Assessment Beyond Standards
Faith appreciates that itslearning provides immediate feedback to teachers and students alike, because it gives her the chance to help students decide which areas they need to focus on.
“Sometimes they’ll come to me and say, ‘I thought I really understood this, and I got all of them wrong,’” she says. “And then we’ll go in and look, and it’s something like they capitalized words that weren’t supposed to be capitalized, or they put spaces somewhere.”
She also says that, in addition to helping her understand how students are performing against standards, the assessments and her followup conversations have uncovered some surprising, new lessons.
“They learn different things even though it may not be the goal of those little assessments,” says Faith.
She gives an example of a consistently high performing student who, during one assessment, got almost all of the questions wrong. When she asked him about his performance, the student told her he hadn’t read the passage because he had wanted to work on something else, and figured he could get them all right if he just guessed.
“He understood that he didn’t use his resources, and it affected his answers,” says Faith. “I think it was good for him to see that it was really important for him to read the passage in order to get the correct answers.”
Self-Assessment with ePortfolios
Faith says that, although her students are just getting started with ePortfolios, she’s seen how students can use them to track their own progress.
For example, in the beginning of the year, students wrote content for their About Me page in the blog section of their ePortfolios. Later in the year, after students had completed a journal entry as part of an informational writing unit, she asked students to review their About Me pages and improve upon them based on what they had learned.
“They realized, ‘I didn’t include enough details’ or ‘I don’t have any periods,’” she says. “They got to see their own growth because they were comparing their own writing to their own writing.”
Faith plans on incorporating more ePortfolio work into her curriculum.
“The goal is to start putting in projects that they’re really proud of in order to use the for student-led conferences at the end of the year."
Faith Herrick demonstrates how she personalizes learning for 3rd grade students in a BYOT classroom.
Planner Facilitates Parental Engagement
Faith is happy to report that 100 percent of parents in her classroom use itslearning to stay involved in their students’ learning.
“Any parent that I talk to will almost always refer back to something that they’ve seen on itslearning,” says Faith. She adds that students regularly log on to itslearning to show their parents how they did on an assignment or assessment.
“Half the parents use it on a daily basis to check in with their child because they look at what we did today, and they talk to their kids about certain activities for that day.”
She also credits the planner with helping parents find their way around itslearning.
“The navigation is harder for the parents because they don’t use it every day like the kids do,” she comments.
“Before I started using the planner, I had a lot of feedback about the tree being too confusing –parents didn’t know where to go to find different things and to see what kids are working on,” she adds. “So, using the planner is very effective because everything is in that one spot, and they don’t have to go and find it someplace else in itslearning.”
Not Just for Older Students
Faith has not only seen how itslearning has made a difference with her third graders, but has seen the benefits for younger students, as well. While teaching a K-5 rotation at a different school last year, she was able to see how itslearning makes teaching young students easier, and encourages independent learning.
“The best part about using itslearning with the primary grades is that once they learn how to log on, then everything else is easy,” she says. “Because so often as a teacher, when you’re trying to use any kind of technology with primary learners, it’s navigating them to where you want them to work. Whereas, with itslearning, once they’re in, they’re in.”
She adds that the early learner interface encourages independent learning because students don’t have to guess where they need to go find information.
“It’s really easy for the kids to figure out what it is and where to go,” she notes.
Faith says that some teachers might be turned off by the initial work it takes to set up their courses in itslearning, but she encourages them to look at the long-term benefits.
“The biggest lesson is that, it seems like a lot of work, but it makes your life so much easier in the long run,” she says.
She adds that, because of all the opportunities for communication available in itslearning, she’s been able to build stronger relationships with her students.
“I’ve never known my kids better than I do this year,” she concludes. “A lot of that is being able to get feedback and conversation with them so often because of what they’re doing in itslearning.”
Faith Herrick teaches third grade at Vickery Creek Elementary in Forsyth County Schools, GA.