Ah…2017!  We live in an age where we can order (and have delivered!) pretty much anything using a tiny (by historical standards) computer that we keep in our pocket.  We can fast forward through commercials, communicate live with people on the other side of the world, and robots can perform life-saving surgeries on our loved ones.  Why, then, do so many teachers (myself included, if I’m being honest) still teach the way they did twenty years ago?  

The assignment shown here on the left was taken from an algebra textbook published in 1898, while the one on the was assigned by my 8th grade daughter’s math teacher last week.  

Had I not mentioned which was which, one might confuse one with the other!

I won’t deny that in certain circumstances, rote practice like that shown above has instructional value when used appropriately.  However, considering that more than 100 years have passed, we must teach like it’s 2017. The truth is, our students deserve it, and so do we.  When planning your next lesson or learning activity, consider these EASY ways to move your instruction that moves the focus from teacher-directed –> student-centered.

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  1. Use Bitmojis!
    If you’ve received an email from me in the last 8 months, you’ve probably seen one of my Bitmojis:

    Bitmojis are a EASY way to engage students on a personal level.  Inserting this cute little cartoon that looks like you make what could be a yawn-ish assignment more fun.  Use Bitmojis to give directions, offer feedback, or simply to engage students in the task you’ve assigned.
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  2. Assign Fewer Problems
    This was tough for me!  I used to be of the mindset that more practice = mastery over time, but that only works if the students are being successful at their practice.  If I’ve finished a lesson over predicate nominatives and assigned 30 sentences with which to practice, my students are going to HATE it:  If they know how to identify a predicate nominative, asking them to do it THIRTY TIMES is excessive and disrespectful of their time, not to mention that I had to GRADE all of that stuff. The Bottom Line:  If they haven’t grasped how to identify a predicate nominative, they’ll be frustrated.  THIRTY TIMES.Instead of giving 30 practice items, for example, assign FIVE assorted practice items (as formative assessment), but give 10 additional items that students can use if they need to demonstrate that they have mastered the concept.  Using Google Docs can really ramp up your teacher-student feedback on assignments!

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  3. Allow Students to Make Choices
    Imagine that you’re planning your dream National Park tour with your favorite travel agent – Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Denali….the morning of your trip, you receive an email from your travel agent, and your itinerary is attached.  Rather than visiting the parks you’ve been dreaming of for years, your itinerary lists Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, and Death Valley.  What the what?????   You’re heartbroken.  You were invested in this vacation, but all of a sudden, you’re dreading it.  What about what YOU want?  It’s freakin’ HOT in the Grand Canyon.  You just know you’re going to HATE every minute of it.CHOICE is motivating and empowering for learners.  If your destination is mastery of skills, let students choose their route.  OR…you provide 3 – 4 ways to “get there,” and allow students to select one.  Or two.  Instead of assigning 15 problems in which students isolate the variable, let them choose 4 of them to practice with.  I used to allow students to select 5 sentences to practice with and then asked them to place a STAR beside the two they wanted me to use as assessment.  Or, instead of asking students to answer/solve a problem, give them an option to make a screencast of themselves explaining how to solve a problem that THEY created.white text here
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  4. Get Techie with It!

    Yes, using instructional technology CAN increase motivation and engagement.  HOWEVER, it should not replace your tried and true, solid teaching pedagogy.  Kahoot is fun, and the kids usually love it, but you know what?  MY teenagers come home saying “Kahoot is SO boring.  We do it all the time.”  Kahoot isn’t boring.  Boring lessons pushed through Kahoot are boring with bells and whistles.  Engaging lessons allow for collaboration, creation, communication, and critical thinking.  Effective assessment provides students with immediate, actionable feedback.  Hyperdocs (my particular obsession) , for example, are a WONDERFUL way to deliver your content, differentiate, engage, extend, AND assess.    There is no shortage of great tech to make this happen.Fortunately, you have a fantastic team of Learning Technology Coaches who can’t wait to help you integrate tech into your lessons!*Shameless plug:  We have a calendar FULL of summer tech training – we’ll see you there, right?*white text here
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  5. Let Go!
    This might be the most difficult strategy for bringing teaching and learning into 2017.   I can relate to the need, as a teacher, to be structured and organized, color-coded and scheduled to-the-minute.  It’s reassuring for both teachers (and students, sometimes) to know exactly how the day (or class period) will play out.  My students KNEW that every day, we spend 15 minutes on vocabulary, that when my music stopped (via automated timer, of course), we completed Daily Grammar exercises, and that after we finished our mini-lesson, they took out their book and Lit Notebook and we began reading/analyzing our literature.  My classroom ran like a well-oiled machine.  It would RUN ITSELF in my absence.  We analyzed, discussed, read amazing literature, laughed, and LEARNED.  It was, looking back, the glory days of my teaching career.  I wish I would have learned to let go back then.  We could have gone SO. MUCH. FURTHER, and learned SO. MUCH.  DEEPER.Our world – our students’ world – is NOT structured, labeled, or carefully color-coordinated!  The world is messy – not only chaotic jumble of choices and opportunities, but also layered with limits and rife with responsibilities.  
    We have to let go.

    If you’re like me, the very thought makes you light-headed.   However, because our end game is for students to learn how to teach themselves, we MUST allow them to exert some control over their own learning.    I love this article about releasing some of that control and moving towards student-centered learning. We should be learning WITH the students instead of standing in front of them.  Try some unconventional seating or grouping.  Let students write their own questions.  Move away from multiple choice!  Let kids CHOOSE what to learn next.  CREATE more, consume less!  Collaborate & share GLOBALLY!  Utilize Google Classroom!!Yes, it’s challenging, and yes, it’s daunting.  No, we won’t get it right the first or every time, and yes, they might see you sweat a little, but it will (ultimately) pay off.  Isn’t that what we teach our students?  To learn and try new things, to KEEP going, to fail forward?  Should we hold ourselves to the same
    So many of you already use these strategies in your classroom(s)!   Hats off to you!    If you’re hesitant (which is only natural – change is hard), try ONE and rock it out until you’re a pro, and then add another.  There is always, ALWAYS room to grow.I’d LOVE to hear about your challenges and successes!


Respect, love, and plain M&Ms to Alice Keeler, whose blog post inspired me to reflect on my own teaching!

5 Ways to Warp Speed Your Teaching Toward Student-Centered Learning