Presented by Abby French, History Teacher, Shenandoah County Public Schools; Patrick Hausammann, Supervisor of Instructional Technology, Clarke County/UnisonEDU/VSTE
Few things can have the power to change a classroom for the better like student centered learning. This conversation wit Abby French will give you insight into how to get started, what it looks and sounds like when its working, and examples of the benefits that come with this focus on students leading their learning.
Certificate of attendance form
Welcome all to our special session with Miss Abby French and amazing Middle School teacher from Virginia Abby if you would go ahead and take the helm here for a little bit and introduce yourself and let us know a little bit more about what you do okay well I am a sixth grade middle school teacher I teach us history at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock Virginia and it's a little background I feel like I've had to teaching careers really because I had for 5 years in before I had my own family then I was a stay-at-home mom to for kids for about 16 years and I've been back for about 6 now so really have feels like kind of these two different chunks of teaching and one was pre-internet right before the internet was brought to our schools and the golf course the second one it was like I got hired and here are 75 login so it's been a real a real transformation considering now we're doing everything remotely in this new reality were in so yeah that's kind of it for everybody in the education World recently and I know you just touched down at that you've kind of really merge two worlds together and I think as we've talked that it helps you kind of formulate the way you do a student-centered classroom which will be a big focus of Eliza first part of our talk and could you just tell us a little bit more how did you get started in that and then you have any tips for people trying to tiptoe their way in I do and I'm thank you for asking I kind of feel like my journey with student-centered learning has been a little bit of a perfect storm because it involves my experience as a mother with my own children as particularly one son and it involved also if my classroom is like a a learning laboratory then I guess I experimented and and really observed and watched what seems to be working the best for me and my students and where the growth that I see and kids is really connected to their owning their learning and creating a culture that is really rich and community and when those things kind of happen when you have curiosity and you have a student's passions involved and what they're learning or how they're showing evidence of their learning along with a safe nourishing kind of nurturing environment I think that the sky's the limit I seen it I couldn't agree more and I think this touches on something again we've talked about in that I have seen in some of your posts and things but maybe you can expand a little on kind of what you feel the connection is with SEL and SEL if we will student-centered learning there's a strong one so let me let me answer that and then I'm going to go back a little bit too where everything kind of started clicking for me and I'll say that my transformation happened when there was like this Synergy between my heart and my head when it comes to teaching and I think that's exactly what we are talkin about we talk about SEL and SEL because when you feel seen recognized valued I am the environment you're in when you feel that you have a contributing valuable voice as a student or as an adult really amazing things can begin to take off because I think that's something that innate late it's a it's a need and in a traditional classroom we spent a lot of time making kids fit a curriculum fit a schedule fit everything we put in in front of them they were expected to jump through the Hoops are expected to just to keep bending and bending and bending to meet but you know our side of things and I don't I don't work best like that I don't work best when I just feel like I'm continually trying to meet expectation please people make the grade you know that's not coming from a personal well that's coming from why my minute I want I'm a pleaser I'm an achiever I want to meet the mark but that isn't the kind of inspiration and commitment that I want from my kids for my students and it's not what I wanted from my own children and school I didn't want them just to be assessed on how well they lived up to everyone else's expectations and never tapped into who they are and what makes them tick and what they're interested in and so SEL comes into play when you create a community that values the members where it's safe to take risks and we're individuals actually no start really internalizing and believing that they have a valuable place there that their thoughts and ideas their impressions make a difference it lets them be comfortable not just playing the game of school if you will yes yeah you know that's that's really so crushing to always be playing a game right and for it not to really come from within and so that's that sell peace that student-centered peace starts to tap into kids driving their own morning you know I you think you hear about like with writing on Skype you know I want kids to offer their own stories but that isn't just in the writing you literally writing that means their own learning Journeys right I want them to really feel like there engineering directing it and I realized the challenge comes up I have it sounds all the time I haven't figured it all out but I have ways that seem to kind of start to you know meet in the middle a little bit but the challenges is that I have a u.s. history 1 curriculum 2 that here too you know it isn't just all what do you want to learn today folks but there are lots of ways that I can interest you in Jack and jacked Kids Choice and kids curiosity into what we're doing going back to the inspiration kind of where it like the heart and head thing I was speaking about for me with this with my own Learning Journey in this is that my oldest son from the time he was 7 years old was fascinated with telling stories and particularly wanted to write them or it was like before I could write so I was with always dictating to me all the time I had three other kids but it was constantly like sit down and I want you to type I'm going to tell you a story so we did that a lot but he has he's 20 years old in a while he's at home right now finishing out his second semester junior year from VCU but he has been telling stories through movie making filmmaking since about 8 years old he's passionate about it it's who he is and I didn't know what to do with it for a long time we are not in movie making family we have no connections so if you could imagine and a tiny little town you know Royal Virginia I am I have this 12 year old who has written an 80-page full length feature-length movie and he's hell-bent and determined that he is going to make it we don't even own cameras I think we did on a fog machine for special effects but I didn't know what to do with him I was desperate and at the same time he hated heated Middle School hated it the tested it he actually his school since the time he was in kindergarten we went in and out of public to private back to public it was it was really got retching and a lot of it was because Steven couldn't be Stephen in our system and occasionally he would hit and mix with this a fantastic teacher that would say that part of him and be able to support it and courage it at even just inquire about and a difference that would make for him I mean you know I worried all the time about him I'm worried about him emotionally how are we ever going to get out of Middle School much less high school and yet I knew I knew it was brilliant I don't want it to be that hard for kids you know and that is where that's where I want to do I want to do better for kids I want to see who they are that's the personal part of what got me stop being into this realm and I think that's really powerful is when we can bring in personal connections and I think what your your son is trying to touch on to is those stories and telling those stories has nothing really stays with someone really knew me better than a story that really hits and connects on that personal level you can get that story that as they say hit you in the feels stick with you and you're going to want to maintain that and I think unfortunately but hits a lot of our students is that downward buying that graph that we've all seen as far as creativity kind of encouraged and felt like it's encouraged by students dropping from kindergarten like a lead balloon one until they hit the high school side it shouldn't be that way I just can't be that way we have to do better than that one of the moment I realized how incredibly on how much leadership and initiative that kids can take that they that they are capable of was the experience with Stephen so on a particular morning the back back when he was saying here I was talking about when he was 12 and he's 20 now but eight years ago I remember find like getting them off to school in the morning which was just horrible and feeling so desperate like what what what can I do what can I do to help my son realize who he is realize his dream realize his desire feel like he had some agency and so did I say that I was going behind the scenes calling organizations I sat down and I did the whole search that morning on youthbuild make are you still making in Virginia and I got him signed up for like special class is over in Charlottesville they have a headache are you still making like classes courses that that would go on on the weekends so I like for 2 years I took him over to Charlotte so an hour and a half away for lessons or classes or whatever workshops one of the other things I did that morning was I called the Virginia film office and I said I don't even know what I'm I'm on the phone with Mike the director and hi I'm Abby front I have a 12 year old son that wants to be a filmmaker and I don't know what to do with them is there anything that you can help me with can you help me like putting in the right direction and I I said he's written this feature-length movie that he's determined to make and the sky starts laughing the director of the film off of Virginia film office starts laughing and he said it is are you Steven French's mom and I said excuse me and he said are you are you we talked about Stephen French and I said yes we are he's the one I'm looking at his application right now on my desk he's applied for a grant and I had no idea he never told me he never told us that he was doing anything like that he ended up getting awarded a special you know scholarship and but that to me that moment is steered in my mind forever and when I talk to my soon when I reach my own kids in school but I know what they're capable of they might not yet but but I know what they're capable of I am know what kids can do kids can lead incredible projects they can lead they need a lot of help in facilitating that they need a lot of connection with resources but there's so much passion in drive and kids if if we help help them realize that absolutely in it I think that touches on one of the places I was hoping we would get to you in this and that is a lot of times when you tap into student fashions in a classroom is truly kind of stood but it looks and feels different than a regular classroom for people kind of beginning the tiptoe into this and of course a lot of us at the time this will are are in remote learning but in the actual physical classroom in your experience what is different how does it look different how does it feel different end with that said what should people be okay with when they experiences different things well you have to check yourself on control issues I'll just say that because cuz I like I like orderly you know I like that I like the way it feels but if it's nowhere it's so surface and when you see a classroom or group of kids that are leading their learning I'll tell you there's an energy and I don't mean that in a like oh there's an energy I mean like there is an absolute genuine like just vibration and you feel it like you can't be near it and not know that it's just good and it's real and it's so authentic kids are in groups kids are working on their own some kids are concentrating and really in you know I'll focus on something they're looking up kids are making kids or talk in kids are DeYoung the interaction that I observe when kids are in that mode it's what we try to recreate but it's not real at least we try to do the pierrot look at we're going to do this year feedback right now I do a lot of that but when it happens on its own off that dick late it's just like nothing else and is more powerful so it's noisy but it's not behavior issues there's no behavior issues like like there are no behavior issues you might have to say hey is everybody working on that you know focusing but but not anything more than that not anything more than a I guess one of the biggest cells I would say to people is your behavior management issues will absolutely like decrease because kids are engaged in what they're doing very nice and I think we can kind of add to that too and just kind of keep going in that progression for a teacher in this setting how does that teacher usual change from what you would have seen in a traditional setting I guess if you kind of if you want to say that kids you're putting kids in the in the driver's seat of their a bear learning and a bear education or project or whatever they're learning then I guess the teacher becomes more of a mini like a travel agent or a tour guide you know like helping to facilitate with Reese resources or you know brainstorm a mini troubleshooting something but it's not the teacher directing it it is not teacher-directed it is student-directed it's student-led and and that's the biggest like I said that's the shift absolutely and I think that's where you touch on a to of letting go of control I think it's probably one of the biggest roadblocks to a truly Student Center room there a student-led learning from a traditional mine set a traditional teaching type of atmosphere is giving up that control in trusting that students will need it in a positive direction and nope OK Will Patrick why was just say on that that this happens every time like what I do a lot of project-based learning and I will tell you that I've seen this routine to cycle it feels like in those teachers listen to us that have done some of this time I bet you're going to relate it feels like it's so exciting in the beginning getting this thing going and and then everybody gets into it and you're moving along and you're setting goals and you know each day kind of goal-setting like what are we going to get done today I want my groups doing that and then no matter how much of that planning and I guess Scaffolding in some ways to make the project going there is always a day or a couple as you get closer and closer to your project deadlines where everyone including me is like he's not going to happen is there even going to be any I don't care if it's if I think every theater performance like if you are a better part of the Cass you know that is a director you know that there's always a day when you're just not sure it's going to all come together but literally that is part of this productive struggle and even if the outcome of the project is a fail and I fail I mean just that it may be doesn't need the marks in terms of what they wanted it to do not a fail in any other way it is still some of the most valuable lessons and learning and experience that you could ever Opera kid it's so valuable I'm on anyway the thing turns out there are it's so rich and much richer than turn to page 47 read the paragraph and answer some questions I would agree and I think that's really in my mind the reality of when a growth mindset or the concept of failing forward actually takes place where you can see it happen in the classroom is when you have students that you know you've structured your classroom it's gone the way that you wanted because they hit those roadblocks and they had that freaked-out moment or something or a project doesn't quite get done or it's not quite the way they want it and on their own they're like you know what I didn't get it yet but here pretty soon I'm going to know how to do this and I'm going to keep her want for it this isn't an endpoint I'm just going to keep going or what I learned is that I didn't I didn't use my time wisely I spent a lot of time planning a project but I didn't do a lot of carrying out or didn't allow my son in all of those things are really important right I mean why don't we want our kids to experience that now when we are there to help them walk through that experience I just think it's just so rich and I think that touches on the really good point to and I hopefully you can kind of expand on this Forest is what role does kind of helping students think about thinking more like that metacognition piece or routines or do you have some routines or kind of a a structure your kid's father really help this happen and work well because because everything is not everything but because so much becomes personalized and the direction they take can be really different that's there there's not necessarily a structure but I do would say that we go through a process of when I ask them what's a i we're studying Native Americans and I'll say okay first of all I think it's really important for kids to connect to our standards framework that's not just for me to see it's their learning so one of the things I love to do with kids and I started doing more this year is giving them exactly what the framework says and I'll say they'll can this is what the speed are Target's and these skills are the things that we need to be you don't compare and contrast analyze whatever how do you guys want to show me you're near Larned you can do it together you can do it individually and then we go through a process of them communicating with me taking time thinking reflecting and then writing like where they want to go with it setting goals I talked about that a second ago about that's a big part of it to what do you want to accomplish did you reach I found that to be so I did more of that this year than I have in the past and I think that that's something is really valuable and then a timeline I mean setting just like if I were planning a a PDL I'm going to have my calendar right the days that I'm letting certain pieces I want kids doing that they need to have a calendar they need to know now they need to be in charge of their thing and that touches on teaching them all kinds of things like time management and walk so that becomes a valuable lesson to but I have I've been really really interested in design thinking and if you are familiar with the pdsa cycle plan-do-study-act and very similar to that is a motto that I have borrowed that I have up in my classroom which is due reflect do better which is a kind of like that design thinking write the value of feedback in there for improvement is so vital and so that is a part of the structure and almost everything I do with my students I want them reflecting on their ass they're doing I want them doing history I want them reflecting on it and I want them to have time to get feedback to improve now Challenge and I don't I don't I don't have it all figured out at all it takes time like it takes a long time and you have to be pretty committed to you know kind of like or you can lose day and I and I get it like a lot of a lot of teachers teach on semester and like that's my one of the things I want to improve on is how to work that feedback cycle into my teaching are learning either self-assessment here student to teacher teacher to student but it takes a lot of time and so that's a challenge and I think and I cannot remember who said it but I have one of the clothes I've always liked is that kind of real learning doesn't really happen until reflection has happened and I think that is one of the most powerful steps of things even something like packaging a lesson in hyperdocs if you stopped short of that reflection peace and kind of bringing it back around and like you said not just it was a project of success with my creation the best thing that it could be but what happened along the way how was my process how was my time management those are all kind of those inner soft skills I think that are part of this that really help students not just in that lesson Earth activity but going forward as they start looking at higher level learning or jobs and things like that who sings keep paying it forward I think so too and I just feel like for so many uneven like last year I'm the meanest is how my thinking is changed over a year's time last year I have my kids do a big project I worked in Pier like Pier conferencing they gave some feedback to the kids to each other but I was like we've got a we got to keep moving we are getting we've got to keep moving I completely fell short I caused it I have not letting them take those improved like suggestions feedback and apply it if we don't give kids a chance to apply it then they don't they don't have the full Arc of learning and we stopped short of that I've stopped short of that so many times you know where they could have really really had their off a moment or stop the impact of being able to apply for for improvement can agree more and as we kind of get towards the ending part of this kind of this session and what I think is going to be part one of a and ongoing conversation could you share with us maybe some of those impactful either aha moments or some of those success stories that you had and I I know it's been a struggle and it's a lot of time to get it set but as people kind of work through that journey to make it happen can you kind of give them some of the lake that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow what what are some of the positives you see well I've seen students that for Behavior reasons or learning challenges that would not be successful in a traditional stance with braids or was sitting still and listening and doing the required daily you know work I've seen students just shine like truly Bill pride and who they are I've witnessed their classmates Embrace that in kids like that they don't another side of students that they haven't appreciated before a student that may not excel in note taking and organizing a notebook and interactive notebook in having what he or she needs might be an incredible We Video Editor you know or know incredible coding skills and can show us something so I've seen to me it goes back to that SEL piece where we talked about how important it is for a child for a human a human being to feel valued and to feel that they have a contributing voice place place so I think like I've had so many moments where I'm just it is it is a misty I kind of moment with my students think right now about a situation with a n e l l student last year she partnered with a good friend of hers and they very shy and reluctant to ever speak out and not share in class but they worked really well together the big day for this huge project that we were doing Kane and they had to present their pitch to our Shark Tank judges you can imagine you know for kids that already were kind of insecure about about speaking in public or public speaking that this in front of your classmates this was a big deck right on this particular day the partner didn't show up and my inner introvert just had it a small little Panic moment there for the student right exactly and the student that had was there had worked credibly hard over I don't know if it was a know what day this was but I know it was overnight or the weekend before to make some some props for their presentation so she had brought them to school she was ready in the partner doesn't show up and she said to me I like I talk to her privately I said you don't have to go today we can do it later we can wait until your partner's here and she said no I'm I'm going to do what I want to do it and she got up to do it and one of her friends who also was extremely shy and never volunteered to speak out wouldn't let her do it alone Anon partner jumped in to help a friend do the project and I just loved everything about that I love what it said I loved the risk-taking involved for both of them I just I just loved it that's the way that the class responded which was like a standing ovation and I was just really powerful so powerful really on things that we've talked about as far as that the truth a successful Student Center Learning Classroom to me does not exist without those SEL components and without that culture that those things all come together to build a typical traditional classroom that student would have jumped in to help where that standing ovation might not have occurred because that culture just isn't the same HIPAA creates a community and what kids start doing is there participation is not out of compliance it's not because of grade is involved or isn't involved it becomes really personal personalized and it's out of commitment to the whole they're just as overall I guess Community feeling that happens in that it when that when those things Mash one or not necessarily one but is there a set of things that you would like to kind of give people as far as where should they start if they haven't really done student-centered learning or tiptoed into SEL and built some of those connections are is there a couple resources you would Point them to any people where should they start out I would tell you to I would tell you to visit if you're on Twitter or or just even look up a Blog project 180 and it's my friend Monty syre and maybe we can include that in the show notes he is who who coined the term or the The Motto that I've borrowed do reflect you better he is he's like my my hero and it was reading his blog post that started to really you know Sync here and here with me and also couldn't help me frame everything I knew about is a mother and the and a teacher in the way I wanted education to work and the way I know it it needs to be for the kids sake why would say start their one of the best activities I implemented to build that culture to build that Community came directly from him it's the simple and he's a high school teacher this is a it could not be a more simple thing and basically almost on a I think he doesn't daily I do it a few times a week my classes begin with all of us sitting in a circle and doing he calls it smiles and frowns I call it wrote A Rose and thorn and kids have the opportunity it is not required we all sit in the circle we all give our attention to whoever speaking whoever's turn it is if they want to volunteer a positive or A negative going on in their life they can do that and again I take 6th graders so most of the time it's it doesn't it's it's within kind of a normal range of every now and then so you'll get someone that shares something really big a big worry and or a big celebration aren't you know something that's just that we have no idea what's going on in each other's lives kind of thing but to watch the empathy it feels sympathy you know and the watch that connect my students all of us actually not just one we're not we're people in there or not you know just a roll of teacher-student and that has been the number one biggest impact on culture and so much so and the kids loved it so much so that by the way kids can pass if they don't want to I don't have to share anything but when I have been either you're out of like if I have a substitute or something baby even asked to sub that they could do that because you know run it themselves with a substitute is there it's something that's really important they asked me we haven't done it in a couple days they asked me in fact I just was so excited one online on Wednesday last Wednesday I don't think the power of that safe place can be understated at any school level I know where mainly talking about middle school right now but the elementary side even high school kids the power of knowing how safe of a place the classroom is and should be I don't think and be understated especially with the impact that it can have fun learning and community that that classroom becomes exactly so that those two things I would say really are a good place to start and one last thing to leave it with kind of a two-fold thing of number one can you let us know where people can connect with you and then number two in our current world of remote learning is there a big opportunity or something that you see could be very powerful right now for people well I would love to connect with you you can find me on Twitter at a w French one and excuse me I would say that one of the topics that I've been really really interested in is this exploring going gradeless like how well does a grade how well does a grade an A or a percentage or Point really reflect and communicate learning is there a better way and it's brought me to this place where I really really have talked about it already value feedback I think feedback conversations with kids that's how I can tell that's their learning in talking with them and I think that assessment can really be a learning tool in and of itself but it doesn't have anything to do necessarily with a grade here we are now in this moment Patrick and distance or remote learning and most of us are many of us are are not graded we're not using grades as a way of assessing our students work reflection is a big piece right now so student self-assessment feedback between teacher and student such a big moment in time I feel like we have this opportunity right now to see the value in what feedback for improvement is really Kimberly be about I couldn't agree more at one of the biggest things I've been proud of across-the-board for a teacher's administrator students is the step-up in collaboration and communication that has happened in our current climate and the further kind of disintegration of the silos that are so typical of traditional education watching those kind of Fall Away in that feedback in that communication really start to step up and take the Forefront has been something I hope is not only powerful now but as I think you would agree we'll hopefully continue for it even as we're back face-to-face with our students and colleagues me to I don't think you could have said any better that's that's where it's at l a b thank you so much for your time and lending your experience to our brainstorming conference I think everybody will agree as they get to this point that you just made the conference that much more amazing so thank you very much and again I appreciate your time sincerely thank you
Randy Gross says
You guys work so well together! Impressive depth and breadth of thought and coverage on SCL. Lots of takeaways. Nice job!