It’s the beginning of another school year. You feel refreshed from the summer break and look forward to trying a few new things in your classroom. The first week of class you welcome your new students and get to know all about them before moving on to the long list of standards that need to be covered this year. The first week and month always seems great, and yet, by the end of the year educators are lost in student paperwork, parent communication, and teacher evaluations. Those students who were so great to teach at the start of the year have become a challenge.
As a young teacher, I was fortunate to attend a session led by Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer), an educator that I look up to. He talked about the innovative activities he created for students and how he got them involved in learning and asking deep questions. At the time, I was in the middle of the chaos that spring tends to bring, and my students were not excited about learning. I asked him the question, “Dan, how do you get your kids to be actively involved? My kids tend to sit there and complain about the hard work.” His reply was simple, but had a profound effect on me as an educator:
“What your students look like in September should not be what they look like in the May. You have a whole year to develop your classroom. It is hard work, and it will take most of the year.”
This quote was the seed from which ConquerED has grown. For the first time as an educator, I understood that learning was not simply the transfer of information, but the development of skills and strategies which students use to learn.
In order to understand the development of ConquerED itself I must first share a few pieces of the journey.
If you have not read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck, do it. Growth mindset is a buzzword in today’s educational world, but many often struggle when it comes to applying it to the classroom. To find success I have narrowed it down to answering these four questions:
- What specific language do you use to encourage growth mindset?
- How do we model the process for our students?
- How do we create a system that allows for a growth mindset?
- How can you demonstrate to students they are learning and growing?
Although all of these questions are important for creating a culture of growth in your classroom, I found that the most difficult of the questions was number four. If I speak of growth, demonstrate my effort toward improvement, and create opportunities for students to get better, but do not prove to students their efforts are paying off I will lose any buy-in I received. Working with my district, I developed solutions to answer the question.
Continuous Classroom Improvement
My first year of teaching, the idea of Continuous Classroom Improvement was brought to my district. It is defined as “a classroom in which the teacher and students partner to build and continually improve a system that focuses on learning” (Shipley). Within the classroom, there is a focus on three things:
- Frequent and regular evaluations
- Analyzing data from short cycle reflections
- Use of high-yield strategies
Teachers and students work together to create strategies that will help them learn clearly defined objectives, assess those objectives for understanding every week or two, and reflect on the strategies they used by studying the results. This process allows individual students, classrooms, and teachers the opportunity to use data to create conversations around improvement and the strategies needed to find success.
In short, it answers the question: “How can you demonstrate to students they are learning and growing?”
Like any new initiative, I was faced with the challenge of carrying this out, but more importantly, faced with the challenge of using it in a way that benefitted students. Below, you can see a few of my approaches:
In the end, I learned that being conscious of growth mindset goes a long way toward developing students, and tracking data with students can create beneficial conversations around improvement. My students were open to growth mindset, but they were still not active participants in the process. Our goals, our discussions, and our strategies were still mostly dictated by the few students that always volunteered, and the job of data collection and reflection was mostly on me. Although beneficial for students, it became another item on my to-do list that tended to overwhelm me rather than make my job more manageable.
Caught at the intersection of doing what is best for kids and what is manageable for me, I decided to break down what was necessary to make this process successful.
- Students need to be able to set individual goals and track their own progress.
- Students need to be able to create a learning strategy and reflect upon whether it helps them learn.
- Students need to be able to visualize their results.
- Quality visualizations allow students to meaningly reflect on their progress.
- A variety visualizations give students, parents, and teachers a more realistic idea of how well content is understood.
- Teachers must be able to use this process easily and the benefits must clearly outweigh the costs.
From these necessities we built ConquerED: an easy to use, reliable platform that allows students to set goals, track their progress, and reflect on the work they’ve done to get there. ConquerED allows students to see the effect of their effort, and it allows teachers the ability to monitor the progress of classrooms as well as individual students. Conversations take place in the classroom and in comments between individual students and the teacher.
ConquerED aims to make every classroom an environment focused on growth, developing the skills necessary to find success in the classroom and beyond. We hope that students develop their strengths, learn about their weaknesses, and develop the ability to set goals. We want to create a generation of students that push themselves to be the best, while teaching them the importance of the tools we use to get there.
We hope, too, that this becomes a tool that allows you, the teacher, the ability improve your practice. Just like students, we continue on the path of improvement, setting goals, being reflective, and trying new things. Try it and let us know what you think. If there is something that could be improved or you have an idea that would help students, please share it! We are on the journey with you, hoping to improve and be the best we can be.
Thank you for being an educator. Your work matters.