Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Learning Notes: Stories in a Sea of Data

This week, as I was cutting down the remains of last summer's garden, I thought about how lucky it is that my classroom and my garden work as opposites. In June, as I am feeling the deep sadness of a vanished learning community, my garden eagerly clamors for attention.  In November, just when the summer garden is completely gone, my classroom "garden" of learners and excitement is entering full bloom.

And what a bloom it is! I have a class of students with lots of enthusiasm and ideas, and they have brought many interesting ideas. Clubs have been all the rage this year--kids love making sign-up sheets (of course, everyone who wants to join must be included), having club meetings at recess, assigning club homework, and then complaining when club members don't attend meetings. It seems that the process of making the sign-up sheet and making announcements to the class is the most exciting part of this. On the other side of the room, a group of students is making a play. Another student has taken on the task of writing the morning message each day, and another is writing a story. There are smaller moments, too--the girl who is making a PowerPoint about Greek mythology, the student who created a cupcake analogy to describe summarizing, the boy who is writing his own story for us to act out during reading class.

So the question arises of how to capture all of this activity. Even though I have 100+ data points on our standards-based report card, I cannot imagine turning any of these rich experiences into a number or a letter. They are more than that.

I found a way to capture the learning as I was browsing the Graham Nuthall Classroom Trust to see if there were any new newsletters. I've been fascinated by the work of Graham Nuthall ever since I worked on the Forest and the Trees book. In one of the newsletters, I read about the idea of Learning Stories. In early childhood settings, learning stories are used to describe and interpret the learning of young children. I was intrigued by these stories and wondered--how could I do this at my level?

Fortunately, I skipped around to another blog that answered my question. Learning Notes are a way to capture those wonderful classroom moments! I patterned mine directly off the example on the Blog of Proximal Development by Konrad Glogowski: three columns labeled Describe/Interpret/Next Steps. (Feeling in a decidedly un-technological mood, I handwrote mine and added some doodles before copying.)

I quickly made a binder to collect the Learning Notes. Then, I started looking around for what to write about. It didn't take long!

These are some of the quick little notes that I've written over the last two weeks. Will every student get a learning note? Not at first; I'm averaging only one per day. But I hope that these notes will help to create a culture of learning in my classroom. I'm still thinking about whether I want to display them (with student permission, of course) or keep them in a binder. In a time of year when I often start to despair a bit about the upcoming state testing, these learning notes help me to focus on the small moments that really matter. By the end of the year, my copy of the Learning Notes will be a wonderful memento of our classroom garden.

I finished December Homework! These were so much fun to write. I'm working to get the texts up over on Frolyc as well. Then, they would be available digitally for students with iPads with the free Activity Spot app. Write to let me know if you'd be interested in this!

I am deep in the Personal Narratives unit right now. Today we worked on adding paragraphs to a personal narrative--such an important topic for fourth grade writers!

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