Clarifying K-12 Student-Centered Learning Prep with Rocio Gonzalez

Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 36: “Clarifying Student-Centered Learning Prep with Rocio Gonzalez

On this episode of the Student-Centered World podcast, you get to listen in on a coaching session that I have with one of our “A Passion for Progress” teacher-students named Rocio Gonzalez. Rocio is a teacher of English as a second language right outside of Mexico City. She went through our course this summer of 2020. She saw the excitement behind students in their learning, couldn’t wait to get her hands on it in her own classroom.

But even though she went through the course, she did have some questions that are fairly common to help clarify to make sure this goes as smoothly as possible for her students. Today, I hope you get something out of listening in as well. And if you also have any questions when you’re finished, you can feel free to reach out and I am happy to help.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

Jenn Breisacher: All right, so in getting started, why don’t you just tell everybody a little about who you are what you teach where you live, all that fun stuff?

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, well, my niece Rocio Gonzalez, and I live very close to Mexico City. I am an English as a foreign language teacher. I teach at the elementary level in fifth grade. But it’s different from the way that the United States. I mean, kids here have a lower level of English. So, we’re taking things a little by little. I’m married. I have two kids. Well, not they are not kids, they’re teenagers and well, happy to be here.

Jenn Breisacher: Awesome. Yes. Our kids are always our babies, mine are nine and seven. And I tell them that all the time, the older one he’s getting into that, like too cool for school stage. And he’s like, No, I’m not a baby. I’m like, No, no, you will be my baby forever.

Rocio Gonzalez: Forever. Yeah, sure.

Jenn Breisacher: So, to give people who are listening, a little bit of a backstory, you are one of our Passion for Progress students.

Rocio Gonzalez: That’s right.

Jenn Breisacher: You made it through the course and then you had some common questions that I see just sort of tying together all the loose ends. So, we wanted to come together today and have a discussion about what the answers to those questions are, and try to help you fulfill what you’re trying to do in the classroom, you know, as thoroughly as we possibly can.

So, before we go into those questions, talk about your journey on deciding the course was for you. That you were trying to find that. That, that was the missing piece that you were looking for, that this is the direction you want to go in. Talk a little bit about teaching before you found the course.

Learning about Student-Centered Teaching

Rocio Gonzalez: Well, I think that as teachers, we always have a passion to go further, to learn more, to be updated with things that come up. I don’t know if it was on Instagram, or where I saw one of your posts. I actually don’t remember what it said, but it caught my attention.

So, I started paying attention to what you wrote to what you posted and the idea that the students are not the same today, as they were in previous generations, that they do not learn the same way totally caught my attention. I have already acknowledged that because I know. I mean, I learned in a different way. I used to sit still, I used to listen, I used to memorize, and it worked.

Jenn Breisacher: Good.

Rocio Gonzalez: But today, these same ways are not working. So, I needed to go further to do something else to learn something new. That’s why I thought this course would be good for me. The idea also that students are in charge of their learning that it’s not the mean teacher giving them a low grade. It’s because they didn’t comply with certain things that were asked of them. So, all of that I wanted to be integrated into my classes.

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely. And I think that’s one of the biggest, I don’t want to say misconceptions, but people have this idea that it’s always been done this way. Education has always been done this way, every generation says like, oh, that, you know, the young kids now blah, blah, blah. But Generation Z really, truly does learn differently.

They’ve lived in a technological world in one fashion or another their entire lives now, and they’re extremely passionate about things, but they need to want to invest themselves in what they’re doing. So, if they’re not excited about something, they’re just going to move on to the next thing because their attention spans are so short compared to where students have been in the past, or even people have been in the past.

It used to be, I forget the exact years, but in the early 1900s, the average person’s attention span was like 20 minutes, somewhere in there and now it’s eight seconds. Because we’re so used to this pop-up and this app, and this is on the TV.  It really just changes how the brain is wired and structured.

That’s why this method really does work well for them because it makes them interested and then they start learning by accident, which is what I like to call it because they just think that they’re enjoying what they’re doing, and they don’t realize that they’re actively taking in the information at the same time.

So, I think that that’s a really great point that is missing a lot of times because people don’t realize where the disparity is and why they’re not learning the same way as previous generations had for sure. So, I believe that we had talked a couple of times on Instagram. So, that was probably where we had originally found one another.

Rocio Gonzalez: That’s when I learned about the Passion for Progress course.

Jenn Breisacher: Got you.

Rocio Gonzalez: I thought about it for over a week because you know, it’s an investment, definitely. But in the end, I decided it was for me, and I don’t regret it.

Jenn Breisacher: Well, that’s good to hear. An investment piece is always huge because we know, as teachers, we’re not making millions of dollars or anything like that and it’s hard to invest. But when we think about people who go and get a cup of coffee every day, or they go out and grab some lunch every day.

If you stop doing that for just one day a week, you can invest in your career, that’s going to change everything you’re going to enjoy being in the classroom again, and your kids are going to be engaged and your supervisors are going to want to know what you’re doing, and your stress level just goes down because it just all adds up together.

A lot of schools do have programs where you can get reimbursed for professional development, or they’ll pay it right upfront. Not all but a lot do. So, it’s just a lot of different options to look into to try to figure out that financial piece. So, you made it through the course and the whole concept behind the course is as you work yourself through, you’re actively planning either a lesson or a unit, and then when you’re done, it’s ready to go,

Rocio Gonzalez: I listened to everything, I read every article, you included. I am excited about it, I do want to implement it but when I started to implement it, it didn’t work so well because well as anything new, you make mistakes. So, I try to do it. Since it is English as a foreign or a second language, they need to acquire many different things. It’s not just like history and talks about a whole topic and everything around it.

Here books are designed in a way that they do talk about a topic. In this case, my first unit is about life experience. But I think I didn’t get the idea of developing my activities around that big topic. I tried to do a review in the beginning for especially grammar things that kids need, parts of speech.

So, I tried to do a video for nouns, a video for pronouns, and the activities that follow. So, I was just going crazy. That’s when I asked you because I do not want to just let it pass by. I think that I can find the key way to really get this right. So, that’s why I’m here.

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely. So, with your particular situation working with ESL, is it more conversational and what you want the students to be able to achieve, to be able to have the conversations, or is it more written, or is it like a combination of both?

Rocio Gonzalez: A combination. Yes.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay. I mean, does the way that your curriculum is structured does it incorporate all at the same time or can you maybe do the speech part first and then bring in the writing aspect later? How does the curriculum work itself through?

Rocio Gonzalez: I think it does come by parts, it tries to build upon itself, like giving them some structure first, and then asking them to use it in a certain way.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay, and then what technology do you have access to in the classroom?

Rocio Gonzalez: Well, right now I’m teaching remotely at home and I have tried to use different sites. It has been difficult, because kids, even though they use certain apps or certain technology, they don’t really use everything.

That’s something that I have learned in this time also because I think that we, as adults assume that young kids know everything from technology, and they don’t. So, we have been learning how to use certain sites, learning how to turn in the homework, because sometimes they turn in the task and it’s empty, there’s no file.

Jenn Breisacher: Of course.

Rocio Gonzalez: So, they do have access to technology but there are certain things that we have to work on. Also, for example, many students work on a computer or a laptop, but others work on the tablet, and it’s totally different on a computer or on a tablet. So, we have been dealing with all these issues plus the stress that everybody has plus parents peeking over watching what’s going on during the class and students being shy, etc. It’s a whole lot of things.

Jenn Breisacher: It’s a lot of things and I mean, we’re in October right now, when this is being recorded. It’s hard. As much as we think that we figured it out in the spring and we planned for it more in the fall, it’s still difficult. You bring up a really good point about the students and technology, they pick up tech really quickly but there is this idea that if you put it in front of them, you don’t have to model it for them, or you don’t have to walk them through it, they can just figure it out.

They pick it up, but they can’t just figure it out. So, that’s a big piece that it’s a very common issue because a lot of teachers just think.

They’re really tech-savvy so they’ll get this, and they will, but you might have to model it for two weeks before they remember which button to push or where things go or you know, any of the issues that we can all rattle off because it’s certainly a thing. That’s why I try to push in the course, certain apps that I know are very successful, because one of the main things that you want to do for you is to figure out what programs are going to work best for your curriculum, your students, and you find are user-friendly, both for you and for them.

So even though there are a bazillion different things out there that you can use, you have to try to figure out what do I want them definitely to be using and to have and to understand. So, I think a great option for you, if you haven’t used it yet, is Flipgrid. Have you used that one?

student-centered teaching

Rocio Gonzalez: Not yet.

Jenn Breisacher: Okay, so I know a lot of foreign language teachers or ESL teachers are using that program a lot because it can be very conversational. So, you can say to the students this is your prompt, and then they record themselves and then it goes right into this nice, neat little platform that they have access to, and they can respond to one another in there or it can be where you’re just able to see what they put in there and they can have that. They could be answering prompts. There’s a part where they can type in answers.

So, maybe you can have it, I’m not obviously 100% sure what your curriculum is. But you can say talk about this and then ask a question of your classmates. Then maybe the classmates have to go in and watch three different videos and answer whatever the question was that they came up with. Then you can be looking at their grammar and all of that from there, and then build upon it.

So, I think when you originally go through the course and try to put it all together, you try to do all of it at one time. So, you try to do all of the content pieces and the activity pieces and everything. Instead of making it all work together, you are trying to make them individual pieces of their learning journey. So, you want to make it more where everything builds off the last piece and it all interconnects in one way or another.

So, you’re starting off with content, and you want to do a little video or a podcast or something that they can do in their time. Edpuzzle, I love my Edpuzzle it’s a great thing. You can even get videos that are already made. You don’t have to make your own and you can find them on exactly what topics you’re looking for.

There are questions embedded right in them, and they can answer them and then once they’re through that, well, maybe then they can move on to the Flipgrid or something else that teachers are having really great success with right now is creating breakout rooms. A lot of the teachers that are doing hybrid, so if they have kids in the classroom and out of the classroom, they’re doing this so they can still work together.

But you create groups of students and it can be based on where you feel their levels are, or maybe where their interests are, or whatever that’s going to get a really great conversation going and put them in these rooms. So, on Zoom, you can make them where you like, press a button, and they all break out on Google Meet or Google Hangouts. You can just make the different groups.

As the teacher, if you want to be monitoring all of them at the same time. If you have multiple groups, and you have multiple pieces of tech. That seems to be the only workaround right now. I think they’re working on trying to make that a little bit more accessible that you can flip through the different places. But if you had like a tablet, a computer, and your phone, I don’t know, you can have each group open so you can see what’s going on or you can just pop in and out which is sort of how I always did things.

But you have them in there, you can say this is the topic, let’s talk about it and then they can have a writing response to the conversation, or what was the most interesting thing that you talked about. It doesn’t have to be 100% content-driven.

So, it can be, but you don’t have to be saying, okay, I want to make sure that they are this many verbs or this many nouns or whatever the process is. Just have them going through, make prompts that are silly, make things that are funny that they’re going to laugh about, and get really excited about or engaged in.

If there’s a TV show you know they all watch, or I’m just rambling off things. But you can pull them and find out what’s your favorite TV show, or who’s your favorite singer or what’s your favorite board game. There are so many different things, and then group them based on that, and then say, we’ll talk about it.

Different things will engage them but that’s where that accidental learning comes in. So, they’re now doing something that they think is just ridiculous and fun but you’re sitting there and you’re also paying attention to okay, you know what it looks like they’re struggling when they get to this point here, or it looks like they need a little bit more work on this aspect of it. Then when you build your next lesson, you could focus on that part.

So, you might still be doing the conversations, or you know, the writing or the activities or the simulations that you find online, but you’re tweaking it to what the students need to be doing and what they need to be focusing on a little bit further.

Sometimes you have to break them into groups based on that. So, say you have the groups, and you listen through and these four kids really struggled with punctuation, I don’t know. You can make them in the next group together and what you’re giving them is you’re having them focus on that key piece.

So, every kid is sort of doing what they need to do the most, but they don’t realize that you are taking the reins and making sure that they’re you know, zooming in on what they’re struggling in, or they might not even realize they’re struggling in but you as a teacher, obviously, were able to pick that up.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, so you would do this when you have already had some time with them when you know them a little bit. That’s the way that you group them like these kids need to work on sentence structure and these kids need to work on speaking and such and such?

Jenn Breisacher: After you’ve been working with them a little bit? Absolutely. In the beginning, as I said, you can be asking crazy polls or anything that just groups them to get them interested, and then as the teacher go in and say, Okay, this child definitely needs more on this, this child needs more on that. Even if you’re using like an Edpuzzle, and you see these kids really struggled on question three.

You could put them together to work with them on something for that. Maybe all the students struggled and you’re like, okay, if this is the concept that it seems like most of them are struggling in, maybe we’ll pull out a different activity that can focus on that. But it’s helping you differentiate for every single student because you’re able to see in real-time most times what the struggle is and where you need to go.

So, if you look at a traditional curriculum and planning out lesson plans, you say we’re going to learn this on this day and then this on this day and this on this day. But there might be kids on the second day that don’t really need to focus on that because maybe they already know it whereas there are other ones that have no idea, no concept of what that is. So, as you’re breaking them down and moving them forward, you’re seeing who needs more help where, and you’re able to give them that extra instruction.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, that doesn’t have to be done in everything right?

Jenn Breisacher: No, not at all.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, because that’s where I feel very pressured, I just don’t have the time to differentiate activities for every day. What I have been working on right now is, giving them the base knowledge. I’ve already done it with videos, and they are getting used to that way of working.

Jenn Breisacher: Sure.

Rocio Gonzalez: But I mean, for every day, for me, it’s impossible, at least at this point to make the breakout rooms and differentiate. So, I am taking it little by little. At the end of each unit in my curriculum, there is a project. So, I was thinking about making the choice boards point. We already have one activity, where I gave them a very, very small choice board, it had only three options, but they loved it.

They went crazy about it and I did also along with them, because when I saw how excited they were about it, and the beautiful things that they came up with it, I was totally out of my senses. My kids told me, my son and daughter told me what was going on with you today, you were shouting. I was like, well, I was super excited to see what my kids were doing.

Jenn Breisacher: No, absolutely and that’s the beauty of it. See, the great thing about choice boards or just giving students choice in anything. It’s the same thing we all did with our children when they were little Do you want to wear the blue coat today or the green coat today ad I use this analogy all the time. It doesn’t actually matter what coat they’re wearing; you’re just making sure that they’re wearing a coat, but they think they got to pick and therefore they were in charge.

When you’re coming up with your choice boards and whatever activity, you’re still deciding what the kids are going to be doing. You’re still deciding what they’re going to be learning and what their objectives are and what they’re going to be accomplishing but they think like, oh, I get to pick, I get to do this. You have kids that are more artistic, or they like to read more, or whatever, and they’ll gravitate toward the assignment that is teaching them the same thing as everybody else, just in a way that appeals to them a little bit more.

I can’t agree with you more, a lot of times when a teacher will assign a project, the expectation is, they’re all going to be pretty much the same thing like little variants here and there, but it should be pretty much the same. When you give them that choice number one, it’s so much more fun for you to agree because you’re not getting the same thing over and over again. But number two, they do surprise you.

They come up with stuff that you as an adult might have never even considered and it’s something that you could make into a project again, into the future because this kid came up with a great idea that if they hadn’t given that to you, you would have never even known that that was an option.

So that’s fantastic. It all ties together with what we were just saying. So, I was going with the breakout rooms, then you mentioned the choice board and I said the Edpuzzle. I don’t want to say there’s no rhyme or reason because that just sounds like woo, but there’s no right or wrong way to do this. So, as you start dabbling in activities, as you start trying different things, you’ll find out what your kids go crazy for and you’ll find out what’s just super successful and what helps narrow down the information for them.

There are so many games out there and simulations and stuff that you can just do a quick Google search. I always say look up the content that you’re looking for, and game or activity or project or whatever. You can always adapt it to what you’re looking for, for them to be able to achieve. That’s why in the course, we talked about backward design so much because it’s what do you want them to get now. What can get them there? How much time do I have to get them to that spot?

It’s always difficult in the beginning because it’s something new, you’re not in your comfort zone, the kids aren’t in their comfort zone and as teachers, we are all some level of a perfectionist, that as soon as it seems like a lesson is not going the way you saw it in your mind you’re like I can’t do this anymore. This obviously isn’t working. It’s like it’s broken. I did it wrong and it’s not. It’s just everybody adapting to the process.

I always laughed and said, it’s more like the stages of grief. I taught high school history and the kids would come in and I would say listen, I’m never going to show you a PowerPoint presentation and I’m never going to lecture to you and you’re never going to take notes. You just saw their brains moving around in their heads like are you kidding, this is fantastic. They think this is history because that’s what you do in a history class traditionally.

As they start going, you get kids that start getting angry or upset, because it’s like, we have to do something in this class every day. Why do you have us moving? Why do you have us talking to each other all the time? Can’t we just sit back, and you tell us the stuff. It’s like, no.

But then all of a sudden, you see this tipping point of like, another kid buys into it, another kid buys into it, and then all of a sudden, all the kids understand you come in, there’s going to be something crazy waiting for you that day, you never know what’s going on. They love it, and they get excited. I’ve done crime scenes in my classroom; I’ve done pen pal experiences. That might be something that you might like to look into, as well.

There’s a website called ePals. I think I might mention that in the course. But you can find teachers all over the world that are looking to connect with students, you know, whatever grade level or whatnot, to do a similar project as you are to have just conversations or whatever. So, I did multiple different pen pal experiences based on the units that we are in. So, I mean, I did a really fun, fun is not the word I’m looking for.

I did a great project once with a class in Germany, comparing World War Two, in America and in Germany. I actually learned so much out of it, because you think Germany during World War Two, and you think Nazis and Adolf Hitler and all this, but this particular school was from the eastern side. So, their whole viewpoint that they got from their grandparents and everything was how the Russians came in and Russians, they destroyed.

That was their reality, and we just think we would pop over, and they just had a very different perception of what the atrocities of the war were. So, it was absolutely fascinating. But I just went on ePals and I messaged a couple of people that were there saying, hey, do you have any interest in doing this? One teacher was like, this sounds fantastic. Sure. It was great and I did a letter-writing project.

I did a couple of different ones but one, we did ancient empires and we discussed why they all fell. Then we had kids write letters to the President of the United States saying, listen, we shouldn’t do the things that we’re done here, or here or here, if we want to stay strong.

I sent them to the White House, and we got a letter back from the president. I mean, it was a form letter. Sure. But it had the official White House seal on it and everything, which is totally cool.  It’s just little things that you think outside the box because again, as teachers, we think so this is the curriculum and we need to make sure that we are doing know the worksheets, and the readings and the stuff that we were all taught how to teach.

But when you think of this generation that was in our classroom, and you think outside the box just a little bit they come in and just get so excited for whatever it is that you had waiting for them, because they never knew what was coming.

Rocio Gonzalez: Yeah, that sounds awesome, actually. So, it’s like trial and error, right?

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely.

Rocio Gonzalez: You try something, you teach it to the kids using a site or something, then you try the super activity that you thought of, and if it works, good, you continue working on that. Maybe you have to tweak it when you have a different class.

Jenn Breisacher: Right.

Rocio Gonzalez: Also, you don’t have to do everything at the same time. You have to use all the wonderful sites or apps that are out there at the same time, it’s just little by little, right?

Jenn Breisacher: Yes, you have to just try to figure out what do I want them to be able to accomplish and what’s the best way for me to have them do that. You don’t have to have them… Okay, we’re in a new unit so we’re going to do the breakout rooms, and we’re going to do the… You’ll find a group that works for you. I always had my kids start with an Edpuzzle. Before we would start a unit, I would give them about a week and say make sure you watch this for my regular level kids. It was always a 10-minute video.

For my honors kids it would be a 40-minute video, but they had to go through it just to get the content knowledge before we started. Then it was very project-based or hands-on or simulations or games or whatever to work them through understanding the content that they had gotten during that flip of the classroom further.

That’s one of the things that I try to explain. When you do flip your classroom like that, it saves you more time because the traditional method is you teach the students the information, you send them home with some type of homework. When they’re doing the homework, that’s usually when they have the most questions. So, either they end up not doing the homework, or the homework is not done well.

Then they come back in the class and they have questions, and you have to revisit what you had already done to help verify that. When you do the flip, they’re learning that content before they see you. Then once they see you, they have all of the questions, and you have all the activities already to help answer those questions.

So, it’s more time-efficient to do it that way and the kids learn more because it’s not this back and forth constantly of trying to make sure that they’re all on the same page. Then you have the kids that don’t ask questions and if you’re actively teaching all the time, you don’t have that time to interact, reverse with them, to find out what’s not really sticking.

So, when you flip it all around, you’re able to find out from each kid where they are, and what they understand or don’t understand. You could have a quick three-minute conversation with a student that makes everything makes sense for them. But if you didn’t know, they needed that little talk, while other people were doing something, how would you ever know?

Rocio Gonzalez: Of course, okay, and I did have an experience like that already, like giving them their video answering the questions. The kids who did the homework got to play and the kids who didn’t I took them to a different link a different room, and they had to do their work.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Rocio Gonzalez: I did hear one of them saying, ah in the other room they’re playing.

Jenn Breisacher: Exactly. It’s what I like to call positive peer pressure because they want to be able to do the fun thing that everyone else is doing. Another thing I explained in the course is if they’re doing the flip, that is that basic content knowledge that they need to know from the curriculum, everything else is just adding to that.

So, if they do nothing, but the homework if you will, they’re still going to know the same information they need to know. It’s just when you’re in the classroom now doing all the games and the playing and all that they’re learning more than would necessarily be required.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, so yes, I’m trying to put all the pieces together, because you know, that also in schools, the principals, the authorities ask you to do certain things. You have to fill out the books. So, every single exercise has to be answered in the activity book.

So, I am trying to put all these things together giving time to do fill out the books, because I am required to. I am thinking of using first the videos to give them the base content and or some of the base content, maybe not everything, because I’m learning to do this.

Jenn Breisacher: Correct.

Rocio Gonzalez: Students are too. Second, having these choice boards, the special one at the end of the unit. I hope that appeals to students. They try it because we haven’t gotten to the end of the first unit. That gets them excited to go through all the other things during the unit to be able to have these fun activities at the end. Okay.

Jenn Breisacher: Absolutely. That’s always how I would do things. So, I would give my students a schedule on the very first day of every unit. It would break down the different things that we would be doing the different pieces that we would be talking about. Then there was a calendar aspect in there that said this is going to be the day of your test or this is the project that we’re going to be working towards in the end.

It just sort of depended on that particular unit, how I wanted to word it, but they always knew what we were going to be doing, and what the end goal was going to be. They might not know that I was going to have a murder scene set up in my classroom as a crime scene that they had to investigate but they knew on Wednesday, the 24th, there was going to be a simulation in class.

So, they had an idea and that does take a little bit of pre-planning to make sure that you know where you are as well. But I always found that helped me because then I didn’t have this constant oh, what am I going to do tomorrow? Well, where are we going with that? People, lesson plans whatever your school requires maybe a week in advance, but I always found it easier to plan out that whole unit and that way, you know, the kids know.

If they come in and they say hey, I’m not going to be here on this day, this day, this day what do we do? Sometimes they don’t even have to ask because it’s already on their calendar and they know. Another piece of that, that I just wanted to mention worksheets and you know your workbook like you’re saying and everything. That’s not always a bad thing.

A lot of times when I had lower-level students, I would start out with a unit and I would say listen, the first three days here we’re going to be doing different… I would try not to say like different worksheets, but ultimately they would be different worksheets. I would give them a choice on when they did them. I would give them a list and I would make a chart saying okay this particular assignment and I wouldn’t say worksheet, I would just name it by assignment.

So, this assignment you have to have done by Wednesday. If you get it done on Monday cool, then you can move on to a different one. This assignment here, you can’t start that one until Tuesday but then you have until Thursday to get it done.

So, I would figure out how many days I wanted them working on different things in class. That way, number one, nobody was really getting ahead of anybody else because I had it marked out with how long I thought it would be taking them. But if kids got done faster, they could move on. I gave enough time that kids normally didn’t need more time to continue. But that was something if I noticed that none of the kids were done with something I would say, alright, you know what, let’s switch it around a little bit.

You guys can have an extra day or take it home for homework. I didn’t normally give homework other than when I was flipping stuff. But you just really have to be in touch with what’s going on with your students if they’re struggling with an assignment to try to figure out why. Do you need more time? Is it not quite what they needed at that point? Was it too advanced? Different pieces of it. So, you can always start out with the workbooks.

Okay, we’re going to start with the video on your time, and then when we come in on Monday, or we sign in on Monday, we could be working on these books. You could have them working in groups. They could be doing things individually if you’ve been going through them the whole class. Especially, you always have to make sure that you’re doing what your school requires 100%.

But I always said to my kids sometimes we have to get through the boring stuff before we can get to the fun stuff. Then those levels where I couldn’t just jump right into a project, I’d say okay, the next three days, we’re going to be going through some of the boring stuff, so these are the things that you have to do. As soon as they feel like they have control over choosing when they’re going to be doing stuff and where.

I’m a big promoter and flexible seating, which obviously right now is not a thing so much during the Coronavirus. But my kids would come up and I would already have stacks of worksheets just in a spot in my room and they would come and pick whatever one they wanted to do.

Then they’d go sit on the yoga balls or sit on the pillows that I had or sit at a desk, whatever worked for them and they would just get to work. I’d always have music playing in the background as well. With history, US history Anyway, you can cheat because you can go by decades.

So, here’s music from the 40s. Here’s music from the 60s and I would always have that going on. It was a little bit harder when you were in world history and you’re like so from the 1400s… But in those cases, I would have kids vote what’s your favorite genre of music, and I would try to find a Pandora playlist that was edited and clean because some of their choices in music are not appropriate.

But I would have that playing. So, it would just give them a little bit, something extra that was fun, and it kept them more engaged because their minds weren’t wandering as much when they were excited about what we were doing.

Rocio Gonzalez: The key here or one of the keys is choice, that they get choice. Of course, you are controlling things and you are checking that everything goes forward. But to give them choice gives them a sense of belonging. They own something and that they can decide on something and that’s important to them.

Jenn Breisacher: Correct. I mean, you are still 100% in charge in the classroom. You are 100% still dictating everything that goes on in that classroom. Another misconception people hear about this, they’re like, oh, you have no control. It’s weird. What is the teacher even used for? You just can sit there and read a magazine. It’s like, well, no, there’s a lot of different pieces to that. You’re actually still very much more engaged than you would be.

But yeah, making them have that feeling that they have the options, and they have the choice, and they can do something that they want. In one assignment I had, they had to create a museum exhibit for one of the topics. They all had different pieces of one overall topic. I said you can build it however you want. They’re like, well, what does that mean?

I’m like if you want to draw it if you want to make it with popsicle sticks if you want to build it with Play-Doh if you want to go on Minecraft and do it. I don’t care. Just make sure and I remember the one kid, I mean in high school. They should be past the Minecraft stage but blew his mind. Seriously, I can go on Minecraft and I can build this. I said absolutely bring in your, he didn’t own a tablet. I’m going to bring it in tomorrow you can work on it and he was so excited to build his little replica on Minecraft. His other classmates joined in.

I don’t understand how it works. My kids play but I don’t get it. You can find each other on there and go on and build together and they thought it was great. But at the end of the day, they’re still all showing the information that they need to be showing. They’re just doing it in a way that they like.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay, yeah, also I remember before I knew all about this student-centered classroom. But still, they had to do a presentation about something I don’t remember. But the point is that they saw I think I put a sticker with my Bitmoji. One of the students asked can I make my presentation with Bitmoji? Yeah, sure, go ahead. It was really good for her because she did get engaged.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah. I’ve done video assignments before, instead of in-class presentations where they have to film it on their own and then watch them together as a class or something. I had one girl that was a selective mute, did not speak in class and it was fine, but they made it like a TV show. So, they did commercials, and this girl went to Target and it was Halloween time and was putting on costumes and was doing the commercials for them. 

We had never heard her speak before, but she was in her element doing that and everyone was so excited because we were like, oh my gosh, it was so exciting to have her engage with that. Then one time I get a video documentary and every person had a different event from the war. I ended up bringing them all in and then I edited it and put it all into one giant documentary and we sat there in class and went through it and they had to do voiceovers explaining what was going on and it explained the entire thing.

So, they all would get excited like, oh my part’s coming up or, oh, they would hear their friend’s voice be like, oh, that’s so-and-so. It engaged them so much more than if I had actually shown them a 40-minute documentary on the same thing that they created themselves.

Rocio Gonzalez: So, it’s also, as you say in the course, it’s a mind shift beginning with the teacher because yeah, we are so used to the worksheets that we can’t think of anything else. I see that it’s really important to make these connections with the real world, of course, in a controlled setup. Well, I think I have a lot of homework.

Jenn Breisacher: When I first started Student-Centered Learning, I wish I could go back and just apologize to all of those kids. It was a good two years where I didn’t get it and there was nothing out there that explained it. Our administration was just saying do it but wasn’t giving us any guidance. So, my mentality was, well, if I give them the worksheet then they’re doing it on their own and I’m not telling them, so that must be student-centered.

I think I had at least an entire year where I was just like, okay guys, come on in. Here you go. I didn’t realize that them doing busy work is not the same thing. I mentioned in the course, it took me five years to really nail down this system that worked for whatever level I used it in my highest flyers and my lowest low. I would, you have to tweak it for sure every time.

You might have a project that goes beautifully four years in a row and then all of a sudden you have a group of kids come in and you’re like, this is not going to work for them.

You might still be able to use the concept, but tweak it a little bit, maybe add in some more worksheets or more videos or a different choice board or something. But that’s one thing that you just have to be very conscious of as you’re going through is making sure that it’s not just you that’s saying something is going to be fantastic. The kids will also be excited about it. Sometimes stuff flops. It does.

I’ve had my share of stuff that I tried out and I’m like, oh, never doing that again and it just doesn’t work out but that’s teaching unless you’re just standing in front of them lecturing every day. But even then you find out sometimes that flops when the tests come back, and they are not what you thought they were going to be.

So, teaching is constantly making sure that what you’re doing is working for your students just when you’re in a more traditional model. So, it takes time, it takes a lot longer to realize that it’s not.

Rocio Gonzalez: I feel much more relieved.

Jenn Breisacher: Good.

Rocio Gonzalez: Yeah. By knowing that I don’t have to do it all at the same time to get it right. That I can go little by little trying this, trying that, and just learning this. It’s a totally different thing from the way I learned and probably from the way I learned how to be a teacher. I think it’s totally worth it. So, I’m in for it.

Jenn Breisacher: Good.

Rocio Gonzalez: I’m sure I will have more questions.

Jenn Breisacher: And that’s fine

Rocio Gonzalez: But for now, I’m, I’m good. Thanks a lot.

Jenn Breisacher: Oh, you are so welcome. Again, you can find me on Google. I’m there on Instagram. We have our Facebook group ask questions, especially other people that are doing the same thing. Anytime you have questions, you can certainly feel free to ask.

Rocio Gonzalez: Thank you so much, Jenn.

Jenn Breisacher: You are welcome. So, if anybody wants to come to find you to see, maybe there’s another ESL student or teacher out there, that’s trying to piece all this together. What would be the best way for them to contact you?

Rocio Gonzalez: I think it would be probably my email which is bendickson@live.com.mx. I really appreciate your time. I really appreciate that you are so close to people and willing to help. Really I would’ve never thought that the owner, the developer, of course, would be interested in answering my questions. So thanks a lot.

Jenn Breisacher: Again, that’s why I do this. I love the classroom. I started doing workshops in person and I really liked doing them. I realized I could have a reach on so many more students than just the ones that I had. So, that’s why, you know, I talked to some of my coworkers. They’re like, you need to do this. You need to just go and do this and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying talking to other teachers, especially during this time.

Rocio Gonzalez: I think it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Jenn Breisacher: You too. And again, if you have any questions moving forward, feel free to ask. You’ll probably wind up having another tier of questions. We can do this again. It’s fine.

Rocio Gonzalez: Okay. Great. Great. Thank you so much.

Jenn Breisacher: Awesome. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Rocio Gonzalez: You too. Thanks. Bye.

Jenn Breisacher: Bye.

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After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at studentcenteredworld.com/about

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