By: Jeannie Pascon
Director or Professional Development and Client Support and Grade 5 Teacher from CT
I have been writing this blog in my head since the end of August. It took a 5 day weekend for me to sit down and start to type it out… why? Because this year, 2020-21, I am a hybrid teacher in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. In my 27 years of education, often working long hours and through weekends, I don’t believe that I have ever worked this hard for this long, consistently and endlessly.
That’s 5 years as a young fourth grade classroom teacher, 4 years as a building level Technology Specialist, 4 years as a Unified Arts Teacher for Thinking Skills and Information Technology Literacy, a temporary gig as a district-wide Technology Specialist, 11 years as a Gifted and Talented Teacher, and 3 years as the full time Director of Professional Development and Client Support for Renzulli Learning. I’ve worked hard. I’ve worked long hours. I’ve worked weekends and spent summers seeking out professional development and redesigning curriculum. And for most of it, I was raising a young family, now grown. The past three months as a “hybrid” fifth grade classroom teacher has been unlike anything I have experienced before. I am exhausted. I feel you.
I find myself back in the classroom for a variety of personal and professional reasons. I am still working with my colleagues at Renzulli Learning in a consulting capacity and on special projects - when I can squeak in the time. Despite the exhaustion, I am very grateful for this classroom experience as it helps me to better remember the daily experience of our classroom teachers. In particular, I can more fully understand the ramifications and the differences of the variety of teaching formats we have this year: in person with masks and partitions, distance learning, and hybrid models. I am being indoctrinated to the myriad of technology platforms teachers are working diligently to implement and integrate. And woah. Just. WOAH.
Using Renzulli Learning in the Classroom
I get it. You are overwhelmed. One more thing is going to break you, if you are not already broken. I am THERE with you. And yet. And YET… I still feel in my heart that if we can open the door to a personalized learning environment where the students’ interests, learning styles, and expression styles drive the learning, we can provide something to our students that just may change their educational experience in astounding ways. And maybe - just MAYBE - make our own lives a little easier in the long run.
Right in the door in September, I Profiled my students with Renzulli Learning and gave them access to the Enrichment Database during their “WIN” (What I Need) time. A few students would get to it on occasion. They explored Virtual Field Trips and they posted in a Math Enrichment group the fun sites they were finding in the Math subject area. Only a few students would have this time available in their school day - which of course was blended into at home “Independent Learning and Enrichment” time - as many of them were struggling to get any work done at home and often playing catch up during WIN.
Week by week my amazing colleagues have been setting up plans for all of us to share in each of the subject areas. I have been doing my best to dutifully follow along with the Math, ELA, and Social Studies weekly plans. As anyone teaching hybrid knows, it is absolutely impossible to keep up with our distance-only colleagues. And in particular for Social Studies: the watching, reading, and answering questions just seemed like a hamster wheel to me. It brought me back to my early days of teaching with a textbook - read the chapter and answer the questions - only now with 21st Century Technologies. In my head I kept saying to myself… I know how to do this differently. With these 21st Century Technologies should come 21st Century Learning Skills. Even under pandemic conditions, I know I can engage kids better if I approach this with what I know about personalized and project based learning. I tried - not terribly successfully - to turn our Civics unit on government and the election into a PBL opportunity. I rushed into it without really preparing my students for it. A few of my go-getters successfully completed a project of sorts. It was a learning experience for them, and more importantly, for me.
So what’s next? I’m approaching our next unit more strategically. We have started building schema with a Search and Share on Native Americans by searching the RL Enrichment Database through their own results to share in a collaborative Group Message Board. As I more carefully plan this one out, I will share my strategies and the outcomes. I am considering starting up a monthly PBL webinar series - both to share how to design curriculum around a PBL experience and also to share offering students the opportunity to embark on a Passion Project - aka a Renzulli Type III Investigation. Send me a message on Twitter @JeanniePascon, DM is on Instagram at @RenzulliLearning, or on our FaceBook page @RenzulliLearningSystem if you’d like to see us make this happen!
Like I said - just MAYBE we can make our own lives a little easier in the long run. It has to be easier to teach kids who are engaged and excited to learn, doesn’t it?