This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Stephanie McKenzie
A little less than a year ago when I was asked to become a member of The Fluency Project, I was hesitant and unsure of the overall purpose or concept of the project, but I was at a point in my teaching career that I felt I needed to make some adjustments. I had been in the field of education a little less than 11 years. Five of those years were spent in Special Education classrooms and 6 in a 2nd grade classroom. Frequent reflection of my teaching practices had me questioning the direction that education in general and my teaching were heading. Was I providing my students with the skills they needed for their future? Was I creating lessons that were engaging and creating a motivation to learn in my students? Did I use technology enough? When I did use technology, was I using it in a way that was beneficial to my students? I wanted to provide my students with an education that would instill a love of learning, a curiosity, and skill sets that would allow them to be successful adults. I felt, however, that while I was providing my students with the necessary skills, I was not allowing them to find themselves in their own learning.
Then I received the overview of The Fluency Project, which described a framework that encouraged participants to think reflectively about their practice, implement innovative lessons and activities that were student-centered, and utilize technology and data in ways that would enhance learning. Little did I know that this would connect me with wonderful educators that had the same goals I had been striving to achieve daily. It would provide me with the support that we all need when we are trying to make an impact on the lives of children in ways that may not fit the status quo.
As we began our journey on The Fluency Project, I began to do my own research and came upon a book, titled, What School Could Be, by Ted Dintersmith. This book takes the reader on a tour of the United States, visiting classrooms that are preparing students for the future, for jobs that do not yet exist. This was a theme that I saw in both the meetings of our Fluency Cohort and this text. We needed to prepare our students for a future that was not yet known. As I read about these classrooms, I was amazed at the motivation that developed in the students, the lessons they learned (which were often much bigger and more powerful than a set of skills), and the impact they had on not only the students but the community around them. Dintersmith explains that as he visited these classrooms he saw that there were four principles in common: purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge. He refers to these as the PEAK principles. While reading these principles it brought me back to the values of The Fluency Project: authenticity, compassion, agency, and equity.
After avidly studying these principles and values, I began to make changes in my own classroom. The first step I took was implementing Morning Meetings, in which my students share their thoughts. They also learn the value of forming relationships with their classmates. This gives them purpose and agency in their own learning. We also spend a great deal of time discussing the purpose of our learning. This conversation alone makes lessons more authentic for my students. This small change has created a community in my classroom that allows the remaining ideas and principles to develop.
In addition, I created a purpose for learning in my classroom. My students have begun to Skype with students from the classroom of a fellow cohort member. The students love this incorporation of technology and have a desire to be challenged to complete a task so that they can share what they have learned with others. Through this project, my class has formed a connection with the other class and they are looking forward to meeting with one another at the culmination of WV History Unit in the near future.
While my classroom is still a work in progress, I have seen a change in my students this year. They love to learning. They are questioning, they are curious, they are engaged. This is the type of classroom in which I feel my students will continue to thrive. There is still great room for change and improvements, but through the changes in my own mindset (because of The Fluency Project) my students feel empowered.
Dintersmith, T. (2018). What School Could Be. 1st ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press.