Meet an eMINTS Teacher
Sonja Yoder, English Language Arts Grades 5 and 6, East Lynne 40 School District, East Lynne, MO
Sonja teaches English Language Art to students in grades 5 and 6 in East Lynne, MO. She has 21 years of teaching experience. Sonja completed the extended three-year eMINTS Comprehensive Professional Development program.
Sonja described how she crosses an emphasis on using data to inform instruction with the curriculum provided. “What I gained the most through my eMINTS professional development was how to assess students in ways that are engaging so that I get accurate data about my students’ strengths and weaknesses and can better meet their needs,” Sonja explained. She illustrated how she used the assessment strategies she learned about to set up a unit on various concepts related to equality for her 5th grade students. One portion of the unit focused on slavery, Civil Rights, and how the Underground Railroad helped slaves achieve freedom. Students read literature related to the Underground Railroad and then devised a plan to reenact how slaves would have used the Railroad if their school had been a stop on the Railroad. Students randomly drew roles to play from slave owner to slaves trying to escape to people along the way who helped them The unit was very engaging for students and combined elements of history, reading (fiction vs. non-fiction), and using graphic resources. The unit culminated with discussions about the types of inequalities that are present today and how people deal with those problems.
Sonja feels that she has grown the most in her ability to help students design their own learning. She illustrated her journey from being a teacher who held the traditional ideas that students were not really capable of designing their own learning to one who gradually released control to students by allowing them to select topics they wanted to research to a teacher who now gives students more choice. For example, she used classroom discussion to help her 6th grade students write a research essay. She asked her students to identify a research topic related to literature they had previously read about space exploration. She was concerned that their topics might all be rather simple such as researching various planets but her students surprised her by coming up with more complex topics such as properties of gravity, the future of the international space station and other galaxies. The experience really reinforced her belief that students can handle designing features
Sonja’s students have access to 1:1 laptop technology in the classroom. She uses technology extensively in the writing process with concept-mapping software and word processing to support students’ thinking. She invented a type of “speed editing” where students sit in a circle and use features of word processing software to quickly edit one another’s writing and finding examples of each other’s writing that they really like. She related that her students really like using the technology for editing since the editing process no longer requires that they completely rewrite their papers to include edits.
Sonja’s advice to other educators who are working towards higher levels of personalized learning is, “Take it slow. As educators we tend to see something that works and then we want to try it and we want it to work right away, she noted. “Sometimes we try to do new things that our students aren’t ready for. New ways need to be a more gradual expectation that we build with our students. Doing the small parts really well will work better in the long run,” she advised.
Follow Sonja on twitter: @syoder90
Check out Sonja’s classroom website: www.syoder.weebly.com