Meet an eMINTS Teacher
Sue Adams, K-8 Gifted Education, Southern Boone School District, Ashland, MO
Sue Adams is in her 21st year of teaching. She has taught learners at a variety of levels including college, high school, and now primary, elementary and middle school. She has a background in Health and Physical Education and is currently teaching K-8 Gifted Education in the Southern Boone County School District in Ashland, MO. Sue is finishing her third year of professional development in the eMINTS Comprehensive program.
Getting her gifted students to participate in planning their own instruction has been a challenge. Sue often finds that gifted students are uncomfortable with planning what they want to learn because they have rarely been asked to do so. She overcame her students’ reluctance by breaking the task of planning their own learning down into smaller pieces. She started by presenting an interesting topic, such as Rube Goldberg machines, to students and getting them to think about creative ways that they might want to investigate the topic. She then moved her students into thinking about how they would demonstrate what they learned and how they would present their findings. From there, Sue engaged her students in creating rubrics to evaluate the many different products they came up with. Giving students options in a way that is carefully scaffolded with the desired goals and objectives in mind has been a successful way for Sue to reach her overall goals with her students. “My goal, and why eMINTS has been so important for me, is to constantly push my students to the edge of their learning.”
Sue describes how student engagement in her classroom might appear to be “chaos” to the casual observer. However, what is really happening is the social and emotional engagement and growth that occurs when her gifted students get the opportunity to be together as learners. The students already all have an internal love of learning so getting them motivated is not a problem. Rather, the goal is to get her gifted students to reflect on their learning in ways that help them better understand themselves. Sue related that her eMINTS professional development helped her to examine the questions she was using as prompts for her students’ reflections. She was getting the same superficial responses until she changed the questions she asked her students, requiring them to think more critically.
Sue believes every learner, gifted or not, can be introspective about their learning at a level that is meaningful to them. She feels that it is up to the teacher to ask the types of questions that push students to engage in deeper introspection.
Another key feature of helping students to reflect on and personalize their learning is ensuring that the end products they create are presented to an authentic audience. Whether students are presenting to peers, to students who are younger or older than them, or their work is being published online in the form of YouTube videos or other methods, Sue finds her students striving harder to perfect their work.
Sue gave an example of a unit centered on creating an “Inventor’s Fair” to showcase how she uses technology tools. Students had to learn about and define the process of invention by studying several different inventors’ successes and failures. Using an app that allows students to summarize and share their findings about specific topics using digital “sticky notes,” Sue’s students had a visual model and used it to figure out how to organize what they learned from their research. They quickly determined that notes with information about an inventor’s birth date or place of residence had little to do with what they were interested in, namely, how the inventor’s successes and failures contributed to the students’ understanding of the process of invention. Students were engaged because they were focused on what they were doing and the digital tool enhanced their conversations and collaboration. Sue recalled, “It was what every learning day should be!”
Sue feels that peer collaboration through eMINTS and Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) has made her a “braver” teacher because it gives her the confidence to take risks knowing that if she needs feedback, it is always available in a collegial atmosphere.
Sue’s advice to others on the journey towards personalizing learning for students is to strive to break those old teaching habits that are rooted in the cycle of the teacher always being in control or being the one who is right.