Last school year for me was such a learning curve. It was my first year as a virtual teacher [I was teaching virtually before COVID made that a thing!]. It was also my first year teaching high school. My heart has always been with the little ones, but when the opportunity opened for me to teach virtually at the high school level, I decided the professional growth would be well worth the step outside of my comfort zone. I came out of last school year with SO much of that growth I was hoping for. It was challenging, but I came a long way and I feel totally different going into this next school year, now armed with the knowledge and experience I've gained.
With that said, one of the first things I plan to implement this next school year is something my students lacked, but so desperately could've used... student planners [with a twist!].
As I said, I teach virtually, so everything I use with my students needs to be in a digital format [the bonus of that being less paper = happier planet!]. Enter, the virtual student planner.
Even though my students have all of their assignments, schedules, and so on available to them virtually, I was still constantly surprised at how disorganized they were. They frequently forgot to do things. They struggled with prioritizing tasks and managing their time when it came to completing larger assignments. They didn't know what was due or when. Now, I'm sure my students weren't the only high schoolers who have ever exhibited this type of behavior. But I decided for the next school year to give my students a tool to minimize some of these struggles as much as possible.
The virtual nature of a planner brings with it a lot of potential.
Of course, teaching students to keep a planner targets executive functioning skill development (i.e. planning, organization, time management, and so on), but the virtual nature provides an opportunity for a lot more customization and ownership to be possible.
As teachers, we can customize virtual planners to our liking. One thing last year that I decided I really wanted to devote more effort in doing this year was goal-setting. This is a SUPER important skill to practice and something we admittedly did not make enough time for consistently doing last year. So I chose to incorporate a goal-setting prompt each week to help students target at least one thing to improve in or accomplish. Breaking it down to one specific thing per week to focus on is a lot more manageable [and realistic] than just saying "I want do better in 'insert subject'" [which practically every student I had last year said when it came down to talking about goals]. Of course, we will do other things to work on that goal-setting skill, but this is one way of making sure we are bringing attention to and practicing the skill on a consistent basis.
I admit, I'm kind of a planner nerd. I can remember when I was younger [and even not so many years ago], decorating my planner with quotes I printed from the Internet and cut out one by one. I'd tape pictures on the cover and inside of family and friends to make it feel more personal to me. I'd go out and buy stickers to jazz up special dates and reminders I wanted to keep. Doing all of this made the planner feel more special [and more fun!].
A virtual planner takes this kind of personalization to a whole new level. Instead of printing pictures and buying stickers, it's simply a matter of inserting an image and copy/pasting a graphic. As easy as this is, it does require students to practice using 21st century skills like how to use a computer programs and tools [I discovered last year that even some of my high schoolers struggled with programs like PowerPoint], how to do an Internet search to find a graphic you can use, and so on.
This "ownership" component is something I plan to really play up with my students in order to get their buy-in.
A virtual planner also allows for an opportunity to incentivize. In the planner I created for my students, I included a sticker book page with about 20 stickers [some fun, some silly, some practical] for students to start with. My idea is to use the sticker system as an incentive [yes, even at the high school level!].
Let me explain my thought process here.
Last year, one of the biggest challenges I faced with my students was engagement. Like I said, I teach in a virtual school. I teach high schoolers in a virtual school. I teach special education to high schoolers in a virtual school. Getting them to want to read and write and do math while they are sitting at home, with any number of potential distractions around them, when many of them had already developed a bad attitude about school because of years of struggle, was a challenge to say the least. I really just wanted to get them to show up every day and engage with me in some way. That was all the starting point I needed.
I, along with the other SPED teachers on my team, racked our brains for ways to incentive participation and just getting kids to show up to virtual sessions. Funny enough, one of the things that worked the best to get kids excited to participate in the lesson was sending them an emoji in the chat. Totally random and seemingly non-important, but they ate it up. They loved getting gold stars [yes, high schoolers!], wads of cash, and funny emoji faces. I guess it's really not all that surprising though; so many kids at that age live in a digital world and rely on that kind of stuff as part of their entertainment.
Which is why I thought the digital stickers [and gifs] for their planner could be a fun way to take it a step further...
Basically, I plan to work out a system where if my students meet the basic expectations, like show up for class and participate in some way, then at the end of the week they will receive a "GIF" box [see what I did there, "GIF" box...gift box.... I'm so punny!]. Inside they'll get a few fun stickers/gifs for them to add to their planner. Will it be enough? Who's to say. Certainly it won't work for all. But if it works for at least a few and adds a little fun into our week, then I'm down with giving it a go!
In the virtual planner I created for my students, I also chose to add in a few "bonus" pages to help my students with staying organized and taking ownership of their learning. The first thing I included is an Assignment Tracker for students to keep a record of major assignments in their classes. Even though my kids have access to their assignments and grade books virtually, I thought it would be helpful to have all of this in one place for students to quickly reference, especially when they are receiving support from a SPED teacher or para. Support sessions are typically so short and I can't tell you how much time we've wasted in the past just searching through online classes and grade books to find lists of assignments students are supposed to be completing.
The second thing I included is a Data Notebook. As a SPED teacher, I'm a big fan of data. In my teaching experience, some school years we were required to help students keep data notebooks and others we weren't. I can say from experience, even though it takes extra time and effort to keep track of, it was such a purposeful use of time and effort for the majority of students. Helping students keep track of their own performance helps them take ownership of their own learning. It can be a motivator in and of itself. Having a data notebook as part of the classroom system means there is likely to be purposeful time carved out in the schedule to look at, talk about, and analyze data. This is important if growth is the goal [which I'm assuming it is for pretty much all of us!].
Also, as a side note, all of the pages in the virtual planner I created are digitally linked. With a document of this size, it's important that students are able to jump around from place to place easily. The little "home" icon takes students to the "intro" page, which has the sticker book, their schedule, and links to all of the calendars and extra tools. Each page also has text boxes inserted and ready to go so students can start using it without any fuss.
I plan to share the virtual planner with my students via Google Classroom. This is something I'm still working to get set up for next year, but using this platform allows you to easily share documents with all students so that they can make their own copy. Hopefully in the weeks to come I'll have more to share with you on this front [and about the Google site I'll be using for my classroom, which is also in the works!].
To make the planner even more fun and add some personal zest, I decided to incorporate my Bitmoji throughout the planner. Oh the joy my students will have to see me everyday on the pages of their lovely book [ha!].
I'm a big quote fanatic, so I handpicked some of my favorites and included them on each week's layout [with a matching Bitmoji!]. I love a good quote to stimulate discussion!
I also went ahead and inserted stickers on the monthly calendars to mark important school dates for them to remember, as well as holidays. Of course, students can go back and add stickers or notes to mark anything else they'd like to remember or keep track of. I'm actually really excited about them having their own calendars in this way because last year they were constantly asking those big, important questions... you know, like when is fall/winter/spring break? Do we have school on such and such holiday? How much time do I have left to raise my grade? [always at the end of the quarter, mind you!]
If this is something you feel like your students could benefit from using as well, you can download a copy [Bitmoji and sticker free version] to share with your own students HERE.
If you want to view my example of the virtual student planner for Bitmoji and sticker inspiration, click HERE.
The format itself is not editable, but feel free to add or delete any "bonus" pages, just be sure to check that the links remain correct if you are adding or deleting slides. Personalize it with your own Bitmoji, or leave it as is and let students take the lead in zesting it up to their liking :)
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