Flinn Middle School Students Embrace Culture of Learning
The eighth grade teaching team at Flinn Middle School knew our students were missing something.
While reviewing the English learning objectives for the third quarter, it was clear: We want to instill a culture for learning – that’s what was missing.
What that means is this: We wanted children to take ownership in their learning, learn about topics of interest, and be proud of their growth in the classroom.
When reflecting on this mindset, the team decided to use a popular instructional framework in RPS 205: the Plan Do Study Act (PSDA) Cycle. The PDSA Cycle copies the problem-solving business model prevalent in today’s workforce. It's a way to test a change -- by first planning it, trying it, observing the results, then acting on what is learned. From there, we were able to put together a rigorous, personalized, and engaging five week unit to teach students various Common Core Standards and RPS 205’s third quarter English Learning Objectives.
Each week, students chose a standard to master and were given the week to plan their learning, research their topic, create a product to show mastery of their standard, and reflect on their learning and improve for next week. The results were incredible. Students who struggled started thriving, students who were bored started engaging in their learning, and students who were excelling were now challenged.
What has been critical to developing student engagement across the eighth grade English/language arts team has been the partnership of teachers; both co-planning, but even more so the attitude of inquiry-based planning shared by the teachers. Susan Fumo, Executive Director of School Improvement is a big fan of the model. “Our district uses PDSA cycles in many areas for project planning and reflection. It’s basically a model for action research. Many schools use it extensively at the classroom level and through their PLCs. The eighth grade ELA team is taking PDSA to the next level by using it to empower students to take charge of their own learning. The student engagement is incredible. The projects are standards based, but rooted in the real world that kids care about and created for authentic audiences.” Learn more about the PDSA process.
Special thank you to Cory Schrank and Ryan Nachreiner for supporting and trusting in their teachers.
We’re sharing some examples from Flinn Middle School students on the 205 VIBE that include both project details and their thoughts on the PDSA cycle. We hope this inspires other RPS 205 students and teachers to take ownership of their learning.
PDSA Cycles Creating Success at Flinn Middle School
"This is a process (PDSA) that I feel will help us a lot later in life more than anything we learn in school, because it copies what you do in jobs. I love the way that we get to pick our own subject and study it on our own."
Read more from Arianna in blog post: Flinn 8th Grader: Plan-Do-Study-Act “increases our willingness to learn”
What Teenagers Need to Know About Divorce
“This week is PDSA cycle five. We are completing an old cycle and finishing and improving the product. I created a digital poster about what teenagers should know about divorce. My standard was to acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases and gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression. Which meant I had to collect new words from a specific topic that are grade appropriate. My English learning objective (ELO) was that students would expand their knowledge and use of academic and concept vocabulary. In my digital poster I wrote vocabulary words related to divorce and gave their definitions and other information about divorce. I wanted to do research about this topic because some of my friends’ parents are divorced. I have not experienced that. I wanted to learn about what they experience, so if they talk to me about what's happening I can help them feel better.”
-Seba Al Haj Ali
Animal Abuse Awareness
“The PDSA cycle I chose to share was about animal abuse. The English standard I was meeting was showing where an author’s evidence was conflicting and finding the same evidence across multiple sources to verify it. The reason I chose this topic is that it is not addressed enough as a problem, and I really love animals. To show my learning as a final product, I made a newspaper article entry, designing it with a template in Google Docs.”
Gabriel Fernandez Deserved Better
“PDSA Cycles are so cool! The cycles gave me the opportunity to look into a learning objective deeper than in a textbook. They allow my classmates and I to show who we really are because we find material that interests us. We learn how to gather information from different sources so we can use this skill in the future.
For one of my PDSA Cycles, I decided to practice looking at a situation where the evidence was not clear, and you had to look at multiple resources to identify where they agree and disagree. The topic I chose was the trial of Gabriel Fernandez. It is a heartbreaking example of the systemic forces that allow child abuse to flourish undetected in the United States. I made a Google Form to inform my classmates about this information.”
One Student’s Perspective on COVID-19 and Masks
“Masks are something that not everyone feels the same about. Wearing masks can help stop the spread of COVID. If everyone were to wear their mask that could stop the spread of COVID which could possibly end the pandemic. Although RPS 205 is giving Americans the civic choice to wear a mask or not, in order to protect the majority, we should still stay masked. Trust the process, trust science, and when we can demask know we will all be celebrating.”
Is Climate Change Affecting Us?
“My class is doing a PDSA Cycle Unit where you get to choose a new topic to learn about and then report on it using tools like posters, Google Slides and Google Docs. We are provided or have the option of choosing a new standard and ELO (English learning objective) that we must meet. This PDSA Cycle was intriguing because this time I got to share something that I most cared about and was passionate about. The topic I chose is climate change, which is something I'm quite passionate about. I created an Adobe Spark video about the impact of climate change.”
Racism in America
“For my 8th grade English Language Arts class PDSA cycle, I chose to show that I could meet the standard of writing arguments with clear reasons and strong evidence, choosing a topic close to my heart: why does racism exist? It is a hard question to find specific, clear, true evidence for. I chose to narrow the topic by focusing on America and looked for key groups and events that tell the story of racism in our country. Doing this project helped me learn how to gather evidence better, and this will help me in the future, when I hope to become a doctor and heal people.”
“My PDSA project is Netflix-themed with animations attached to the three philosophers that were provided for the content: John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Charles Montesquieu. Enlightenment philosophers were a group of people who would always debate politics. They were defensive on their side or would be neutral. Both sides had great arguments and it was clear why they chose it. In this project, we could choose either our own topic or a topic about the enlightenment philosophers.”
How Bullying Affects our Learning Environment
“I chose a project about bullying, because I want to spread awareness about bullying and share the effects of bullying. I personally don't experience bullying, but I have seen many kids being bullied and many who have suffered from bullying.”
Evaluating The Best Anime
"I’m an 8th grader at Flinn where I’m on the wrestling team and placed 7th in state. I enjoy playing video games such as Minecraft and Madden. I picked this project, because I love creating and editing videos and short films. The video for my project was created in iMovie. I enjoyed the PDSA cycles, because I was able to pick and enjoy the topics to show curriculum mastery."
How To Find The Best Energy Drink
“What we enjoyed the most about this project is how much freedom we were granted. There were no big limitations when creating our project. The PDSA cycles are realistic compared to a lot of other things we learn in school. There's more freedom in the cycles than normal projects; we aren't constricted to one thing.”
-Ace Cox and Levi Towner
Aubrey Barnett joined Rockford Public Schools as a Flinn Middle School teacher in the fall of 2021. She holds a bachelor’s of arts degree from Knox College with endorsements in English language arts, social sciences and drama. Aubrey obtained her master’s degree from Loyola University Chicago in 2016 and spent several years working in psychiatric settings with adolescents with mental health challenges. She returned to teaching four years ago, moving with her family and twin daughters to Rockford, and worked as Spectrum Progressive School’s primary middle school teacher for three years. During her time in Rockford she has been part of numerous social justice organizations and works to bring restorative practices, inquiry-driven learning, and child-centered practices to her work with adolescents.
Elizabeth Krampota is in her fourth year teaching 8th grade English and reading at Flinn Middle School. Before that she spent 10 years working with students with autism in the STAR program. Elizabeth spends her summers teaching various subjects, including media arts. She even devoted three summers to the Student Ambassadors Program where she taught abroad in Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Elizabeth is finishing her Master’s in Educational Technology with a Library Information Specialist (LIS) endorsement. After school, she coaches soccer and helps with volleyball.
Cara Wolfe is an English/language arts teacher at Flinn Middle School and new to Rockford Public Schools. She taught high school English at Boylan High School for six years until this summer when she was called to the 8th grade classroom. Cara first felt inspired to become a teacher when she was a student at Lincoln Middle School in 2006. She is beyond grateful to be back in RPS 205 to give back to the Rockford community. She is looking forward to her time at RPS 205 and the pursuit of her Master’s in Curriculum Instruction next winter.
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