A Metamorphisis of Voice and Choice

Today’s Contributor: Maria Alverdi is a 3rd grade teacher at Overton Elementary. This year, her class participated in several grant programs including sproUTs and Monarch Heroes. She is passionate about helping her students find and capture their voices, creating authentic learning opportunities, and engaging them in unique maker activities. She is also participating in the Transformative Technology Leadership Pathway after completing the PBL Leadership Pathway. In her free time, she loves spending time with her dog, Echo, doing yoga, traveling with a rowdy group of friends, along with traveling wherever her heart takes her.

This year Overton Elementary was fortunate to participate in the Monarch Heroes project. This project helped to transform our school’s lackluster garden into a beautiful butterfly garden and more, and inspired the students to invest in their community space. I transformed this opportunity into a PBL project where my scholars dictated a large portion of the content and direction. We were also part of the Journey North Project and scholars followed the migration patterns in the winter and the spring. They also reported as citizen scientists our first Monarch sighting of the year. After hand raising the baby caterpillars and releasing the last 10 monarchs in November, they practically thought and talked about nothing but butterflies. This passion evolved into a lasting foundation for our work throughout this year and of my leadership pathways work.

During the year’s PBL Garden Project we had several meetings about how we were going to follow the request of the Monarchs and learn about the pollinators and the set up of the garden. The entire school has been working on the Monarch Garden and my class had a plot and a stock tank that we took care of during the week. They love doing that and the original plan was for them to do a presentation during the school’s STEM night in March. When they found out that the 5th graders were doing something similar, they did not want to be at the garden with them too.

So they scratched the informational pamphlet and garden tour. According to the anonymous sticky notes left by some scholars, some of the class feared they, “were going to be made fun of,” or that “the adults were not going to listen to them.” They also worried about people not respecting the garden. Since this is the year of giving them voice and choice, they chose to do some signs instead.

We took the leftover political signs and they got to work. They brainstormed ideas and I mostly let them put what they want on them.

They loved them, and we placed them in the garden. A few days later the signs started to fade because it rained. They were done with water based paint, so I gave them some suggestions “what if …”- new signs – to get the PBL back on track.

I prepared a Jamboard and I asked some teachers and adults familiar with our project to provide feedback on their work. I explained the “Glow and Grow” protocol we use and they placed comments and suggestions. We looked at the suggestions/feedback as a whole class and decided on the ones we would take and found helpful. Then we came up with some new slogans and we voted.

We looked at our data and they got to work on their new signs. With lots of talks on the carpet and lots of “how about if…” we soon had a new plan much bigger than the original plan–and only three weeks to get it done.

We decided to showcase the new signs, provide information about the pollinators and habitats, give guidelines for the use of the garden and the community park, and provide a booklet to use during their nature walk and Earth Day celebration. Yeah crazy bananas. 

During the PBL project all scholars had a job, they all participated in one form or another. My scholar’s academic abilities range from GT scholars to those who are unable to read and write; from great artists to people unable to fold a piece of paper in half. So we talked about the skills needed for each job and they chose according to their interest and abilities. Some worked directly on the signs, others on the booklet or making antennas.  During the event we had scholars that spoke about a particular pollinator, and they had the choice to choose the language they felt more comfortable with. Some choose not to speak at all, they were at holding the doors and welcoming the people to the event as they exited the building. They also helped me with the logistics and setting up things.

They reflected several times, as a whole class scholars had the opportunity to reflect on their first sign and how to make it better. Individually, we had a reflection survey since we had done lots of surveys, I asked them what they thought it should include. I used two of their questions and the rest was open ended, the survey was anonymous and I left it on the BLEND page for them to fill in at their own time. I was very pleased that my scholars were willing to speak in public and in English. In their reflection, when asked what else would you want Ms. Alverdi to know, someone answered “me gusto participar dificil por mi ingles – I liked participating it was hard because of my english”. When I said to them – you are ready for this … they believed it and went for it. That level of trust was earned during the year. Some of the comments I heard while walking the event were how polite and willing to answer questions and share their knowledge they were, even the door holders and greeters were welcoming. In their reflection one of the scholars said – from what you have learned up to now what would you do from now on? “que nunca me rinda – never give up” – that’s a drop-the-mic for me.

I am not sure what came first, their interest in the Monarchs and the garden, or whether they were part of their identity already. Our entire year has been all about butterflies, the garden, pollinators, animals and land stewardship. My scholars, like lots of other people, have re-evaluated the importance of nature and being outdoors. They are really not Techies like scholars from other years, so I went with the flow.

In January, I had to think about my mission statement for the year, which centered around me and my scholars staying healthy and finding joy in learning. We are laughing and learning just about every day, and we know that school is the best place to learn and be for us. I have to look at the big picture of where my scholars started this year and the enormous progress they have made up to now.

This year has not been easy, and it could have been very frustrating for my scholars and me, had I not listened to their signals and been guided by when they were ready to learn, and the things that interested and motivated them to use as a hook to capture their attention and add all the TEKS that they still need to learn. You never know where voice and choice is going to take you, but it has been an adventure to focus more on this in my practice! I cannot wait to take some of the pieces I learned around voice, choice and feedback from this project and provide new opportunities for my scholars next year to share their needs and craft personalized learning experiences armed with that knowledge.

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