Arrowhead Union High School Teacher Wins National Teacher Appreciation Contest
To honor teachers and students who work together to achieve academic success and personal growth, Compass Learning held a National Teacher Appreciation contest in May. This contest was for graduating seniors and teachers who use technology – together – in order to personalize learning experiences. The grand prize was a paid vacation from Orbitz Travel for the teacher, and a $2,500 scholarship for the student. Below is the winning essay from Elizabeth Jorgensen, a high school composition teacher from Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin.
I’m positive you’ve never known a girl like Sarah. And I know this because she’s an anomaly in a high school. When most of Sarah’s peers are obsessed with homecoming dresses, the latest gossip and Kim Kardashian’s wedding, Sarah finds herself concerned with other things: how her friends are doing, what she can do to better herself and how she can help others. Sarah is a genuine, kind and considerate person. But Sarah is a whole lot more than that…
She is a rare individual and student. She is a girl with a free spirit, a girl who does what is right and a girl who is unafraid to stick to her convictions. Sarah is a go-with-the-flow, ever-smiling, positive girl. But underneath that smile is a much sadder story. I found her story out during the first week of school when she wrote this for me:
“Five years ago, I lost a big part of me. I lost my friend. I lost someone I told everything to and the brother I wish I could have one last winter to go sledding with.
My brother was 10 years old when he died right in front of me.
We all thought it was a terrible headache, but it turned out to be a brain aneurism. And I was the last person to talk to him.
Sometimes I think it’s all a dream. Sometimes I think I’m going to wake up from this nightmare and it’s going to be over. Sometimes I think he’s going to be sleeping in his bed.
But it’s reality. He’s not coming back home. And one of the hardest things for me to do is walk past brother’s room—I hate walking past the past.
Today, I think about how different my life would be with without the people I love. And every day, I think about how different it would be if it still had the people I loved in it.”
Coming from a family a struggling family, I know Sarah not only deserves this, but she could really use a pick-me-up. But how did I help her with technology? I implemented a radical, choice-driven learning improvement system: the Advanced Composition Hybrid. In hybrid, students are given choices. They decide to come to one writer’s workshop (or class) or all of them. The students decide when—and if—they need to complete a new draft. Students decide what needs to be improved upon in their writing. And the focus is on quality, not on a grade.
The hybrid course is different than other academic experiences. The traditional high school experience requires students to be in class. The teacher requires students to sit in rows, take diligent notes and listen to them. But there is nothing traditional about a hybrid experience.
I needed to implement a radical change because I want to not only make students better writers, but also make them more interested and engaged in the development of quality writing. And I want to make them like writing more. I was able to do this by using the course management system, Moodle, because students demonstrated learning and growth when they were able to:
- Set and have a goal they can reach
- Be internally motivated
- Be positively challenged
- See they are useful in the learning process
- Be given a chance to practice what they’ve learned
- Produce quality work they’re proud of
- See the outcomes of their learning
- Complete enjoyable assignments
- Take charge of their learning
- Become competent in the subject
- Be partners with their teacher in their own learning
- Evaluate their own learning
Indeed, in meeting the students’ needs (and providing them with choice and the opportunities to create quality work), students exceeded any expectations I could have set for them. In the end, students found ways to learn that worked for them; they applied what they were learning to their own lives and they found self-esteem and confidence.
Thank you to Elizabeth Jorgensen for entering this contest and for incorporating technology into your lesson plans. And congratulations to Sarah, who will be attending the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee this fall!
Editor’s Note: If you have examples of how technology in the classroom inspired and encouraged a struggling student to graduate, we want to hear your story! Please describe the situation in the comment section below.
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