Meet Mr. Freeman
Fourth Grade Teacher at Du Bois Integrity Academy in Atlanta
Du Bois Integrity Academy in Atlanta, GA
Enrollment: 578 students
Student Demographics: 100% Black
Special Populations (Students with Disability and Limited English Proficiency): 25% SWD; 8% LEP
Free or Reduced Lunch: 91%
When Mr. Freeman began his first year teaching, he experienced two challenges that are common to first-year teachers.
- He needed to determine how to make the physical space work better. He said, “The format supported a very teacher-centered style of teaching. I was talking too much and my instruction was not student-driven.
- He needed to figure out how to create clear and consistent routines. He said, “I was very frantic. I was running around the classroom, all over the place, almost as if I didn’t have any focus.”
Mr. Freeman knew he had to overcome both of these challenges in order to make his classroom environment more conducive to personalized learning.
Using the PowerMyLearning Framework for Teachers as a guide, our coach worked with Mr. Freeman to adjust his classroom environment to support personalized learning. Together, they implemented the following solutions.
1. Splitting up the class into groups. Freeman changed the physical layout of his classroom from teacher-centered to student-centered by establishing stations.
Instead of having all the desks face forward so all eyes could be on the teacher, stations are clusters of decks that face each, spaced throughout the classroom.
As Mr. Freeman described, the goal for station-rotation model is that students experience a new way to work together at every station, as they work on a different activity at each station.
For example, stations could include a teacher-led station where the teacher delivers small group instruction, a technology station where students use PowerMyLearning Connect, and a collaborative station.
Mr. Freeman knew he wanted to eventually have several stations so that students could work in small groups, but he decided to first start with separating his class into two groups for instruction because it was more manageable.
Gradually, as he and his students grew more comfortable, his two groups became four groups, and his four groups became the six groups that he has today.
He said, “Breaking down my class into groups has enabled me to differentiate instruction, and put more responsibility in my students’ hands. Honestly, it really just makes everything easier for me. I have my lesson plan, so I know what I need to do; the students know their roles and classroom routines so they know what they need to do. Students actually enjoy having greater responsibility over their learning and work harder for me.”
2. Determining which students to put in each group. Freeman learned that how he grouped his students contributed to the success of stations… and that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for how to do so.
At first, he started by grouping students in homogenous groups based on their ability, delivering the same content but at different rates based on their level.
The next year, he tried something new by introducing heterogeneous groups, mixing students of varying ability, which proved more effective for that particular class.
3. Establishing rules and routines. As he was experimenting with stations, Mr. Freeman created rules and procedures about how to assimilate students into stations and excite them.
He set up visual cues by labeling everything, including station names and instructions, movement paths, locations for materials, directions for transitions, and details for cleanup.
Mr. Freeman said these materials provide reference points to keep students on track, allowing them to find information for themselves that is pertinent to what they are doing.
4. Assigning leadership roles. In addition to outlining rules and procedures for every station, he designated leadership roles, which encouraged students to take accountability and develop ownership of their learning
Roles included computer captains, group leaders, material monitors, and more.
Mr. Freeman explained that from the very beginning, the partnership between PowerMyLearning and Du Bois Integrity Academy empowered him to work “smarter not harder” and helped fuel the transition he was seeking from a teacher-centered classroom into a student-centered classroom.
1. Improved practice. Mr. Freeman explained that working with PowerMyLearning was not a “one-and-done” process. Through small incremental changes, he was able to build upon his knowledge, try new approaches, and ultimately improve his practice.
2. Increased trust with students. Mr. Freeman admitted that he was initially skeptical of this approach. He worried that his students would not be able to remain on task when working individually and with each other. He soon learned that the opposite was true–his students thrived when working together and individually when directing their own learning.
He explained, “During peer work, you can actually hear students scaffold each other, which helps bring everybody up. Many times, students can explain the material to a struggling peer much better than I can.”
3. Greater opportunities for student-driven learning. Today, Mr. Freeman operates a true student-centered classroom, where students drive their own learning and experience ownership of their learning.
Most PD opportunities simply provide tools or advice, but the PowerMyLearning team provided me with the framework and support that allowed me to grow as an educator, experiment, and generate my own solutions.