How Summit Learning Allowed Me to Reinvent Myself

 “Mrs. Hockemeyer, can Kendall and I come in at lunch to come up with a strategy to help Alison and Roberto?” — Reese, 6th-grade student

Wait… what? Students wanted to come in at lunch, on their own time, to work on a strategy to help struggling students? Unheard of, but completely true in my Summit Learning classroom where student-centered learning is our focus.

Last year, Belvidere South Middle School implemented the Summit Learning Program for all of its 6th graders in the core subject areas of English and Science. It was our first foray into student self-directed learning and unknown territory for many, including me.

Before adopting the Summit Learning mindset, I was very much a direct instruction, students-in-rows, kind of teacher. Teaching in this traditional way allowed me to have complete control over every aspect of my day and I liked that because it was predictable and reliable (well, as predictable and reliable as a 6th-grade middle school classroom can ever be).

In the last year, Summit Learning has changed not only the way that I approach learning, but possibly more importantly, how my students view learning.

student-centered learning
6th grade students engage in peer tutoring. (Rachel Hockemeyer)

Student Needs Come First

In the past, I’d read articles on self-directed learning and student needs-driven instruction. I thought they sounded like a great ideas, but I worried that I would be releasing control to students and it would result in chaos.

Wouldn’t they just take advantage of the fact that they were no longer in assigned seats with specific, teacher-assigned work to do? Wouldn’t their learning suffer and, if their learning suffered, wouldn’t I suffer as well? What about my rapport with my students? Would that be affected since I would no longer be up front in my “dance space” all day?

Despite my fears, I dove in head first. I figured I could try anything for a year and, from my research, it really seemed that learning Self-Direction was what was best for kids. After all, I reasoned with myself, don’t I want to do what’s best for my students?

Was it a struggle at the beginning of the school year? Of course. Anytime a new methodology or teaching practice is attempted, there are growing pains.

In addition, the students and I had to get used to the Summit Learning Platform. I had to learn how to troubleshoot technology issues, and I had to become comfortable with letting the students’ needs drive my instruction.

Students as Advocates

What I found was that relinquishing some control made my classroom the epitome of what true, student-centered learning should look like. 

I provide students with the necessary tools to make good choices and encourage them to advocate for their individual needs. In other words, students practice Self-Direction. In addition to targeted scaffolds, or learning tools put in place by teachers to help students succeed in their zone of proximal development, students have opportunities to determine which learning resources help them master content best.

In addition, students create resources to help their peers become successful and students help lead Focus Area and Project-related groups. In the Summit Learning Program, I see things that I never dreamed would be possible in a middle school classroom. Every. Single. Day.

Summit Learning has changed not only the way that I approach teaching, but more importantly, how my students view learning.

Mentoring group
Summit Learning sixth grade mentor group at Belvidere South Middle School. (Rachel Hockemeyer)

Student Empowerment

Let’s not forget the idea of the classroom community. These students will someday change the world. To do so, they have to learn to advocate and empower themselves.

Creating empowered learners not only helps students become leaders themselves, but it also helps teachers meet the needs of other students who need more intensive instruction. Seeing students tutoring their peers and students mentoring students has really been an amazing thing to witness.

As a Summit Learning educator, helping other teachers see the power in student-centered learning is the next step. Can you imagine what education could look like if we did?

Want to read more about the transition to the Summit Learning teaching approach? Read another teacher’s experience, “I’ve Been Teaching for 10 Years. Last Year Felt Like My First.

About the author

Rachel Hockemeyer
Rachel Hockemeyer is a 6th grade English teacher at Belvidere South Middle School in Belvidere, Illinois. She is entering her second year as a Summit educator. She received her B.A. in Spanish from Knox College and her M.A. in Education from Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is most impressed by the “students mentoring students” opportunities that Summit Learning provides and cannot believe how far her students have come in one short year. She firmly believes that today's students' ability to advocate for themselves will change the world tomorrow.