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Groton elementary teacher taps into student potential through creativity
After only a few years in the profession, Anne Zoellner decided she was ready to take her teaching to the next level with a new challenge. The second grade teacher at Groton Elementary is among the latest group of South Dakota teachers to obtain National Board Certification. Her certification was accepted late last year.
“My cooperating teacher was in the middle of Board Certification when I was student teaching,” Zoellner said. “She had a lot of good things to say about it, especially the opportunity to become a more reflective teacher and engage students in that cognitive shift.”
Only in her fifth year as a teacher – all of them in Groton – Zoellner has tried to incorporate more collaborative work with her students since obtaining National Board Certification. She also has eliminated a lot of the worksheets she had previously had students doing.
“Some of those assignments weren’t as resourceful as other activities,” Zoellner said. “The process of getting certified really makes you look at why you’re doing the things you’re doing in your teaching, and you think more about what the students are gaining.”
Zoellner also spends less time doing the talking herself and instead lets the students engage in dialogue about the concepts at hand – putting their learning in their own words – which really makes them think about and remember what they’re doing. The shift in thinking also has helped her begin the transition to the Common Core standards.
“Common Core relates a lot to how students are thinking,” Zoellner said. “It’s more about discovery and how to get there: How do you get 2+2 instead of just memorizing the answer? It’s more student-driven.”
Zoellner has her students do several projects throughout the year to incorporate some of those concepts. Her students sell candy canes before the holidays. They have to count the money up, make bar graphs and evaluate their success.
“We talk about the business aspect and then give the money to some kind of charitable cause, one year it was the backpack program,” Zoellner said.
To help build their writing skills, Zoellner has her students interview a resident at the local nursing home then write a creative biography about that person.
“That’s the kind of project where everyone wins,” Zoellner said. “Both the kids and the residents love it. And the kids don’t even realize how much they’re gaining.”