So Studio Time is now ‘a thing’. It has legs. And whilst it is beginning to come together in terms of form and substance, it is also starting to flow into other areas of teaching and learning. We speak more in the collective. More than ever, I’m mindful of using ‘our’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ and it’s catching on. By bringing students into the decision-making process, a sense of ownership and personal investment in the learning community has been more palpable.
By the time we got around to another planned session of studio style learning, the students had been thinking more than I expected about how they’d spend their self-directed learning time when offered.
I’ve been thinking about workshops a lot lately. Having found this type of small group, hands-on learning to be highly engaging and effective in terms of assessing student understanding, I was keen to try it again.
So we planned another day and I offered a string of lesson-length small group workshops. This time, fewer students asked me whether I thought they needed to attend particular workshops. This time, they seemed to know. And I think this is why:
I wrote the timetable using the format of guiding questions.
Because the workshops were worded as questions, students seemed to ponder their ability to answer them. Therefore, they either knew they didn’t need to attend at all or made a choice about attending or inquiring independently.
Credit due to Jess Morgan and Melissa Sokol (via Twitter) for inspiring this idea. We’re working on students developing and sharing their own guiding questions for their inquiries.
One of the students asked me an interesting question: “You know how you said we can opt out if we want to come along but decide we don’t need to stay, we can go?”
“Ah…yep,” I replied, bracing myself for the next suggestion in the usual negotiation process.
“Well, can we opt in if at first we don’t think we need it but when you start, it sounds like something we’re interested in?”
Sidebar: I’m having constant battles within myself about this sort of stuff. Why do I want to say no? Is it reasonable to say no? Is it reasonable to say yes? Are their suggestions purposeful or just curious? What benefits could potentially come from saying yes? Do I need to modify their suggestion to somehow make it work?
Also, I’ve gradually made this internal dialogue more external and transparent. I’ve actually asked myself all of the above questions out loud in front of the students – much to their amusement. Why? Because I want them to know that I have heard their ideas and if I dismiss them, it’s not because I haven’t thought about it. And also because modelling any decision-making process when the stakes are high is worth doing with kids. I need them to know that the stakes feel high to me and therefore really worth considering.
“Sure. As long as you don’t interrupt the flow of the session.”
So here’s my first surprise for the week.
The ‘opt-in’ option is powerful. It’s like my workshop is a non-intentional provocation in the middle of the classroom. The numbers seemed to quietly grow on occasion. Curiosity meant that some of them couldn’t help themselves. And even more interesting were the onlookers. Students who watched curiously from across the room. I wonder what they were thinking. Should I join? Do I need to join? Is what I’m doing more important?
I’m a little fascinated by this internal decision-making process and I might explore it with them.
The ‘opt-out’ option is also really powerful. The workshops provide enough of a provocation for wonderings, curiosities, and questioning which some students then want to pursue independently. I’ll be honest. I possibly find this too reassuring. I reflect that this makes me comfortable because I value the learning as ‘worthy’ because it is driven by the teacher. Food for thought…
But my biggest surprise of the week was how much I enjoyed the sessions. I was relaxed. Once again, my conversations with the students were productive, efficient and informative (for me as the collector of the all-powerful DATA). The room was settled. What a pleasure it is to teach to a group of students who all choose to be there. It felt collegial. And weirdly ‘grown-up’. They had these grins on their faces that seemed to express their understanding that they were doing something very adult – choosing to learn.