Ungraded 2020 Student

Dear future teacher,

The year is 2020.

We treated each other like equals and held each other accountable. We ate our snack when we were hungry and went to the bathroom when our body said so without asking for permission.

On some days, we threw out the schedule because we needed to say somethings with our chest and that takes a lot of time.

We negotiated homework, we were honest and explained how pointless it was . On some days we gave up. We complied. We kept the peace. We were tired.

We were woke! We spoke about racism and the radicalness of feminism. We questioned protests and we discovered that some things had to be done, by any means necessary.

We explored our privilege and unpacked it. We checked our teacher and held her accountable for when she acted like a dictator. We lent our voice to those who needed it. We spoke truth to power.

The learning was messy and exhausting on some days. We hated the mandatory testing. We did organise a petition along those lines but COVID-19 happened.

We were distraught because everything came to grinding halt. This was our last year of Junior school. Some of us were slowly warming up to the end as we transition. Some of us were worried that we would never truly be free to learn what we chose and what we wanted as senior school would be all serious and no play.

A lot of the learning that I am doing now you will never document and assess because it doesn’t lie within the confines of the specific subject areas. I can assure you, I did a lot of learning. I looked after my brother who had a high fever, I prepared meals for my family this week, I had to go back home and live with my grand parents on short notice. I am not in touch with many of my friends and I cannot wait for this to end.

I’m sorry that none of this can be reflected in the benchmarks or the grade level expectations. These life lessons couldn’t be captured on the report card and could never be learned within the confines of the school walls.

I especially enjoyed opting out of lessons and ignoring your emails because I had a lot going on that day and your assignment could wait.

I did what was important, I did what I had to do- survive…

Yours truly,

Ungraded 2020 student

kahubire

Life in the time of Covid 19…

We were very happy with our success in culture mela. Every year we showcase our learning and understanding of different country’s culture. Last year we worked for our own country states. Our celebration day went very well we declared holidays for spring break with a nice staff photograph.

Never knew that was our last contact with our students, parents and colleagues, we are now under social distancing due to Covid 19.

Covid 19 taught us the new term, ”social distancing”. Isolation from our society. Our state Maharashtra is facing the highest cases of Covid 19 positive. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research and Ministry of Health, we have confirmed 519 active 40 recovered and 11 deaths. It’s really sad. Felt so helpless for the first time.

I was following my friend Kevin from SIS Japan, updating us on a regular basis since January. I was religiously following his updates on Covid 19.

I learned about Corona virus. I was wondering about e-learning and all.

I determined I am not going to give up in such a situation. Our state-imposed section 144 across the states till 31st March 2020. However, we started our e-learning mode on school reopening day that is 16th March 2020. Our Coordinator Ms Bushra Khan made us understand the current situation and train us how to go about it. And yes we officially started our e-learning on 17th Match 2020.

We successfully running our e-learning and my students started planning their own learning. They sent me how they want to design their learning which promotes agency, however technology sometimes hits us. My students sometimes unable to login due to poor connections, we sometimes get stuck in the middle of the discussion. But we are happy that we are coping well together. Nothing can stop us from learning. We are now planning for PYP e exhibition. I know we need loads of motivation and learning.

We really appreciate all those educational platforms and organisations such as Google, Microsoft, Toddle, ManagBac, Seesaw, Edmodo, flipgrid, padlet and many more for extending all the support. Can’t imagine learning without their support. I am thankful to my Twitter family Abhimanyu sir, Kevin, Levi, Devid, Devika for always sharing their resources and experiences. I am thankful to Twitter for always helping people with all their updates. And yes how can I forget my family who all are my strength. My husband is my biggest support at this point in time. Missing my students very bad, and hoping for better things to happen. I believe “as long as there is life, there is potential; and as long as there is a potential, there will be a success!”

My year of Agency

I haven’t felt successful in a while. I’m glad this feeling has come to me on a Friday afternoon knowing that I will ease into the weekend feeling like this has been a great finish. Starting this year off in Grade 5, a class I had never taught and adding the agency concept into the mix of it all is to say the least, overly  ambitious. 

My team and I started off the year in pretty great spirits. We were all on different journeys in regards to agency and we had our lives outside of it all. We were determined to empower learners to design their learning, plan their own trips and write their own budgets. We knew what we were doing and couldn’t wait to get on this exciting path.

Two weeks in and all hell was breaking loose(this memory still triggers me).We had thrown out the first unit and attempted to write the new unit from scratch. The biggest mistake of them all is that we had no systems in place that would keep us together before it could all come tumbling down. Those were the most stressful 7 weeks ever.

What I had not seemed to prepare myself for is that agency does test you as a human. Agency will force you to have the conversations you seem to be shying away from. You and your new found beliefs will be put to test. Like, Is your teaching really grounded in solid pedagogy? Is your image of the child really what you seem to think it is? Do you have agency as a teacher? Do you truly understand agency? These are all the questions I have had to dig through to find myself because at the end of it all, if I don’t know who I really am then the foundation from which I base my instruction is shaky ground.

It has been a rough 6 months from having many lightbulb moments to feeling like I was engulfed in darkness. To not writing at all and questioning whether I was in the right profession. From giving students choice workshops every Friday to trying to prove to parents that we have covered the different benchmarks and their child will be ready for middle school. From hoping to teach children to set and plan their homework to filling up their time with math problems so that I can prove that they have retained the knowledge dispensed to them. My journey had been a wrecking ball swinging from one extreme to another with the hope that I aim for something specific and feel successful at one.

This week started off a little shaky. Little did I know that this would help me unpack what agency truly is for me. One of my students was found using technology inappropriately which could have potentially escalated into cyber bullying. I decided to use this as a teaching point. We unpacked PYP concepts using this incident, I shared my twitter account and we talked about who we want to be on social media and how we choose who we want to be. My favourite part? Watching TikTok videos to get inspiration for PYPx. What was different about this week is that it allowed me to be human. I allowed myself to feel.I journaled.  I allowed my personal life into my work life.I’ve been vulnerable with them and tried to understand their struggles, and how I might be part of their problem. I’ve allowed myself to fail. I’ve made decisions without seeking approval. I’ve existed. From letting go and allowing myself to be, I’ve found who I was. I’ve made friends with my curriculum. I’ve read it over and over. I am making friends with benchmarks and my curriculum. I am letting my true self into my teaching because only then, can we truly be free…

Kahubire

Revelations about team teaching

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Future of Education Now conference at the Western Academy in Beijing. For me, one of the most exciting revelations of the conference is about team teaching.

If you’d asked me before the conference if I was involved in team teaching, I would have said “of course!”. After all, our team plans units together, we design and share resources and we help each other think about the learning going on in each others’ classes. Of course we team teach!

Except we don’t…

And here is the revelatory slide:

What we actually do is franchise teaching. Yes, we work together on the planning and take an shared interest in the learning of all of our students, but when we step away from our collaborative meetings and into “our” classrooms, we’re on our own. And the students are on their own with us.

I’m not saying this model is bad. Teaching is so personal, it’s great to have the flexibility to implement a unit in the way we think it’s best done for our students. However, we’re missing so many benefits of team teaching. 

See exhibit B from the conference, WAB Middle School’s Learning Lab and their approach to team teaching math:

Essentially, what they do is combine three or more math classes and set a common, differentiated math challenge. Students can then choose how they want to approach this challenge by going to a certain learning space. One space might be teacher-led, like a more traditional classroom set-up. Another might facilitate small group work on the challenge and one space might allow students to withdraw into a “cave” and think on their own about the challenge. Each space is supported by one or more math teachers.

As the video explains, this empowers students to make a choice about their learning, giving them ownership even when the learning objective is prescribed. And, dare I say it, choose to work with the teacher with whom they feel they have the best connection. Again, teaching and learning are personal, and we need to accept that some teacher-student relationships are stronger than others.

Having multiple teachers allows each one of these spaces to be well supported (if a single teacher tries to differentiate a classroom like this, they inevitably leave one or more groups to their own devices for at least part of the session). Furthermore it allows teachers to play to their strengths. Are they best in a more structured, teacher-led format? Then supervise the teacher-led section. Are they great questioners? Then maybe the small group area is the best for them.

My school isn’t blessed to have the amazing learning spaces seen at WAB (my colleague and I did seriously consider taking a sledgehammer to the non-load bearing walls between the classrooms – that’s the thinking you get when you cross 14 time zones in 6 days), but team teaching is something many schools can easily implement. 

For example, we’ve always griped about classes in the same subject being blocked with each other on the timetable: if one teacher is away, it’s very difficult to get a subject specialist to cover the class. But this structure means that two or more classes can be team taught straight away, simply using the different classrooms as the different zones.

And there are lots of different ways to use the different teachers and spaces, not just for the style of learning. Thinking from a Global Politics perspective, we could offer 2-3 group case-studies on the same concept, and allow the students to choose which is most interesting and relevant to them. During revision time, we could set-up the room based on different revision needs – one room looking at the human rights unit, one at peace and conflict, and one at exam technique – again dividing the rooms between our areas of speciality as a teacher.

Sometimes the most simple ideas are the best and this is certainly one we’ll explore further. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be let loose with a sledgehammer.

Lesson 3 from a year of self-directed learning: give them a stage!

In September 2018, we established a program that enabled a group of MYP students to direct their own learning for a year. In these blog posts I share three key lessons from that year.

Lesson 3: Give students a stage

So far, this series of blog posts might have given the impression that there were more failures than successes in our first year. But that’s definitely not true! I saw some extraordinary things last year. A 13-year old, new to English language and literature, writing, producing and promoting on her own Broadway-style musical. Students overcoming deep-rooted fears of public speaking and math. A debate between a group of 12 to 15 year olds about the merits of liberalism, Marxism and anarchism that wouldn’t have been out of place at a university. 

“You’re Next: The Musical”. One of the most extraordinary student achievements I’ve ever seen.

A common factor in each of these successes is that the students had a stage on which to demonstrate their learning. In the case of the musical, it was literally a stage, but in other projects it was simply running a workshop for peers or sharing learning at a student-led conference. 

A flipside of handing students ownership over their learning is that we teachers also lose a lot of control over the learning process (read: deadlines!). We tried to negotiate mid-point review and final deadlines with the students, but it often happened that when these approached, the students would make the case for extending the deadline; just a little more time for some final research, another day to do the final touches. Anyone who has written a dissertation will know the feeling. 

By giving students an authentic stage, we take away the possibility of extensions. It forces students to reflect on their learning and bring it together in a final product for their audience, be it their peers, parents or wider community. Furthermore, we don’t have to play the bad guy by refusing to give deadline extensions and can instead coach the student through.

For example, early on in the year we had a student working on a project about anatomical drawing. He was interested in Da Vinci and, with our arts and science Learning Guides, was developing his drawing skills and knowledge of muscle groups. For many weeks he sat quietly by the window sketching away, telling the Learning Guides he needed a bit more time to achieve his goals. As time went on we grew concerned about how he was progressing. Was too much time being spent on this project? When would the final product emerge?

We decided to give him a stage by asking him to give a workshop to the group the following week. It certainly caused some anxiety. The sketching became more frantic and on the morning of the workshop the student asked to postpone his session. But it had been advertised on the schedule and there was no backup plan, so he’d need to go ahead! We talked through how the workshop could be delivered and encouraged him onto his stage.

What followed was a session that any teacher would have been proud of. The student was able to teach us those techniques he’d spent hours practicing, all the while talking us through the different muscle groups and cheering everyone up by telling us that we all actually have six packs…somewhere! His knowledge and expertise shone through and was contagious. So much so, the group asked for another workshop the following week to continue their drawings. 

A lesson any teacher would be have been proud of.

Speaking to the student afterwards, he admitted that he’d begun to tread water with his project. He had put so much time into it, he didn’t know how to bring it together and was worried about what he’d do next. The workshop gave him the incentive to face these challenges and critically consider what he’d learned. Furthermore, the “buzz” of being an expert in front of peers was something he wanted to feel again.

We now try to ensure student’s are always given a stage for their learning, be this a one-off performance or exhibition, a workshop for their peers or a student-led conference with their family and friends. It doesn’t mean the end of their learning: just an authentic checkpoint.

Lesson 1: Democracy doesn’t work

Lesson 2: Traditional paradigms of education are difficult to escape

Dismantling Benchmarks

My inspiration this week came from Bob Marley’s, “Could you be loved” unusual right?

Don’t let them fool ya

Or even try to school ya

Oh, no

We’ve got a mind of our own…

These words of wisdom led me back to student agency and honouring the learners. Here’s how;

Step 1: Think of your pre-assessment as an inviting and thought-provoking experience rather than a test.

Step 2: Their perspective of themselves matters. We set up different stations where students went and took part in the set activity and using the “Solo Taxonomy from a Student’s Perspective “, reflected on what they had done and where they want to go next.

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Step 3: Listen to them. Find out what they need. We later used that perception of themselves to start a conversation on what they would like to work on for the rest of the week. They talked about why they chose that benchmark, and most importantly what they wanted to use that knowledge for.

Step 4: Be an ally. I found as many resources as I could about shapes. Some spent the whole lesson recreating buildings using shapes, some created patterns and inquired into tessellations and another spent their lesson in the maker space using his knowledge of shapes to create a house

Step 5: Cheer them on. Rather than instructing and talking at them, I spent the lesson researching and documenting, sharing ideas and reminding them of the goal they want to achieve.

Step 6: Celebrate. You beat the system. I saw different personalities shine through, engaged and meaningful conversations happening and most importantly, transcending a restrictive and prescriptive benchmark, breaking the barriers, finding meaning beyond our four walls…

 

Inquiry in the Classroom

“A good education must expose knowledge gaps and increase the hunger for further inquiries.” To understand this quote one must understand what is an inquiry, how it look like, feel like and sound like. The literal meaning of inquiry says investigation. However, it`s an approach for teaching and learning. That is what a new born baby does when he sees the world for the first time and he tries to experience it. He grabs every possible thing to investigate and that is how he learns.

It`s very important to know why inquiry, before we understand an inquiry classroom. Inquiry promotes learning, it motivates learners to explore things on their own thus promote self- management skill. Students take the ownership of their learning. It helps us to feel engaged where we take the learning ahead and we decide how much we will learn and how we will plan our learning. An inquiry teacher never bothers about what she wants to teach but rather she prioritizes student questions, ideas, and analyses. She makes sure students make the connection between their real-life experiences and learning. They are able to reason out topics and are skilled enough to give justification.

Inquiry in classroom looks like: Inquiry classroom looks like everyone is engaged in learning through experimenting, talking, investigating. It has flexible seating arrangement, display boards are reflective in nature not with beautiful teacher`s display.

Inquiry in classroom sounds like: Kids discussing with each other using visible thinking routine. Often teacher sounds like co-learner rather than a teacher. It sounds like someone presenting their learning. It sounds like the teacher providing feedback.

Inquiry in the classroom feels like: An inquiry classroom feels like kids might use what they have learned to contribute and make a difference. Here learners are valued and respected. Teacher asks open-ended question rather structured.

Few examples of inquiry in the classroom are: ➢ Students are engaged in experiential learning ➢ Lesson becomes project-based learning rather than a lecture ➢ More room for discussion ➢ Encouraging wonder wall ➢ Students use participation ladder to reflect an enduring understanding ➢ Classroom have inquiry table ➢ Student reflects their understanding through visible thinking routine or strategy, rather than the worksheets ➢ Evidence of uses of multiple intelligences ➢ Use of differentiated instructions ➢ Student reflections are authentic rather than teacher driven

Last but not the least an inquiry classroom provides you an opportunity to know your students better and it helps to build a strong relationship. As someone rightly said “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”

MLSI/2018-Inquiry in the classroom Drafted by Chandrani Roy Banerjee

Grade 3 Research Skills Unit

I feel lucky to work in an amazing team of Grade 3 teachers and with support staff at ISHCMC that inspire me, challenge me and work with me respectfully & collaboratively! We have the same vision of where we feel education should be moving and while we deliver lessons in different ways, we respect each other and often learn and build on each other’s ideas.

This collaboration led to our most recent unit that was focused on research skills. As I mentioned in previous posts (Studio 3 / Studio 3 & Skillz Studio) our team has been working to shift the focus of learning from knowledge-based to skills based.

This was a Where We Are in Place and Time unit (PYP) and we decided that the focus would be on research skills. Students would inquire into people from history during the unit (or into any topic during the provocation and Skillz Studio). They would and learn a lot of knowledge, but the focus of teaching, reflecting and reporting would be on the research skills. Students would explicitly learn how to formulate questions, collect information, record information and present their research findings.

Instead of starting the unit by breaking down the central idea and lines of inquiry, we decided not to put them up at all. Instead, we just put the word “Research” on the wall. We started by asking: “What is research?” and “What are the rules for research?” We had a bit of discussion and then students each reflected on sticky notes to record their understanding before starting the unit.

Then we gave them a provocation – a real provocation. We told them that they would do some research. They would work individually, for 1 week, for 1-2 periods a day, on 1 topic, and have something to share on Friday.

> “Mr. Billy, what should I research?”
> “What do YOU want to research? What are YOU interested in?”

> “Mr. Billy, where should I find the information?”
> “Where do YOU think you should find the information?”

> “Mr. Billy, Are these notes OK?”
> “Do YOU think these notes are Ok?”

> “Mr. Billy, how should I share my research?”
> “How do YOU think you should share your research?”

How often do we truly let students explore on their own without meddling? I’m not going to lie and tell you that I was hand-off the whole time, but I tried my best. After a few days, we started to see the specific needs this cohort of students had in terms of their research skills. Some areas were better than we thought, while others needed more help. Overall, a big theme we noticed was that they found research easy… because they weren’t researching a specific question, they were reading for information. Instead of letting their questions lead their research, they just let the book tell them information. This actually had us re-evaluate our central idea and lines of inquiry to fit the needs of the students. It also had us re-evaluate the way we were planning on teaching and we thought about new ways to address the specific skills these students needed.

After we reflected, our central idea and lines of inquiry were:

Central Idea:
> By researching, we can understand about individuals through history.

Our lines of inquiry:
• An inquiry into why we research (function, causation)
• An inquiry into the research cycle  (function)

After the provocation was the “meat and potatoes” of the unit. This was the part where we explicitly taught the skills of research. This was a more structured part, where students were still given agency, but where we explicitly taught and practiced the skills needed to research. As a class, we developed the specific parts of the research cycle and through the unit explored each one. During the unit, students inquired into different people as a way to structure and scaffold their learning.

Questioning:

As I mentioned earlier, through our provocation we discovered that students were not using questions to lead their research, but rather reading for information. While this might seem like semantics, it isn’t. When you research, YOU lead by searching for the answers to your questions. When you read for information THE BOOK leads and you are passively letting the book tell you information.

> “Research is hard!”

This would be a common thing I would hear – and it’s true. When students did find the information they were looking for though, it led to a very satisfying feeling and they were excited to share it with others.

As a way to teach/model questioning, we decided to use a question formulation technique. As a class we generated questions and used them for research we did together in class about sharks. As a class we:

  1.          Asked as many questions as we could.
  2.          Did not stop to judge, discuss, or answer any questions.
  3.          Wrote down every question as stated.
  4.          Changed any statements into questions.

Initially, we thought we would focus on thin and thick or open and closed questions. As we got into it though, we realized that it wasn’t specifically about the questions, but about the researcher. If the researcher is inquisitive and wants to “dive deeper” then even closed questions could provide a lot of opportunities. For example, How long are shark’s teeth can be seen as a thin question, but the researcher can go deeper by asking if different types of sharks have different lengths? Does that affect the type of food they eat? Instead of snorkeling at the top of the water, we encouraged students to grab their scuba pack and dive deeper down.

After working on questioning together, students generated their own questions to lead their research into the people they chose to inquire into. We didn’t focus on the types of questions, but on the researcher and how deep or shallow they went with their inquiry.

Collecting Information:

How would students choose the person they will inquire into? Students needed to be exposed to a variety of people to choose from, but we didn’t want to curate a list ourselves. Instead, we had the idea of asking our parent community. We asked each parent for 3 ideas of important people from history who they thought students should inquire into. This not only sparked conversations at home but also introduced us to interesting people from around the world!

After collecting all the names, students alphabetized and posted on the wall all the suggestions parents had about who they should research. Students then choose people from the wall and completed a sheet identifying the physical and digital sources they could find about that person.

     

We discussed reliable vs. unreliable sources and curated some places where students might find information using QR codes. We discussed possibilities of interviewing people, if that made sense, and took books out of the library to create our own Grade 3 library (also learning how to search for books remotely). We discussed safe search engines like Kiddle and Kidrex and explored how results came up when searching. We learned about ads in the results and to look at the link to see if it is a reliable source.

We talked about skimming & scanning when looking for information and students were encouraged to find information from multiple sources and compare it. Some even found conflicting dates for the birth and death of ancient people and this sparked some interesting discussions. We also discussed legal ways we can use images and how to cite them. Kiddle’s encyclopedia is a great resource for this!

Recording information:

Often we expect students to just take notes, but do we explicitly teach them how to do it? Using a shared text and research into sharks, we explored different ways to take notes. We looked into boxes & bullets, mind-mapping, two-column notes, graphs & charts, and sketch-noting. I modeled each one with our joint text and then students explored and experimented on their own.

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We discussed which ways worked for them and which they didn’t like using. We did gallery walks to learn from each other and shared tips and strategies.

Students really enjoyed sketch-notes and that was probably because we have a resident expert right in Grade 3 with my co-worker Libby McDaniel (‪@wecanbeawesome ). She creates her own personal sketch-noting journals, which are incredible, and inspired many students! In addition, I was inspired by her to try and record the progression of the unit on the class whiteboards and keep the learning visual through the unit.

Presenting Information:

Before diving into “flashy” ways to present our research, we focused on writing an information report. As a class, we jointly wrote one based on the shark research we had done together and then students wrote their own. We gave them a loose structure to follow with an introduction, main body, conclusion, and citations. Not only was this important for students to learn, but it also kept them honest about the amount and detail of their research.

After students wrote an information report, we wanted to spark ideas about other ways they could present their information in more engaging ways. We had a wonderful discussion talking about “traditional” ways to present information and “out-of-the-box” ways. We came up with a wide range of ideas, many of which we as teachers had not thought of previously.

Students chose a variety of ways to present information in engaging ways, such as becoming the person in a hot seat, creating games, making movies with green screens, interviewing the person (playing both roles), writing books, creating interactive posters, delivering Keynote/Slides presentations, etc… We met together in small groups with similar ways of presenting and jointly created expectations. This way, students knew what the expectations were and how to challenge and improve themselves. One of my students even changed her whole project after working together in the small groups as she wanted to level-up her presentation!

Skillz Studio:

Finally, after students had presented their information about the person they inquired into, we moved on to the “dessert” of the unit (with a cherry on top). Now that the students had time to specifically learn their research skills and practice with guidance, they were ready to go it alone. They had 2-weeks to manage their own time, with some must-dos, but mostly working on their individual research projects.

During Skillz Studio, students chose a specific research skill to develop and also a specific self-management skill. Since they had already done two different research projects, they were able to identify areas of strength and growth. They independently worked through the research cycle with a presentation at the end to their peers, teachers and their parents in our community.

There were some teacher workshops, but also a lot of student workshops. Again, since students had the chance to go through the cycle two times already, many felt confident enough to teach their peers. Not only did they focus on research skills, but also on self-management skills (as this wasn’t their first Skillz Studio either).

      

The most difficult parts of helping 21+ students work on individual projects during Skillz Studio are keeping track of all their work & goals, knowing which stage each student is on, figuring out who needs help and with what and helping students manage their time. It is a lot to keep track of and we have been constantly experimenting with different ways and ideas to do so.

To manage work, we tried a new idea. We used a shared Google doc with a graph on it that we shared with students. As students completed a section of the research cycle, they would upload evidence on Seesaw and then change the color on the chart (Green for done, Yellow for in progress, Red for I need help). I would then look at the evidence and add a tick mark. If there was a question, I would change the box to orange and talk with them about my concern. It is not perfect but worked quite well as a way to manage the organized chaos and keep track of everything happening. This is something we are still working on, developing and improving as we go. Any new ideas are quite welcome.

As a way to help manage goals, I met students in small groups based on their research goals to share strategies and ideas. I would also check in with students based on the graph. In addition, students also met in small groups with people who had the same self-management goals. Students were either working on their organization, time-management or informed choices.

As a group, students worked together to come up with some ways that they could be successful during the 2 weeks. Those focused on organization skills made daily checklists and reflected at the end of the day. Those focused on time management skills used timers in short intervals to keep them on task. Those working on informed choices drew icons on their arm to remind them to make good choices about where they sat, to focus on their work and to talk less. Through daily reflections, students decided if these strategies were working for them or if they needed to make some changes for the next day.

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Managing time on devices can be challenging, even for adults. Brain breaks are encouraged, but when the breaks end up longer than the time spent on the project it isn’t a break anymore, is it? So, as a way to keep track of the time spent on each app when using their iPads, students posted a screenshot of their usage for the day using the screen time app. This was really eye-opening for many students who didn’t realize that they were spending that amount of time doing things that were not helping them along with their project. Others used the app to set daily limits on apps, including productivity apps like Google Docs. They wanted to make sure that they were focused when working and this time limit helped them.

We also focused on the learning environment. I used to work in a real studio back in my design/advertising days. In a real studio, there is a lot of shared space, but everyone also has their own space where they can work. Some students started to develop their own spaces on their own, and so we decided to encourage this and asked students to re-arrange the room so they could create little areas for themselves to work. They were able to choose an appropriate place to work and focus and were able to leave things they created and made.

In the end, we had a Share Fair where students presented their research to the community, in engaging ways. They had all their notes and materials to share as well if anyone wanted to learn about their process. The visitors filled in reflection sheets and shared critical feedback about their presentations and the work they had done. Having a requirement that students share the work they have done is an important part of making the work authentic and allowing the community to decide if the learning was worthwhile and if the students were a success.

Reflections:

As in the past, students helped to mark and write their assessment for this unit. We also like to try and have at least one other perspective to balance it (parent, peer or teacher). For this unit, we decided to have the teacher write a part too. Students reflected on their growth and understanding of research through the unit, their strengths and learning targets. As their teacher, I also wrote a reflection, from my perspective. I then met with each student to share my thoughts and observations and we discussed them together, using evidence to support each of our sides. Finally, we negotiated the final marks for each of the research and self-management skills, using evidence. It is not a simple process, but I think it is worth it. I hate being the judge and jury and enjoy working with students to really dig deep and get to the truth. It is going to take some new and different ways to do assessments if we are going to focus on skills. So far, this has been working quite well, but I am absolutely open to suggestions!

In the end, I feel that this was a really successful unit and was a good model for how to focus units on skills as opposed to knowledge. It allowed students to learn the skills explicitly and gave them multiple opportunities to practice them. There was incredible motivation, student choice, and variety of topics explored and ways presented. I’m not going to lie and say it was easy or that everyone achieved their goals. While some flourished others struggled, but that is the point. It is always a difficult balance of teaching and support in order to allow students to learn from their mistakes. In the end, it was a really great learning experience for everyone. Not only was there a lot of knowledge learned, but also a lot of skills learned too.

Next steps:

We are always tweaking and talking about how to improve for next time. For example, this year we curated websites for the students and touched on search engines. We thought about focusing more on how to use search engines to find information next time.

This is a work in progress and as always I am open to suggestions to help improve the learning experience.

 

Agency Driven Curriculum

The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” ~ Chris Dede

‘Is it our curriculum that allows for the scope of student-agency or is it student-agency that should drive the curriculum?’ This is a question that I have pondered on considerably in the past several months. I believe the distinction is important and has implications as to how we approach the curriculum and how we manage our time. The answer may also suggest what we value within education.

Through conversations with educators it seems that the current trend is that many are still working with the curriculum and timeframes that they have had previously. Within these already fixed curriculums and timeframes they are looking for greater opportunity to allow for student-agency. It is amicable but in this scenario student-agency may occur but it is very limiting and arguable unauthentic when the scope and timing of learning has already been predetermined by the teacher? This approach to the curriculum creates an unnatural learning environment, drastically limiting the opportunities for agency to flourish. We not only increasingly limit the choice of the learner but fail to recognise student voice and ultimately ownership of their learning. 

I would argue that rather than developing a curriculum that allows for agency we allow student-agency to develop the curriculum. If we dictate the how, when and where of learning we are sending a clear message that our learners are incapable of making these decisions on their own. As we follow our set path of learning objectives and routines we are sending a clear message to our learners that their wonderings, interests and self-inquiry have less value than the learning objectives of our curriculum.

I don’t think the answer is re-inventing the curriculum rather than re-imaging our approach to it. I believe that it is more about breaking it down and co-creating it with our learners in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to them. Creating a less structured curriculum that allows for flexibility of learning, authentic inquiry naturally leading to authentic student-agency. A more flexible approach to learning, coupled with strong academic advising structures allows our young learners to find their strengths and interests, and to change direction if needed. Flexibility does not mean that teaching isn’t without structure. Our learners are still dependent on their teachers for providing some element of structure so that they can put in context and make sense of their learning. What we are doing is transferring ownership so that you are working for the learners and not the learners working for you. Being flexible allows educators to respond to different learning abilities, needs and interests. Authentic learning environments should be in constant motion, filled with disruptions, discussion and new ideas. The more flexible a teacher’s approach, the better they are able to adapt to the room and the higher the chances are of increased student participation, engagement and ownership creating a more natural learning environment. It allows students to naturally explore subjects through their own questions, ideas, previous knowledge and level of intelligence. Real learning rarely follows a predictable and clearly linear pattern.

Please read my previous blog posts on how I have worked towards creating a less-structured and flexible approach to the curriculum:

From Learners to Leaders.

Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Teaching Learning Behaviours and Why the Process Matters.

Student agency is nurtured when teachers see learning as layers of choices that are made increasingly by students as they develop their ability to use the information in front of them to make them.Sam Sherratt

They see or seek the possibilities for layers of choices and providing the time, space and resources to ensure the layers are accessible to all.” Tania Mansfield

We often limit students’ agency and limit their imagination due to our own logical thinking. We are adults who come with our own culture, our own background and the wisdom of our world view. We often don’t recognize this as we plan provocation and provocative learning engagements.” – Kristen Blum

Developing a less structured approach to the curriculum is more than just an experiment but also has some grounding in research:

Consistent with Vygotskian developmental theory and programs that build on that theory, such as Tools of the Mind, less-structured time may uniquely support the development of self-directed control by affording children with additional practice in carrying out goal-directed actions using internal cues and reminders. That is, less-structured activities may give children more self-directed opportunities. From this perspective, structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when. Findings offer support for a relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of self-directed executive function (EF). Children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF. Executive functions (EFs) in childhood predict important life outcomes. Thus, there is great interest in attempts to improve EFs early in life. Time spent in less-structured activities would give children opportunities to practice self-directed executive functioning, and lead to benefits.’ – Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.

 

Agency in Writing

Last year I wrote about the idea of studio time and opening myself up to agency in learning. This year I am trying to explore agency beyond the limits of studio time. I’m interested in the opportunities for learner agency within and beyond my practice.

  • How can I notice opportunities for learner investment?
  • When does a learner’s natural curiosity provide a potential launch point for inquiry?
  • How do I build my own capacity for noticing and harnessing the inbuilt learning tendencies within my class?
  • Where, in the past, might I have ignored or worked around the curiosities in the room and continued doggedly towards my curriculum goals?
  • How can I continue to provide quality learning experiences for students but focus on building learner agency within those experiences?

In other words, how do I plan a ‘good lesson’; one I know is targeted to student needs,  but one that also invites learner agency?

With that in mind, I have reflected on an imperfect example of my experimentation with this idea.

A sequence of learning:

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Our year began with an inquiry (Who We Are) into the actions of individuals in a community and an exploration of character strengths and dispositions. A few weeks in, and as teachers, we are interested in giving students an opportunity to share what they have learned but also experiment with the role of workshop facilitator. What dispositions do they need to apply when planning and facilitating a learning experience for younger students?

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Most students were really excited by the idea and found it to be a positive learning experience (besides a few who complained about having ‘a few disruptive kids to deal with’…pause for my raised eyes and response along the lines of…’that must have been awful for you’). With more future learner-led workshops in mind, I wanted the reflection to also be future thinking. We used Harvard Project Zero’s Compass Points thinking routine to explore what might be considered if we were to do something similar again.

As always, when I have a writing opportunity in mind, I find learners have more success when they are able to verbally share their thinking first. So we talked with our thinking partners and shared some responses as a class.

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Sidebar: How awesome is my handwriting?

So with the shared vocabulary and ideas visible for all learners, I posed a writing task. Yes. Controversial, I know. I’m normally an advocate for learner choice in writing but sometimes I break from that. What I don’t do, at any point, is identify an intended genre. Instead, I ask that we write something with:

Purpose: To prepare others to run a workshop

Audience: My class next year

So then came the pivot point. Questions from the crowd. This is where I would normally have the outcome in mind but now I’m trying to notice the natural direction the learners are wanting to take the piece.

“Can it be funny?”

“Can it be an ad on TV?”

Without saying it, I was expecting they would produce a basic list of lifehacks for workshop leaders, or a set of tips for success (which some did). With opportunities for experimentation, stopping and sharing, collaboration and advice giving (to each other), what was written was so much more diverse. The personal voice was better developed. The creativity was strong. The informal sharing provided entry points for idea development amongst learners who were struggling with opening lines or in finding a tone for their piece.

Next…

We paired with our thinking partners again. Here is where I got a bit too experimental.

“Share your writing with your thinking partner. Identify an area of strength and an area for improvement in each of your writing. Your job is to use this information to suggest mini-lessons for next week’s writer’s workshop. The mini-lessons will be opt-in workshop style, so they don’t have to be for everyone. Here is the writing section of the Australian Curriculum (displayed on the board…yes, I know…not exactly practical) for you to use as a resource.”

So this is where I would do something differently if I had lesson over. Duh. The WHOLE writing section of the Australian Curriculum. HAHAHAHA!!! As if. Perhaps an abridged set of learning outcomes? Or even better, a co-created resource describing author skills.

What it did do, however, was provoke and generate a whole range of questions about what is in the curriculum. Another agentic moment noticed. Now…what to do with it?

Here is the list of mini-lessons they created:

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I was able to use the opportunity to develop metalanguage for what they were describing as a need. For example, “I want the paragraphs to flow into each other in a way that makes sense”. Ahhh, cohesion. Notice, name.

So they didn’t really use the curriculum on the board which means they know what they need.

SO

What are the possibilities? Where could we go?

  • learner-led mini-lessons?
  • teacher-led mini-lessons?
  • optional publishing of the pieces for REAL audiences (year 4 students who will plan their own workshops)?
  • filming of the TV ads during studio time?