Where Do I Start????

Changing the way I approached the classroom environment last year completely changed the way I approached my teaching. Letting go of the control I had over where the students sat and how they worked was the first step to me recognizing the power in giving over some control to the students and allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning. By December 2017 I was teaching in an entirely new way that saw less structured scheduling and more voice and choice for my students. I became OBSESSED with reading other peoples ideas and trying them out in my room and I was a skipping record that only talked about the one topic with anyone who would listen to me.

Fast forward to August 2018 and I am STUCK! I have NO IDEA where to begin! I continue to read and see other peoples ideas and love all of them…but where do I start with this new class of students? How do I start the year in the way I closed the previous one? I have to admit I am struggling not to go back to my old ways. I am seeing blogs and tweets about amazing experiences teachers are having in their classrooms as they have their students start on their next learning journey. Disheveled classrooms being created and designed by the learners, tasks being written and undertaken, workshops being offered…the inspiration is endless and I find I have replaced my Facebook (I deactivated my Facebook account over the summer and haven’t looked back!) time suckage with Twitter and blogs…but instead of inspiring me on what I can be doing in my own classroom it is often causing PANIC! Why does it look and seem so easy for these incredible educators and why do I seem to be blocked in finding a way for it to work with my class? I would literally be failing at that point…myself and my new, enthusiastic class of students.

This blog post is not going to be a great one, in fact, I may not even post it…it is me trying to sort out where I am at and where I want to get to, and most importantly, HOW do I get there? On moving up day last school year I sold a great sell to my new class and they have come back raring to go on the student-directed learning journey! My struggle has been how to incorporate the student-directed approach into the community building sessions. How do I introduce the students to the different routines that we will be following and building our new class community while preparing them for a successful transition into a classroom structure that is entirely new to them?

I decided to place a greater focus on the students looking at themselves as learners and who they are as learners. Instead of talking about general aspects of their lives with each other they had a great focus on who they are in their role as a student. The students completed a MICUP (Multiple Intelligence Checklist for Upper Primary) and identified the different categories of intelligence that are their strengths and those that are more challenging. They interviewed each other about their learning preferences when working in the classroom (asking questions such as what time of the day do you feel more focused?). They then used the answers to create “Learner Profiles” of themselves.

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As a class, we brainstormed what we believe our roles are in creating a successful learning environment. We looked at the UN values and the school values and used our understandings in conjunction with what we brainstormed about the ideal classroom and we wrote our own list of values that we will strive to achieve (the students decided to use values rather than work agreements, rules or essential agreements).

 

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As we worked through all of these tasks and activities we continued to reflect on our key learning objective of “I can explain who I am as a learner and how I will work in my class community to achieve success in grade 4.” At the end of the second week of school, we did a class health check where we reflected on how we were feeling as a class. It was a great math lesson where we created criteria and then followed the data handling process of collecting data, recording data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The class thought we are doing a great job as 90% rated themselves as feeling between a 7 and 10 out of 10, however, we quickly agreed that it is not a success until everyone in the class are feeling this way. By looking at our class values they quickly came up with an area of focus for next week and possible ways we can help everyone feel emotionally safe in the classroom.

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As I sit here and procrastinate planning for the week ahead I am thinking of where to next…pre-assessments are 90% done, the classroom community is established and now just needs time…but what is the regular school week going to look like? What I am realizing is that I am needing to practice what I preach in my class…I need to be the open-minded one and I need to be balanced when I am preparing for the week ahead. Most importantly though I need to be the risk taker!

How are you going with your start to the year? What has worked and what have you learned to do differently next time?

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7 Ways For Promoting More Choice within “Compulsory Schooling”

Originally blogged on May 11, 2018 by Mary Wade: @mary_teaching.

In John Taylor Gatto’s book, Dumbing Us Down, he contends that compulsory education impacts children in the following ways:

#1: It confuses students.

“I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion.”

#2: It teaches kids to accept their rigid class & grade-level placement.

“The lesson of numbered classes is that everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and that there is no way out of your class except by number magic.”

#3: It makes them indifferent.

“The lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?”

#4: It makes them emotionally dependent.

“By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command.”

#5: It makes them intellectually dependent.

“We must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices.”

#6: It teaches provisional self-esteem.

“A monthly report, impressive in its provision, is sent into students’ homes to signal approval or to mark exactly, down to a single percentage point, how dissatisfied with their children parents should be.”

#7: It teaches them that they cannot hide, due to constant supervision.

“I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework,” so that the effect of surveillance, if not that surveillance itself, travels into private households, where students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a father or mother, by exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood.”

While I don’t necessarily agree with all he writes, he makes a pretty solid case regarding these consequences of the institution of school. Despite the fact that he wrote it in 1991, we are still seeing similar consequences today.

by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, April 22, 2018

Nonetheless, here in 2018, we have so many opportunities to address these issues, even within the construct of “compulsory schooling.” I would like to visit how we might address each one today.

#1: Confusion  Seek out inquiry & concept-based learning in which students start with the big concepts. Start with the student by provoking thinking and connections. See my list of provocations here on concepts ranging from empathy to color to how we organize ourselves. And check out Laura England’s fabulous recent example with her students’ big thinking.

#2: Accepting class/grade-level placement  Encourage student voice & global collaboration. Solicit their feedback & regularly meet in class meetings to ascertain their feelings about “how things are” and whether they have ideas on how it might be better. And if they want to talk with students or experts beyond their assigned grade level, facilitate that! See amazing examples here.

#3: Indifference  Make time for student-led projects such as Genius Hour or Passion time for students to pursue personally meaningful learning over the longterm. See AJ Juliani’s guide.

#4: Emotional dependence → Reject trinkets & prizes in favor of intrinsic motivation. See this great example of how we can do so with regards to reading from Donalyn Miller.

#5: Intellectual dependence  Put students in the driver’s seat as often as possible, from planning their day to self-regulation (see more details on getting started). 

#6: Provisional self-esteem  Implement Student-led conferences & blogging to allow students to clearly recognize and share their own learning.

#7: Lack of privacy  Ask what parents need (& otherwise view ourselves as support/appendages to the family, rather than family as an appendage of school).

There will always be limitations within the rigid public school system. However, especially as we make advances in technology that provides more opportunities for personalized learning and agency, there will always be ways to find flexibility to help learners take more ownership over their lives as learners. It may be the next best thing to fully self-directed learning.

(added note as a result of discussion from the original post: As long as there is government-mandated curriculum & testing, fully self-directed learning is not possible. This post was primarily intended to share student agency ideas with those teachers trying to “innovate inside the box” as George Couros put it earlier this year).

 

Let Students Teach

I laced up my shoes, grabbed my water bottle and took off running. I needed to get in some fast kilometers so I set my mind on that.  I took off on my usual route but needed more kilometers so I turned a corner, then another and another, my heart was racing, my legs were beginning to get tired. It was a good hard run. But at one point in the middle of my run I stopped. I turned around and realized I was lost. I was so busy concentrating on running hard that I had lost track of where I was going.

Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 8.12.26 PMThis year for me was like that run. I started out the year wanting to better meet the needs of each of my students. So I set off on the hard run of carefully tracking each students progress in reading, writing and math.  I wanted them to own that data so I created goal setting books for each student with rubrics, checklists and weekly goal setting sheets. I would regularly assess students  conference with them and give them feedback  They would then use this information to set weekly Math, Reading and Writing goals.   Then I would have workshops and activities available to them to teach them whatever it was they were focusing on.  I created detailed updates for parents so they could further support their child at home. It seemed great at first.  Everything was very personalized. It was hard work. I was running hard.  But I was lost.

When I stopped to take a drink of water and reflect. I realized what this whole system was like for my students. No matter how hard they worked, there was always some new problem I could find for them. There was always something else they didn’t understand that I needed them to learn.  I owned the learning.

I was teaching in the old school hospital model.  I was treating my students like patients. “Here is your diagnosis. I have identified all of your problems. Here is your prescription.

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I realized I needed to make some major changes to how I was teaching.  I will get in to more of the changes in other posts but one of my most important changes was pretty simple in practice but profound in mindsets. It involved shifting the focus from all of the things students couldn’t do to what they could.   I needed to build on their strengths. So I started asking students to teach.

At that time my students were beginning a unit inquiring into Heritage. They had each chosen a site that they thought should be preserved and were making scale models of those sites. Students could choose to make models in any form they liked. Some students were interested in using Tinkercad and Sketchup to create a scale model on the computer and then 3D print it.  A few of my students had been working with these programs at home and during I-time (Genius Hour) so they volunteered to lead a workshop to teach interested students.  It went brilliantly. The very next week 4th graders from other classes requested the same workshop, so my students taught it to them.  A week after that my 4th graders were leading the workshops to interested teachers. The surprising thing about it, was it wasn’t just my typically outgoing students leading the workshop.  One of my most shy, quiet students was leading the workshop as well. You could literally witness his self confidence grow before your eyes.  After his workshop he reflected on his experience, -4th grade student I wanted all of my students to have that sort of opportunity so I opened up workshops to all subjects. First I started with Math topics and this was  an easy starting point. It was simple to have students sign up to lead workshops in concepts that were a review but students wanted more support in. They were also very interested in workshops in areas they needed help with in order to complete a project they were working on. Some examples of workshops my students have led are:

    • How to calculate ratio
  • How to find the least common multiple
  • How to model multiplication with arrays
  • How to use estimation to solve division problems
  • How to sew
  • How to create a website using Wix
  • How to write music
  • How to draw action figures
  • How to write a great introduction to your story
  • How to write good transitions for your narrative.
  • What happens to your muscles when you exercise?
  • Why do we sometimes double a consonant in the base word when we add a suffix?

There are many things I have loved about having students lead workshops but one of my favorites is the role reversal.  The students get to experience being both the teacher and student with their classmates and that builds a beautiful classroom culture of shared ownership of our learning.  One example of that happened last week when one of my students patiently taught another student a Math concept she was stuck on.  The very next day that same student became the teacher and she patiently explained a Science concept to her teacher from the day before.  These types of experiences completely shatter any notion students had that only some students were “smart.” Everyone in the class is seen as capable. Students are often seen high fiving each other as they learn a new concept or sitting side by side helping each other work through something they are stuck on. One student explained,

I have seen many benefits to having students lead workshops. Attributes and Attitudes students have developed from this process:

  • Empathy for other students and the teacher.
  • Risk Taking
  • Growth Mindset
  • Shared Responsibility of learning
  • Motivation
  • Metacognition

This is still very much a work in progress. I have been learning from my mistakes as I go.  Some of the questions I have fumbled through have been:

How do I schedule this?

  • At first I just wrote workshop topics on the white board and had students sign up.
  • Then I moved to nicer looking erasable sheets that students would sign up for on a Monday but this presented a logistical nightmare as I would try to quickly schedule the workshops on Monday morning for workshops occurring that same day.
  • I have moved to a digital system where I list some possible workshop options for Math  and Literacy  on a Google Doc and share that doc with students on a Friday. Students can sign up for workshops they are interested in attending or leading and or they can add a new topic they would like to attend or lead. Over the weekend I assign times for each of those workshops and share it with the students on Monday so that they can set  goals and create their weekly schedule.

How do I manage student behavior?

  • There is some sad part of me that giggles when my students are leading a workshop and turn to me in exasperation “Ms. Mindy, they signed up for the workshop but they aren’t listening. Teaching is hard.”  Generally the more opportunities students have had to lead workshops the better they behave when they attend workshops.

One of my students explained the experience well when they said,

How do I know if they have learned the concept if it wasn’t me leading the workshop?

  • I check in with participants after the workshop to quickly see if they understand. I also require them to show evidence that they have achieved their learning goal by documenting it on their blog.  The blogging part is a work in progress. Some students forget to take a picture of their work or don’t have much to show.

    Student’s blog reflection on his Math goal for last week.

How do I ensure quality teaching?

  • I touch base with the leaders ahead of time. Sometimes they are leading a lesson I taught them the week before in a teacher led workshops. Other times it is a brand new workshop. In that case we discuss  how they will teach it and what materials they will need.

One participant reflected on what it is like to attend a student led workshop.

How do I get all students involved?

  • Some students won’t volunteer to lead workshops unless you ask them. I look for any opportunity to ask them. For example I might lead a workshop one week then tell my participants “I notice you really understand the concept.   Would you be willing to lead a workshop next week on it?”  Or I might notice a kid writes excellent introductions so during a writing conference I ask if they would lead a workshop on that.  In some cases I just say, “Hey you have so much to offer the class, I would love for you to lead a workshop.  Do you have any that you would be interested in leading?”

How do I manage the time this takes?

  • To be honest it doesn’t take much time to set the workshops up. But I needed to find a system that would work within the framework of my classroom. Start small. I started with the one workshop. Then open it up as you are ready.

It is still a hard run and I don’t always know my way but at least now I know I am on the right path because my students are running hard with me.

What’s worth learning?

Recently I gathered a group of volunteers from Grades 4 and 5 to help me look at our strategic plans for the coming year. We had identified three areas of focus (space, community, engagement) and I asked the students for their ideas, suggestions, questions, wonderings, thoughts and opinions for each area. There were so many inspiring and thought provoking statements that have caused me to pause and reflect. But today I’d like to look at one line of comments they wrote down, “we always have the same subjects… more variety/options.” I asked our learners what they meant by this and they asked me why school is always about English, Math and History? They wanted to know why couldn’t they learn about other areas like Psychology, Design, Carpentry, Mechanics, Video Games, Robots and Statistics.

I’ve been thinking about these questions and statements over the past few weeks. And I am stumped. Why can’t we learn about these other areas? Why do we tend to focus on just a few subjects? Do our units of inquiry allow enough breadth? How do we know what we need to learn and teach? Is it still relevant for today?

What is worth learning?

As I thought about this I saw a Twitter post (with linked blog post) by Eric Sheninger that made me think further about what might be worth learning:

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The skills listed refer to jobs of the future as outlined by the World Economic Forum: “advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology, and genomics.”

Are skills what is worth learning? Is that what we should be really focusing on? Then what about knowledge? While I can see the math and science within each of these future jobs I do not see the point of learning these subjects in isolation. Should we be looking at more opportunities for transdisciplinary learning?

And so once again I return to the question posed by our students, what about other areas of study? And therefore what’s worth learning? I am beginning to wonder what are we teaching? And do we focus too much on what we think should be the learning?

Sugata Mitra said in his TED Talk, Build a School in the Cloud, “I think we need a curriculum of big questions… but we’ve lost sight of those wondrous questions. We’ve brought it down to the tangent of an angle.” Are we focusing too much on the “facts” that need to be learned and not enough on the passion of learning?

The Teacher Questions in a PYP Unit of Inquiry are often written last and many times as an oversight. But without really good questions where is the inspiration for curiosity? We have determined what should be learned and we have the scope and sequence (or curriculum objectives, standards, benchmarks) to back us up. But have we considered what’s really worth learning and what will inspire our learners to think creatively and discover their passions?

When we plan our Units of Inquiry we write Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry as statements of what we think our learners should understand and inquire into. These inquiries have to fall under one of six Transdisciplinary Themes. Is this too confining, is it really all that is worth knowing? Does it allow for voice, choice and ownership?

Can we forget about the scope and sequence, the planned units and focus instead on wondering, questioning, discovering? Can we accept that children will learn even without adult intervention and curriculum objectives? Aaron Browder suggests in his article, “Can we stop obsessing about learning,” that we can and I am inspired by this idea.

But I also wonder how our learners will discover what they don’t know? How will they learn if they are unaware of the options for learning? If we never introduce them to multiplication will they figure it out, if they do how much time will be spent on the journey, is it worth it?

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From: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/dojo/lessons/not-sure-about-uncertainty

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From: https://poststatus.com/known-knowns-known-unknowns-and-unknown-unknowns/ 

So if the purpose of school is not to teach bits of knowledge that can be found through any good Internet search, is it to teach subjects that would never be learned in isolation outside of school? Or is school a place of wonder, where we discover ? A place where passions are born and students learn how to learn? Sugata Mitra said it best:

“It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

Let’s look at how we can set the process in motion, how we can inspire and provoke and question. How we can show our learners their unknown unknowns? Let’s reconsider what’s worth learning

Lost in the Learning

After reading Michael BondClegg’s post about timetables, which got the wheels turning in my mind again, I remembered that I had been meaning to write about two reflections by one of my students in response to the learning she had planned.

Students have been planning their days for a while now. Taryn helped me get the ball rolling, and it’s one of those things that has changed the face of our learning so much that we can’t go back; we don’t want to go back. It’s incredible how it has transformed the environment from ‘waiting to learn’ to ‘can’t wait to learn’. The benefits to the students’ time-management and reflection skills has been enormous, and it has also helped me identify better where, when and how to intervene to amplify the learning.

Anyway, here are the reflections:

March 5th 2018

This is my daily plan of today! So today I started with science, and I answered the Galileo questions, next i did some unit. After break and P.E. I planed to do some maths, but then I said my self today I was not in the mood for maths like everyday.😂 So I concentrated in genre writing, and wrote some poems. 

March 14th 2018

Today most of the time I did maths, because I wanted to improve my knowledge in time. I didn’t do the writing because I did science but, you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me. Next I want to do some writing, I didn’t do writing that much this week. 📝✍️

This is the line that got to me the most: ‘you know when you do something and then you get SO concentrated that you don’t remember what you wanted to do next? That, that happened to me.’

That’s kind of what Michael is talking about when we respect students’ choices, help them access deep learning, and not cut off their creativity.

First, it made me happy, I mean this would never have happened if I was making all the decisions. But then I realised that the students were still thinking of all the tasks they had to do. Not easy to get lost in your learning if you’ve got a list to tick off each day. Also, some students were disappointed if they didn’t do what they had planned. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

There are always bumps along the road…

So, recently students have not been planning their whole day from start to finish but, instead, they are setting goals for the week, deciding how they will achieve those goals and thinking about how they will know they have achieved them. At the end of the week, they reflect on whether they achieved their goals, what helped or hindered them, and set new goals for the following week. This has helped students avoid thinking that they must change task just because they decided that they would do so at a certain time. This tended to happen because that was what they had been doing for so long, and the planning sheet they were given was too similar to a regular timetable. Now, they have the option to add more goals and make adjustments throughout the week, and they refer to the planning sheet on a daily basis, but they needn’t be overly concerned by time constraints when they are ‘in the zone’.  My job hasn’t changed much from guiding them to balance their choices during the week and helping them develop their skills and understanding through conferencing with them and offering workshops tailored to their needs.

Now it’s enough for me to ask them what they want to learn, and off they go. Hopefully to get a little lost.

Innovation needs to be grown, not transplanted

It is sooo amazing to see/hear/read about all the buzz around innovation lately! There is such great momentum for pushing the envelope and making real changes to the system.

And with that awesome energy can sometimes come a “transplant” type of thinking.

“Let’s try that, here.”

And that type of thinking is kind of like cloning a plant that’s thriving somewhere and plopping it down somewhere else.

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…and then wondering one or two years down the road why it’s not flourishing.

Was the soil right? Was there enough sunlight? Was it in the right temperature? Were there gardeners who were willing to tend to it? Was it even the plant you wanted?

Sometimes all we see is the plant – because it’s what’s most visible – but we neglect to think about all the factors that contributed to what helped it grow in the first place.

Sam Sherrat has a great blog post called Studio 5: It Took More Than 7 Days. Which gives great insight into the 3 years of thinking and planning that went into Studio 5 to make it what it is today. As well as this first post in a series where he breaks down (more specifically) the different stages of our evolution process.

So in keeping with my plant metaphor, here are some suggested steps to help you grow your own innovation!

First, decide what plant you want

Start with your own why. What do you believe about learning? What do you believe your children deserve? What do you believe about the future of education? What are you hoping to achieve or accomplish? What dream are you working towards? If you could sum up your mission in one sentence, what would it be?

Then, buy the seed

Commit to your mission. Write it down. Share it with stakeholders. Be transparent about the vision you will be working towards. Work towards poking and provoking thinking to help people value and believe in it.

Next, tend to the seed.

Germinate the idea. Take time to brainstorm possibilities. How could you achieve your “why”? What are all the different ways you could bring your mission to life? What may work, might work, could work….

Upskill the Gardeners

Take time to inquire as a staff. Give people a chance to expereince the type of innovation you plan to implement for students. Find resources to extend everyone’s thinking and understanding of whatever it is you want to do.

Prune the plant as it grows.

Continuosly, go back to your “why”. What are you doing that’s helping achieve it? What are you doing that’s preventing you from achieving it? What do you need to start, stop, continue in order to honour your original mission. Know that the process is iterative.

It’s so great that so many schools want to innovate, but if we want our innovations to take root and really thrive we need to make sure that we are developing innovations that can grow and blossom in our specific contexts.. with our specific beliefs… our specific students… our specific teachers… our specific community.

Start with your “why”.

Brainstorm all the possible “how’s”.

Decide on some “what’s”

Give it a try.

And be prepared for endless iterations.

Copy and paste the process, not the innovation.