Exciting, Authentic, Connected…Transdisciplinary Learning!

As part of my professional inquiry for this year I decided to focus on student directed learning and student agency. The explanation of this is an entire blog post of its own (next one on my list) but in short I was looking at how I could play with my classroom logistics in order to stay true to what the school were requiring but still allowing the students to have agency.

Part of my process was to keep the parents of my class informed and aware of these changes. We are a team and it is important that there is complete transparency between us in order for the students to truly succeed.

Below is an edited blog post that I wrote to parents in December of this school year. The purpose of the post was to explain the changes that had started to happen in their child’s classroom. The response was extremely supportive and positive and resulted in many parents coming to visit and have a look.

PLEASE NOTE: the ideas that I have been implementing in my classroom are by no means my creation! I have adapted ideas received through observations of other amazing teachers and readings. The ideas are constantly changing as the students and I work together to make them the most successful for our class of learners! It is often messy and not always successful but there has been one constant result…learning!

Teacher to Parent Blog Post; December, 2017

At the moment in the education world, and specifically in the PYP, there is a big push for student agency and for educators to encourage students to be more in control of their own learning. The IB PYP is focusing on introducing student agency in a more focused way. They highlight the following advantages about increasing student agency as…

“Students with agency:

  • have voice, choice and ownership; and a propensity to take action
  • influence and direct learning
  • contribute to and participate in the learning community.”

As part of my own professional learning, I have been researching and looking for ways to create a learning environment that allows for greater student agency. For the last 4 weeks I have been introducing the class to new structures and concepts and giving them time (and a lot of guidance) as they learn what it all involves. This week was the first week where the students really saw it all come together, and I am so happy to witness the enthusiastic way that they have tackled the new approach!

Every morning the students come in to read an overview of what the day has to offer. Below is an example.

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IMG_2670An example of a completed weekly goals sheet that highlights not only the goal but also what success will look like and strategies to use to get there.

During the “Where We Are In Place and Time” unit of inquiry, the students did a range of tasks that were related to the unit but targeted specific math and literacy skills. They started to talk about their learning in terms of “I learned about… through the lens of math/reading/writing”. The content was focused on the unit of inquiry however the “skills” that they were learning were specific from the English and Math curriculum. At the end of the unit the students expressed that they felt they had a better understanding of the unit as they were looking at it from many different perspectives. They also highlighted that it allowed them to strengthen skills such as time management, reflection, cooperation and commitment.

IMG_7876An example of the Transdisciplinary Inquiry Journals that all students use to document their learning process.

img_0638.jpgThe list of Transdisciplinary Tasks students were required to do over the course of the unit, including a time management plan.
This week we have focused on developing our understanding of child rights, what they are and what they mean. Students have selected a range of tasks to undertake (each through the lens of either data handling, writing or reading) and began to work towards finding ways that they can take action towards to enable more children access to their rights.

At the beginning of each week they will reflect on their past week’s goals and look at how they are achieving them. They need to provide evidence of their learning and create their next plan of action, do they continue with the same goals or do they create new ones?

Snip20180331_2.pngCreating her weekly goals on Monday morning using her reflections to help her.

They then create a schedule for their learning. The class schedule is now broken into three sections;

  • student directed / transdisciplinary inquiry
  • whole class lessons
  • specialist classes
  • teacher and student led workshops on specific learning objectives

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. They decide what they are doing when (with teacher guidance!) and sign up for teacher OR student led workshops or independent inquiry tasks. Their key focus is on what they need to do to deepen their understanding and to have a balance of reading, writing and math. I help them with gaining this self-awareness and guide them to understanding what their needs are, if I recognise that they have not signed up for a workshop that I believe they would benefit from.

IMG_0848.jpg Signing up for teacher led workshops and recording these sessions on his personal schedule.

                    IMG_0583.JPGAn example of the workshop sign up sheet. Students have this information when developing their schedules and goals.

IMG_8552.JPGStudents deciding on the tasks they will undertake for the week ahead.

Overall, the classroom has become invigorated by the thinking that has been involved. The students are excited by the chance to shape the way they inquire into our classroom focus.

Snip20180413_43  An example of a planning document for individual workshop focus. Homeroom teacher (Mel), Teacher Assistant (Huong), EAL teacher (Nicole) and Learning Support teacher (Sara).

 

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SCHEDULING a path to empowerment

This was originally posted in authors personal blog Empower 2 Be…

How can the classroom, schedule and planning documents, reflect a true transdisciplinary approach to student directed learning?

This is the question that led my own personal inquiry journey over the last 9 months. I started this school year facing a challenging class. Add to this that I have found myself at a point in my career where I was questioning who I was as a teacher…when had I become so controlled by schedules…by standards…by the stress of the need to be seen as doing it all correctly? As we have all experienced at one stage or another, the lessons that we love and enjoy teaching are often the ones that the students pick up on and thrive in. What was I going to do with this class that really didn’t seem like they would cope well with a teacher with an identity crisis!

Over the past 2 years I have become more and more of a Twitter reader…there are so many ideas, articles, blogs…posted that I was loving how it allowed me to find inspiration from others in such an accessible way. This is where I heard about Student Agency, Student Directed Learning and Project Based Learning on repeat. Of course I had heard all these buzz terms at school and in PD’s but all of a sudden I was beginning to see it all in a practical sense. Maybe this is what I needed to truly access and differentiate for my class of learners this year…

Reasons for my TIA:

  • PYP junkie
  • Miss leading a classroom through inquiry
  • Time to stop stressing and start doing
  • Looking for an authentic way to help my very diverse group of learners
  • Looking for ways to have my students make deeper connections

What Am I Wanting to Achieve?

  • Students gaining a deeper understanding of Units of Inquiries
  • Students being more aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Students taking responsibility for their learning journey
  • Students maximising their learning style
  • Students interact with learning objectives authentically
  • Opportunities for action are genuinely available

But how do I do all of this while covering the learning objectives and ensuring the students were staying on task? How do I make sure I am meeting the needs of everyone if I am not controlling everything? How do I fight my fear of failure?

Baby steps…that is what I decided was needed. First things first…this timetable!

Trans-cending the Timetable:

From this…

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To this…

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And finally, now, to this…

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The original timetable for the class was very clinical and predetermined. It said what subject would be posted when. It did not leave a lot of room for student agency and did not require the students use self awareness of their own abilities to take responsibility for what they should focus on. UOI was listed as a subject and there was a lack of transdisciplinary vision. The first revised timetable split the time spent in the classroom in half showing a balance of teacher led time and student determined transdisciplinary inquiry.

By the time I revised it again “Inquiry Work” became “Student Directed Learning” (SDL) as I quickly realised that not all tasks they were scheduling for themselves were inquiry focused…some were skill focused, where they realised they just needed to practice. I had been able to collaborate with the learning support and EAL teachers about pushing in their time in an inclusive manner where we would collaborate on workshops we would all lead that ALL students would be able to access, not just the students on their “books”. iTime was absorbed into the SDL time at the request of the students…”You know Ms Mel, I would really prefer to use Friday afternoon for Writers Workshop. Is it ok for me to do iTime at another time during the week?” All of a sudden this schedule really was “OUR” schedule, the students were a part of the logistics of it all. It was also one of those moments where I could see the shift in the students having ownership over their own learning and the confidence to express their ideas!

Since I wrote the above another edit has occurred…during the SDL times there are now Student Led Workshops. Students have started offering their own workshops to their classmates as a way of becoming more confident and skilled in communication as well as solidifying their understandings. My favourite quote was when Cody said, “Ms Mel, I would really like to offer a workshop on using different strategies to solve 2 by 2 digit multiplication. I am not 100% sure I am totally good at it but I think this would help me to see what I still need to work on. Is this ok?” YES it is ok you risk-taker you!

 

 

 

 

Timetables – The Enemy of Creativity

I’m writing this while sitting next to two students who are editing a short film. One just turned to the other, and in an expression of pure joy, exclaimed, “OMG! I literally have goosebumps right now!”, in reference to her creation. More on this later…

Currently, the vast majority of my students are engaged in creative endeavours. My MYP Media students are finalizing short films to share with their peers, enter in film festivals and use as provocations for filmmaking workshops. My MYP Language and Literature students are crafting short stories – many of which students hope they can submit for publication. Even my DP Language and Literature students are engaging in a written task assessment – which, if you know DP Lang and Lit, is about as creative they are “allowed” to be over the duration of the two year course (kidding…sort of).

Perhaps the convergence of all of this creative energy is making this issue more apparent, but right now, my students are definitely victims of a timetabling system that is an antiquated practice and certainly an enemy of creativity and deep learning.

Would a real filmmaker, preparing her work for submission to her production company say to herself, “Ok…today I will work on my film from 9:00-10:30, but then at 10:30 I have to stop because then it’s time to do some math”? For that matter, would a real mathematician say, “I’m going to gather insights into this data, but only for ninety minutes because then I have to go edit a film”?

Of course not.

This  is the inauthentic world of timetabled learning that we have created in schools. A world where creativity – a slow process in any discipline – is cut short because…because a piece of paper you got on the first day of school says it has to.

So when children are trying to write a story that they have invested themselves in emotionally, or are completing a film that they are planning to show to a wide audience of peers and community members, they are forced to do so in these arbitrary, predetermined chunks of time – whether they want to or not, whether they feel like it or not. Have a great idea during a time not designated for that type of thinking? Too bad, you have a schedule to keep.

This type of traditional school-driven timetabling is as old as schools itself and is designed for logistical ease – not for student learning.

Quick - be creative! But only for the next 90 minutes... 

Quick! Be creative! But only for the next 90 minutes…

What are the side effects of school-driven timetabling when students are involved in deep learning? On one hand, it forces children into the ridiculous need to shift their ability to be analytical, be creative, be physically active, at the snap of a finger. It perpetuates a, “good enough” attitude from students who end up creating not what they really wanted to, but a reasonable facsimile that satisfies the requirements of the time constraints that have been determined for them. It doesn’t allow for slow thinking of any kind – reflection, adjustment, seeking feedback and fine tuning – that all creators would say are integral aspects of high-quality products.

The good news about timetables? We’ve created them, so we can destroy them. We can leverage technology to offload the need for a lot of traditional “lessons”, which would free up time for teachers to move more towards the role of consultant, mentor and coach. We can create environments like this one, or this one where students create their own timetables based on need and interest, not based on arbitrary decisions from the timetabling robot that spits out a schedule for them.

What would the side effects of a student-driven timetable be? First of all, learning how to manage time. We often lament that time-management is a skill that is lacking in many students – of course it is, we manage the majority of their time on their behalf. Turning the timetable over to the students would allow them to take ownership over this process and free up teachers to support students with strategies on how to manage their short and long-term goals.

Secondly, a student-driven timetable would support students in learning the key skill of prioritization. There are literally endless books and blogs dedicated to the art of prioritizing and managing one’s daily list of “to-do’s”; perhaps this wouldn’t be such a common stressor if we learned and used these skills as we were growing up. A student-driven timetable would give children the space and freedom to go deep, to truly sink their teeth into their learning, to “get it”, to have those moments of wonder and accomplishment and to learn that, often, the things we are the most proud of are the things that we really put our heart and soul into – often for more than 60-90 minutes two to three times a week.

Finally and most importantly, a student-driven timetable says to children, “you matter”. It says, “you are able to be the driver of your own learning”. It says “your time belongs to you”. Empowering students to manage their time and projects is a kinder, more humane, more authentic approach to learning and creating – one that we should be advocating for on behalf of our learners.

If they had the choice, they'd be at this all day. Shouldn't they have that choice?

If it were up to them, they’d do this all day – shouldn’t they have that choice? 

This brings me back to where I started…the two students I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They are still sitting beside me, completely in flow and completely content. One  just said to another, “Wow, we’ve been here for hours…it’s nearly six o’clock”. They want to keep going, but they have to go home to eat dinner. I’m sure if they had the choice, they would have spent their entire school day perfecting their creation, so they didn’t have to spend their after school time doing so. If they were only given the time.