Thursday, March 7, 2013

"I thought you were crazy, Mrs Siwak"

One of the wonderful and unexpected results of independent learning is that we have more time for conversation. I sat down with one student to discuss his thoughts on independent learning.

"I noticed that you really wanted to tell me something about independent learning at the beginning of class."

"When you said we were going to try it. I thought you were crazy.  I thought there was NO Way our class could handle being in charge of our learning. Now I totally see that we can."

"Tell me more."

"It can't fail. Everyone learns something."

"Tell me more"

"It's different ... you take more pride in what you are doing because you chose to do something you want to do. You work harder because it's your goal. If you don't do well in something a teacher gave you to do, you don't feel as bad about it. Here you want to be good."

Note: "Tell me more" is an integrative thinking strategy. It prompts learners to think more deeply without the listener influencing the direction of their thinking. This helps them to develop clarity and helps the listener avoid making inferences and drawing conclusions too early in a conversation.


  1. Wow, great window into student thinking about independent learning. I'm enjoying following the journey you're taking with your kids. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks Louise, my students and I are learning so much about learning! It is an incredible journey and the shift I am making about how to structure meaningful learning environments is enormous. I can't wait to see what I learn next!

  3. Heidi, I really like this post! I love how you've given students the ability to really think about their thinking and reflect on what they're doing. Your project is definitely a great one for developing meta-cognitive and self-reflection skills. You've got me thinking!

    I'd love to know more about how you balance this inquiry with the other subjects that you're teaching. How do you timetable this? Is it part of your language block or part of another period? As you examine curriculum expectations, do you find that this inquiry is allowing you to meet more expectations, less expectations, or the same number as before? How would you recommend that others pursue this in their classrooms? Sorry for all of the questions! You've really made me re-look at the possibilities.


  4. Hi Aviva,
    Your questions and comments are always appreciated as they get me thinking. There are previous posts about this inquiry that you might want to read through where I address some of your questions. We took two weeks right before March Break. It came at the end of a very intense History inquiry and was a pleasant change from strictly content-based academic. It did extend and support the work we've been doing on Integrative Thinking. This particular inquiry fully supported the development of Learning Skills and I think is a highly effective way to have students address and plan for learning skills. During the second week once students had enough experience, I had them go through a photocopy of the report card LS section and explain how their inquiry supports the development of LS and areas for growth. This was very useful to them. Language expectations are also met through this approach. I felt we were meeting more expectations, but not everyone was working on the same expectation. This caused a shift, for example, in the teaching of genre. Although all students were writing reflections, other writing genres depended on topics selected. (one student writing a novella, another student creating a prezi on space) I did find that I had more time to work with individual students which surprised me. At times I could sit for 10-15 minutes with one student while every other student was focused and engaged. This allowed me to have informal but richer conversations with them about their learning. I would definitely recommend attempting this, but simply turning students loose would, I think, be ineffective. This needs framing and preparation and purpose. In our case the class was trying to figure out if grade 7 students could be in charge of their own learning. All previous work this year led toward this moment although I in no way anticipated this. It was the lovely serendipity of twitter, a video in my stream of high school students showing how they conduct independent learning.


Heidi invites you to comment on your attempts to transform your teaching practice.


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