Just because I’m teaching doesn’t mean my students are actually learning anything. That is somewhat humbling. Have you ever thought to ask your students to consider when they are actually learning? Michael Wesch, cultural anthropologist extraordinaire has. He is currently conducting a global study asking students to create a two minute video revealing moments in the day when they are actually learning. There is one caveat. None of the moments can take place at school. For more information or to participate in this global research project visit http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=276. Videos must be submitted by Feb 15.Read More »
What???!!!! My word wall has to go?????!!!!!!!Read More »
After having been asked to make many changes to our teaching practice, this fall we were asked to take down our word walls. None of us could understand why. For those who don’t know, word walls are walls of words that students can refer to. They can be words from the current unit of study. My main word wall listed commonly mispelled words; I had a second word wall that would change as our units changed. We were very attached to our word walls and had worked very hard on them. And now, we had to take them down. Why? Because research shows that when students create their own vocabulary lists, vocabulary recall is higher.
I decided to put this to the test in my French class. Our topic of study was winter. Normally, I would create vocabulary charts and flashcards of winter words. We would practise them, use them in skits, read stories, answer questions, play games etc. This time I let the students do the work. If we’re learning about winter what will we need? They knew – vocabulary. I informed them that they would be creating their own lists for the unit and that everyone would end up with a different list. The students stared at me somewhat puzzled, but set to work. Normally, I would expect my students to have learned 20 new words over a two week period. It turns out I’ve been sorely underestimating their potential. Almost all students had the minimum: 20 words. Many students had over 40 words on their lists. Some had pages of words that they wanted to know. The longest list had 280 words. What was truly remarkable was the excitement and focus during this process. Most of all, they KNEW those words. If someone needed a word, I frequently heard someone else call out, “I’ve got that one! It’s ….”
Students had three days to complete their lists. We then met and generated a common class list. Now that we had our words, I had to figure out what to do with them. I wondered, if they could generate the vocabulary, could they also design the unit? The students knew I expected them to have mastered 20 words. Did it really matter how they learned them. No. The class agreed that they would learn the words based on their learning styles. We listed options: create a power point, draw a labelled picture, write and perform a skit, write a story. They decided that every day they would spend 5 minutes reviewing the 20 words from their lists that they truly wished to master. After that, they would continue working on the activity they had chosen. Once they felt that they knew their words (within the two-week time limit) I would test them on them. As this was our first time working this way, we decided to go for a straight forward oral quiz. Students who performed poorly on the quiz would have the option of going back to their lists until they had learned all of their words.
And I have to say what happened next was remarkable.
Unless students truly needed my assistance, I was pretty much ignored. I became a facilitator, a resource. Students checked in only when help was needed. One group that had chosen to perform a play ran into difficulty. I had helped them write their script, but they found that they were not productive with 8 students. They needed more teacher assistance. We discussed this as a class and came to an agreement that groups should be no larger than 5 for these kinds of activities. Other students checked in only 2 or 3 times. Group sizes varied depending on the activity chosen.
We took time each day to reflect on our learning. We talked a great deal about the learning process, self-direction, independence and what was happening in the classroom. In fact, the students were thinking about many of the things that teachers think about as we plan our units of study. This was our first time through student-directed learning. Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Refinement is needed. The response from the students was overwhelmingly positive: this is a great way to learn!
Below are pictures of our process.
In our Canada’s Links to the World text there is a section on Canadian inventions. It lists about 50 different inventions, with a brief explanation for each. I had asked the students to read the text and select what they thought was the most important invention. Students read quietly. It was almost the end of the day and most were reading because they had to. One student selected the chocolate bar.
“Really? You honestly think the chocolate bar is Canada’s greatest invention?” I asked in disbelief.
“Well, to a kid, yeah” was his reply.
By then it was the end of the day. The bell rang and we abandoned the discussion.
I went home and thought, a lot. Point of view is everything.
The next day I went back into class and apologized to the student. As a class we redesigned the activity. Different inventions will be significant depending on one’s point of view. We listed 10 different occupations and decided to see if we could find 2 important inventions for each. This became a challenge for the class. They were free to work independently, with a partner or in a small group. These formed spontaneously and they set to work.
I observed a great deal. Again, because it had become a problem to be solved, the level of interest and engagement was much higher. This time, the students were actively reading and DISCUSSING the information as they read. Two groups set challenges for themselves. One wanted to see if they could find an invention that would be important to all 10 occupations. Another’s goal was to not repeat an invention. Groups began sharing what they were reading with other groups. It was fun!
Why was this now a 21st century lesson?
1. It was collaborative.
2. It required students to solve a problem.
3. Students participated in designing the activity.
4. Higher level thinking and discussion took place.
5. All students were fully engaged.
6. Learning content, although this occurred, was not the primary goal.
It’s not that I haven’t done activities like this in the past; however, I don’t think that I have reflected deeply upon what made certain activities so successful. Now I know.Read More »
For a lesson to meet the 21st century literacy goals, it must be structured to meet certain criteria, some of which are:Critical thinking must be paramount.Collaboration between peers must occur.Engaged, on-task, thoughtful discussion must take place.In grade 6 one of the topics we addressed this year was child labour. Our text has a section with a series of captioned pictures presenting different points of view on Child Labour – everything from, “I pick garbage all day,” “I get beaten if I cry,” to “I like the skills that I’ve learned. I am helping to feed my family” to “Our factory was closed down, now I have no job” to “If I didn’t employ child labour, my factory could not survive”.Typically, I would have read the text with the class and discussed the various points of view. Essentially, this approach addressed the lowest levels of thinking – summarize, make connections, make inferences. My primary goal was to have them understand the impact of child labour and various points of view around child labour.This year, I took a different approach.1. I did not worry about the content.2. I designed the lesson so that it became a collaborative problem to be solved.Part 1: As a class we identified who the stakeholders in child labour are and how they gain and lose from child labour. The students read the text with this in mind and were easily able to figure out stakeholders as well as how each benefited and lost from child labour. This required them to make inferences. They came up with: children, families, factory owners, governments, consumers.Part 2: Assess the impact on each stakeholder if child labour was suddenly ended. Students were able to see that simply banning child labour was not an acceptable solution. Many children would suffer if this occurred.Part 3: Solve a problem. Find a solution to child labour so that the interests of each stakeholder is addressed.Students were placed in groups of 4, given chart paper and set to work. I was amazed by the level of engagement of my students.1. Intense discussion took place.2. All students were fully engaged at a much higher level than I had seen in the past.3. The students understood that there are no easy solutions. Life is complex.4. Content was learned through the process of solving the problem.5. As different groups shared their ideas, other groups revised their own ideas.4. A light bulb went off in my head. Problem-based learning allows deep thinking to occur.My first considerations now when I plan lessons are:1. How can I turn this into a problem to be solved?2. How can I make this collaborative?3. Are students engaged in high-level thinking in this activity?The nice thing about this model is that it doesn’t require any technology. It is an approach – a way of viewing learning.Assessment occurred through observation and anecdotal comments.Read More »
Are you interested in throwing away every preconceived notion you have about education?Read More »
Project Dreamschool may be for you!
150 of the world’s leading thinkers from a variety of fields and backgrounds are in the process of designing a school in Holland.
They are looking for contributions from anyone who has a good idea.
This is an amazing visionary project.
There is consensus beginning to emerge about how 21st century schools should function. Having spent a great deal of time reading and searching the internet for this information, I present you with the common threads that I have found and consider to be essential to my understanding of how my teaching practice needs to be shaped as well as the foundation upon which it should lie.
1. The world has changed. Schools need to change. Nobody explains this better than Sir Ken Robinson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
2. Teaching needs to be conducted in a way that matches how the brain learns. A great deal of progress has been made in this area. A good place to start exploring this topic is at the following website: Brain Rules. The videos from Brain Rules are entertaining, easy to understand and practical. I do recommend purchasing the book for a more comprehensive understanding of the topic. I will say this: if your students are sitting …. by themselves … at a desk … or on the carpet … most of the day… completing an assignment … that you devised, you may need to change your practice.
Brain Rule #1: Exercise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck-tQt0S0Os
3. Children are hardwired to learn. Are you a facilitator of deep, rich learning or a bottle neck in the process? Sugata Mitra from India has made some startling discoveries. Watch his TED talk. His work is important. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html
4. “Who truly understands how a 21st century classroom should function? Where is the visionary work taking place? Where can I see it happening? The following sites offer a view into 21st century education in action.
This video presents a kindergarten school engaged in project-based, child-driven learning.
Prototype of a middle school classroom.
The School of One was a 6 week pilot project.
Teachers share how they use technology.
I hope this helps to develop a common understanding of the direction in which the world is moving.Read More »
Happy New Year!
Lots and lots and lots.
Which to some, particularly my children, would be self-evident, but to a teacher, especially one who has been teaching a long time, is problematic. Because there is a great deal that I do know after having been in a classroom for 20 years. The problem is that so much of what I do know about teaching may no longer be relevant.
Anyone who has been teaching in Ontario for the past 5 years, knows one thing for certain. We have been inserviced to death on new teaching methods. Every week we are presented with yet another add-on: data collection, flexible groupings, modelled, shared and guided reading, differentiated instruction, multiple-intelligences, critical literacy, technology integration, data bases, school improvement plans, improving EQAO scores, …. It has reached such a terrible point, that many wonderful, cabable amazing teachers feel incompetent and uncertain and overwhelmed and saddest of all: Ready to Quit.
What should we as teachers be doing? How do we make sense out of all THAT STUFF? How does all THAT STUFF fit together? Why do “they” keep piling on more and more and more? Why do “they” keep asking me to change my practice? I am a good teacher. Students in my class learn. What’s the purpose behind all of this change?
I have come to realize, after a great deal of reflection that education in the 21 century is going to be very different. We are at the floundering about stage of change and no one knows exactly what learning and teaching will look like, but there is a vast, global network of researchers, technology specialists, educators and most importantly of all -students, who are in the process of finding out. And, unless we are prepared to experiment and take risks in our classrooms with what they are telling us, we will not move forward. Our teaching practice will have become irrelevant.
So, as an educator, I am not interested in what I already know about teaching. I will continue to use my well-honed skills as they are necessary. It is what I do not yet know that intrigues and excites me. I feel that I am on the precipice of an incredible canyon and once I jump, I will be in a whole new world of learning. I now belong to a global network of educators who are moving forward – one step behind our students.
This blog and my website (which is underconstruction) will document this process. I will share lessons, ideas, pictures of my classroom, videos – whatever can be shared – to assist and encourage other teachers to make the leap into 21st century learning.Read More »
What does it mean to be a teacher in the 21 century? Teachers in my own board of education have been struggling with this idea for several years. We have had a vast array of new expectations imposed upon us at an incredibly rapid pace. I have seen teachers in tears, teachers who are angry and teachers who are confused. I have been overwhelmed as I have struggled to interpret what it means to be a teacher in the 21 century. Only now am I beginning to develop a clear vision of what needs to happen. It was only when I finally realized that I am not a teacher at all, but a learner on a journey with my students that change could begin. This is requiring me to drop all my preconceived notions (based on 20 years of teaching experience) of what a classroom should look like and how teaching and learning happen. I am looking at teaching with new eyes and I have to say, am very, very excited by what I am seeing! I am inviting you to follow this journey as “we” renivent my classroom.Read More »