Posted in Student Perspective, Why Unlearn?

What are the roles of teachers and students in an inquiry classroom?

inquiryclassroom

I am currently taking a course where we were asked to define the roles of the teacher and students in an inquiry based classroom…..so I thought I might write a quick post about it.  

Teachers Role

As more and more classrooms are shifting from teacher lead lessons to a more student centred student lead approach, it is evident that the roles of both teacher and student will need to change.  The “sage on the stage” or teacher knows best model is no longer relevant in our ever changing world. By no means does that mean that the teacher no longer has control over what is happening, it is that the teacher is no longer the keeper of all knowledge, as we now have access to anything and everything at our fingertips.  In this type of classroom the teacher needs to learn to let go and become a facilitator / mentor to their students. Teachers need to become the CEO of their classroom with many projects happening under them. In my opinion, in an inquiry classroom a teacher’s role is to:

  • Take Risks – be ok with failure.
  • Expose students to new ideas and issues that are in our world.
  • Provide opportunities for their students outside of the classroom.
  • Help ignite passion within their students.
  • Support their students in finding ways to explore those passions.
  • Help their students learn where and how to find credible information.
  • Support students on learning time management skills.
  • Connect curriculum to their passion projects.
  • Connect students to experts and community members that can support their projects.
  • Model the love of learning and promote lifelong learning.
  • Advocate on behalf of your students.
  • Help students reflect on their learning – what worked, what didn’t and what will you do differently next time?

Students Role

I have slowly moved from a teacher centred classroom, to a teacher / student centred classroom, to a complete student centred passion based classroom over the past 5 years or so.  My grade 12s have been a part of this for the last three years. When trying to think about what the role of the student is, I thought who better to ask then them.  This is what they had to say.

“In your classroom failure is okay and we are allowed to fail and it won’t be a bad thing or effect our marks. It is actually a good thing in this class. We are allowed to talk through all sorts of issues we have in the classroom to figure them out. It’s like everyone is apart of your project and contributes to it even though is just your project. We all like to see each other succeed. We also are allowed to use our phones and computers pretty much all the time without getting in trouble.”

“What became evident in your classroom is that it wasn’t a regular learning system that people have been used to for the last 10 years. We are allowed and encouraged to  delve in to our own minds and reveal are true passions. From there we are granted access to further research upon what we are passionate about in the inquiry process. We are also expected to do more self-directed learning as opposed to the traditional standards of memorize what the teacher says and study for the test. So our role is to become the guide to our own studying. We are encouraged to go on our phones and use twitter and other media devices to help enhance our learning. Whereas, in most traditional classrooms the only time you would be allowed to take out a media device is your computer when taking notes. We are still expected to work hard in both types of classrooms but we are allowed to fail in yours and make mistakes without getting a failing mark. We are also encouraged to talk about our failures over the course and reflect on them (in your classroom), as opposed to failing on a test and never looking at it again and missing that learning opportunity.”

“I find that I can help some less experienced students and I’m able to think bigger when it comes to things that I can do for school work.  We’ve been planning out our project, getting in contact with Parkdale Food Center, and I help other students figure out issues that they want to look at.”

So what I get from these students is that their roles are to:

  • Think big and figure out what they are passionate about.
  • Have an open mind.
  • Take Risks – don’t be afraid to fail.
  • Think creatively.
  • Support one another in their learning.
  • Guide their own learning.
  • Be more self directed.
  • Learn to time manage.
  • Use non traditional ways of researching.
  • Connect with community.
  • Reflect on their learning and learn from successes and failures.

 

If you look at the two lists they are quite similar.  Both teacher and student need to have an open mind, not be afraid of taking risks and failing and to support each other in their learning.

I feel as though I have left a few things out – I would love to add to these lists for future discussions.  Please let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

R

Posted in Classroom Examples

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Unlearning.

learning from failure
At the end of last semester, we tried something new out in our classroom. I wanted to give the students the opportunity to really own their learning.  I asked them, what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and once you have acquired the knowledge what will you do with it?  We sat down, created action plans and wrote them up on the wall. They were given two weeks to work on it and I checked in with them every few days to see where they were at and helped coach them if they needed it.  During the process, I was convinced that they were doing absolutely NOTHING and I was very uncomfortable. BUT to my surprise on the show and tell day they amazed me with what they had done. We had a workshop on the stock market, a TED Talk comedy routine and some really great discussions.  As a result, I was super excited for what this meant for my next semester class. I decided that my new class would look like this…

Grade 12 University World Issues

GOALS – Over the semester I hope that they will learn – self regulation, self-motivation, time management, empathy, resilience, perseverance, communication skills, self-advocacy, project management, social media skills, exposure to Sustainable Development Goal’s, doing things with purpose, passion.

Over the entire semester, they are to work on six things in total.  Some of them were non-negotiable but 4 / 6 of them were up to them.  The goal would be that we would have one – two days a week for students who wanted to lead discussions or debates.  The other days would be work periods or field trips and/or activities. The expectation was that they would work on all of their chosen individual/group projects over the semester.  They were expected to tweet about what they were doing on a regular basis so that I can see what they were working on and reflect on their connections to the SDG’s via a google form. Below was the initial layout for the course.

  1. Bring in as many guests as possible to expose students to issues related to the SDG’s
  2. Watch documentaries to fill in the gaps
  3. Create Action plans that would evolve over the semester
  4. Create a project list that included 6 projects:
    1. Action Plan
    2. Twitter
    3. Genius Hour
    4. Social Science Fair
    5. Other
    6. Other

At the beginning of the semester, I was super pumped and ready to try this out.  I was feeling confident and was ready. We started out by bringing all sorts of guests in, watching documentaries and learning all about World Issues…# 1 on my list was checked off = success.  Then it was time to get going on the next part of my plan. I sat with each student and we created an action plan for them using the same questions as above: What do you want to learn, how are you going to learn it and once you have learned it what will you do with the information.  Once again success and check……So then it was time to let go and let them learn…..this is when it got really uncomfortable for me as a teacher. Here are some of the issues and concerns that we are working on as we make our way through the semester

1. Students are lacking in their ability to self-regulate, can be unmotivated and are doing nothing.

This one is the toughest one yet.  There are days where students are doing nothing because they have so much freedom or are not quite sure what their next steps are.  There are very few students that have the confidence or ability to do stuff on their own. I have an amazing class and have got to know my students really well – each one of them is capable of amazing things, but why can’t they do it without the constant support of the teacher?  Even though I am always on edge and struggle with the fact they are not doing anything, I think they need to be given the opportunity to fail and recognize what and how they can do better. In my opinion, once they achieve success on their own this will build their confidence and hopefully inspire them to take more initiative the next time.

2. There is only one of me and 24  of them – how do I support each of them?

In my student’s defence, I totally get that sometimes they do need me.  This is also another huge struggle that I have. If we are to allow for personalized learning, it is so important that we have enough coaches and mentors in the room for students to bounce their ideas off of and give them the permission that they need to move forward.  My goal for next year is to open up my classroom to as many student teachers as possible and volunteers and assign mentors and coaches to each student.

3. How am I going to keep track of all of them?

This is by far the area that  I have failed the most at.  This continues to be a work in progress.  First and foremost I use Twitter, it has been a great way for me to see what they are doing as well as engage them in discussion related to the curriculum.  This has been my most successful way of tracking each of them but still has its limits. I have also tried putting them into groups so that we can chat about all of their projects and work on giving each other advice, this worked well for many of them.  For some reason, I have stopped doing this and am realizing that I should continue this. I have had students fill out reflections twice in the first half of the semester and have realized that they need to be doing this more often so that they can really look at what they have or haven’t done. And finally, I try to have meetings with students as much as I can to help keep them on track and give suggestions on what they are doing. This part of the unlearning process is very messy and I am often extremely frustrated. Today we started a new form of tracking in journals, they are going to answer weekly questions that look at what they did the past week and what they are going to do the next week…fingers crossed this one works out!! 

4. How am I going to mark this?

As mentioned the most successful thing that I use for tracking is Twitter.  At the beginning of the course, I showed them the Twitter expectations (rubric) and we created a Twitter checklist for them.  I try to give them feedback on their Twitter feed weekly – biweekly and give them a mark according to the rubric. I have also started assessing their reflections.  The most important part of all of this for me is the process. I want to see that they are setting goals, following through and reflecting on the successes and failures.  We have a reflection rubric that I used for the first part of the semester and I will continue to use it more frequently for the second half of the semester when looking through their journals.

On the flip side here are the amazing things that are happening as a result of letting them do what they want to do.  

Two students are arranging to get people to the blood bank to donate blood.

One student visited and participated in a community cooking session.  Inspired by this he raised over $200 for the Parkdale Food Centre and we are headed there next week to cook together and package the food to stock their freezers.

Five students have paired up with Blue Sky School to work with students who are middle school age on their projects.

Two students are leading monthly debates about different world issues.

About half the class has signed up to lead discussions related to the SDG’s.

Two students are figuring out how to start a podcast and have recorded their first episode on gender inequality in sport.

We have a yoga instructor coming in to lead our class as a result of one the students looking at Mental Health.

We have started a weekly podcast which has really made them step up and has given me another place to hear about what they are working on.

So there are nights that I question what I am doing, there are days where I lose my cool in class and there are many times I want to give up.  But I am dedicated and passionate about making this change so I will do as I preach, I will fail, learn and get better.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Cheers, R

 

Posted in Classroom Examples, Why Unlearn?

The art of letting go…how I transitioned to a Student Centred Classroom

letting-go

We have all heard the latest buzzwords in education: differentiation, inquiry, innovation and creation and more recently student centred.  In discussion with colleagues it is evident that many teachers would like to try a more student centred classroom, but feel that there are many barriers in the way and just not quite sure how to go about doing it.  Over the past five years, I have been on a journey of figuring out how to let go. These are some of the frequently asked questions and concerns that I get when talking to other teachers about moving toward a student centred classroom.

Class size

When you have a class of 25 – 30 students how do you track what they are doing if they are all doing different things?

How do you cover all of the curriculum?

If I don’t have every student cover all of the curriculum I am not doing my job.

Don’t you feel out of control?

I struggle with this one all the time, I think it is in every teacher’s nature to want to be in control.  If I give up control of my classroom what is going to happen in my classroom? If I don’t tell them what to do they, they won’t do anything!  How do you get them to work, how do you keep them on track?

Grades

If I have to put marks on a report card I have to have a way to gather a grade, how do I mark 30 different things?

Permission

Do I have the permission of my administrator and parents to try this out?  What will be the backlash if it doesn’t work?
All of the above are legitimate concerns and I struggle with most of them daily. In this post, I would like to share with you how I have worked with and against a lot of these concerns to create a student centred classroom.

We need to get over our fears and jump in!

As you may have noticed in my previous posts, I am on a mission to change the way we do things in education.  I have gone to many workshops, heard people speak, watched TED Talks, read articles, joined twitter chat groups and come to the conclusion that I just have to do it.  While the above barriers exist I have decided that I need to get over my fears and just try some stuff out.

I often have discussions with colleagues about what a student centred classroom looks like.  A lot of them want to try it but are concerned that nothing will get done. I have to agree with them when they say this.  By the time students are in grade 12, they have spent 14 years being told to sit down, be quiet and wait for instructions. If all of a sudden you ask them the questions,  what do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it and what will you do once you have gathered your information, they will not know how to answer this and when given time to do this they will do nothing, mostly because they are lost not because they don’t want to do things.  Self-regulation needs to be scaffolded and introduced at a young age. A perfect example of where this is happening is at Blue Sky School in Kanata, ON.  At BSS they are completely student centred and are teaching students as young as ten years old to drive their own learning.

I recently came across this sketchnote by Trevor Mackenzie entitled Types of Student Inquiry from his book Inquiry Mindset.  It is a great representation of what I have been doing in my classes, as I have gradually let go of control and put into the student’s hands.

inquiry steps

 

What I have found is that the gradual steps to independence and autonomy in the classroom are necessary.  What I am doing is by no means perfect but this is what I have found works.

In grade 10 and 11 I follow the outline that I posted in How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom?  Students have the freedom to choose issues that they are passionate about and then they follow our Inquiry steps outlined below.

Grade 10 & 11 syllabus for this semester:

  1. Inquiry # 1 – Goal Create awareness
  2. Inquiry # 2 – Goal same as above + create a Solution
  3. Action Plan – What do you want to learn, how would you like to learn it, what will you do with the information once you have learned it?  (NEW THIS SEMESTER FOR GR 10s)
  4. Twitter
  5. Genius Hour
  6. Social Science Fair

Inquiry Steps:

  • Choose a current issue – something that you are passionate about, could be passionate about, that you are already involved in, etc.
  • Learn about the current issue and become an advocate for it.
  • Create a media piece to gain attention, followers etc. post it – over and over and over to get traction
  • Use the Social Scientific Method to research your issue in relation to your course material.
  • Campaign:  As you research tweet out, and at people who care about your issue – connect with organizations and classmates. Try to get on the twitter pyramid.
  • Ultimate Goal – get noticed, get your message out there, create a solution – do something that matters.
  • Assessment – students are assessed on a biweekly basis via Twitter, each student reflects at the end of each inquiry and gives themselves next steps for their next one.

After my grade 10s and 11s go through the inquiry process twice we are going try out something that has very few rules to test out their ability to go solo with me as their support.   They will be asked the question what do you want to learn, how do you want to go about learning it and once you’ve learned it what will you DO with the information. From there they sit with a mentor and map out an action plan that we write on the walls.  I tried this out with my grade 11s and 12s last semester and the things that came from it were amazing!! I have to admit that while this was happening last semester I felt totally out of control and really felt that nothing was happening, but when the students shared what they had done I was blown away.

So, for this semester I decided that we would run the entire grade 12 World Issues course by giving students choice in everything that they do. At the beginning of the course I brought in about 10 – 15 different people from different organizations to tell us about issues that are faced worldwide.  We watched documentaries and had discussions. They followed organizations and people that related to the course and built a network on Twitter. Then they were asked what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn it and what will they do with the information once they have learned about it. It has taken almost 1.5 months to sort out what everyone was doing, but I think we are on track now.  Each student in my class has filled out a project sheet that has at least 6 items on it which are the things that they will complete by the end of the semester. Some examples include, two students have chosen to lead things that they like doing in other classes such as debates or watching documentaries that relate to the course curriculum, we sit down with a calendar and map out what days those will happen, the other students in the class can participate in them if they want to but can choose to opt out of them if they wish.  Another student would like us to do yoga as a class (she is researching mental health), and has asked her yoga instructor to come in and lead a class, again this gets put on the class calendar. Other examples are visiting and working with the elderly in a retirement home, organizing a day for some of us to go to a food centre to cook and freeze meals for their clients, rallying and organizing students and teachers to give blood, bringing in dogs to class for some pet therapy, starting a #nostraw movement, leading discussions, working with Blue Sky School students and so many other things! What I struggle with and have been working on is how to keep everyone organized and on track.  One of the things that the students are expected to do each day when they come to class is to look at the calendar and see what is happening. If there is a group activity, as mentioned before they can opt in or out, they then have to use a sheet that we adapted from Blue Sky School and they have to map out their route for the class. They have to indicate specifically what they will work on and check it off as they go. We keep track of their project list, a calendar for each of them and their daily route maps in a binder for both of us to access. The hope is that when it comes time to reflect on their progress they can refer back to what they said they were going to do and see if they actually did it.

Sorry for the uber long paragraph, I am taking a breath now.  This is just a snip-it of what I am trying out and it is ever evolving.  I am happy to share anything that I have mentioned above. I apologize if it is hard to follow, my description is exactly like my classroom, controlled chaos.  Let me know if you want to know more and we can connect!!

If you are interested, I plan to outline in more detail how we use Social Media, how we cover curriculum and how we come up with grades in future posts.

Thanks for reading!!

R