Am I doing this right?Is this what you’re looking for?What do you think about this?
Learning with a Purpose
As I personalize the learning process in my high school communication arts literature and composition courses, I hear students asking questions about how they can show evidence of their learning. They check in for approval even though we have created an environment of trust, innovation, and risk-taking. I want what we all seek: students creating new outcomes with learning; content they are intrigued by and learning they are invested in; engagement with and exploration of course material; and evidence of innovation.
This year’s theme — Innovation, Iteration, Implementation — reinforces and focuses on the innovation cycle introduced six years ago and the premise of the action network approach — multiple sites trying different approaches to implement the Institute’s Personalized Learning Model, sharing that learning, making adjustments and trying new things, and feeding that back into practice.
…one of my great fears is that ultimately my life will be a waste, that I’ll never do anything worthwhile, and it seems that sometimes I can already feel myself slipping…
Active learning environments. Student-centered classrooms. Ownership of education. Project based learning. Authentic outcomes. Innovative educators strive to attain the perfect balance–ideal in theory, but a challenge to actualize. Here is a glimpse of the impact and results of shifting to a personalized learning model during third quarter of the school year with my eleventh grade Visions in World Literature and Composition classes.
Third quarter of the course (structured in stages of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey) focuses on our transformation after facing trials, adventures, and challenges when separated from our known world. The transformation throughout the inward journey helps us emerge from darkness and isolation with new knowledge to utilize upon returning to our known world. The essential question is valuable for all to contemplate: Continue reading
Time to get personal
I’m an educator. Teaching is my passion. Student learning is my purpose. I’m always thinking about the next lesson. Planning. How can I make the curriculum relevant and engaging? These are my classes. This is my classroom. These are my students. But this is not my education.
I began teaching at the end of the 20th century. Even then, I recognized that students should own their learning. Early stages of teaching focused on cooperative learning strategies. When the 21st century arrived, the classroom became more student-centered. Many learning opportunities were project based. My Master’s thesis focused on the impact of autonomy on student learning. I have since improved my understanding of the learning process and the value of assessment for learning. Differentiation became–and continues to be–a necessary emphasis of my professional development. Last year, students produced brilliant outcomes when introduced to Genius Hour. So why limit the energy, passion, and curiosity of learning to twenty percent of our time in class?
That brings me to the present year. Now that I am confident (but never satisfied) with my craft, and have a secure understanding of course content, standards, and learning targets, the next logical, but challenging, step is to personalize learning. All of this sounds like educational jargon, but it’s really a cultural philosophy if I truly believe in my educational motto: learn with a purpose. Read on for 10 observations… Continue reading
The body count has begun–Mercutio and Tybalt slain. “Fortune’s Fool,” a newlywed, is on his way to banishment. Yes, Act III, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet presents more twists than Tybalt’s blade. The scene contains enough action and controversy to promote engaging dialogue. I traditionally use the scene as our first Socratic circle discussion of the year and it never fails to provide engaging material. On the following day, we review the scene and put closure on the discussed topics. We also take the opportunity to dramatically reenact the fight scene.
After witnessing the classroom joy of having several students showcase their cheesy acting skills and reading voices, I shared a new mission for the remainder of the act. Groups of students would have the following day to prepare for a brief performance to be presented a day later. The expectations read: Continue reading
Over the last fifteen years, reading Oedipus the King in-class essays has made me want to gouge out my eyes with a red pen. Students traditionally analyze the play’s themes, symbolism, irony, or character flaws. This year, while maintaining the integrity of the original prompts, I added a twist–I changed the purpose and audience. After reading the play, my juniors sent Oedipus to court to determine if he is guilty and deserving of his outcome, or not guilty–a victim of fate’s injustice. They came to court prepared to write from the perspective of the defense or prosecution. But in typical fashion of Greek drama, fate determined which side of the case they would present…after entering the courtroom. Continue reading
Visions in World Literature and Composition: An intensive study of the Communication Arts for 11th grade visionaries, focused on critical thought, literary analysis, writing, and discussion, with emphasis on individual growth and autonomy in learning.
Rationale: The Need to Push Exceptional Learners
I have the privilege of teaching two sections of high school juniors in Visions in World Literature and Composition. These are high-performing, mostly compliant students. However, due to the competitive culture we have created, the strong students have learned how to play the system to get (not earn) better grades than their peers. These respectful, conscientious students admittedly complete work to the minimum expectations in order to receive credit. I observe as students rush to complete (or copy) menial tasks for their classes with little thought or effort. Many will not push themselves to explore concepts outside of class or read beyond the assigned material. Yet, they constantly check their online average and wonder why they are not getting an A in the course. Is this a local issue? A generational issue? A cultural issue? How have our actions enabled extrinsic rewards to nearly silence intrinsic motivation?
Visions students are capable readers, writers, and thinkers–many of which are college-bound and in multiple advanced placement courses. The majority have supportive parents, but face the pressure of (sometimes unrealistic) parental and personal expectations. They rarely take risks in their learning and tend to be satisfied when a grade is secured. For students and their parents, learning is not viewed as important as the grade point average.
Some high-achieving students admit to not feeling challenged, but most feel overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing one subpar quiz will crush their average for a marking period. This stress is accentuated by the number of advanced placement courses on their schedule. As we direct more attention to accommodate the needs of all learners, my focus is on those already proficient in most English Language Arts standards.
I am frustrated with exceptional students settling for mediocrity by playing the game of school. And for what? To earn A’s and B’s so their parents may drive around town with a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” bumper sticker on the back of the family SUV–but not to learn the material. They are honor students, but likely have little to show for their education. The reality hits when seniors struggle to craft memorable college application essays. It is time to push these students to create something greater–something authentic and meaningful. Let’s stop setting minimum expectations and have students challenge their own limits. This is a necessary step if we wish to remove the current ceiling on our schools. Continue reading
Reality: high school is a microcosm of society. A community of chaos and constant traffic. People with destinations and deadlines, seemingly too important to stop and help. Daily drama. Private posts and popularity contests. The struggle for an identity, acceptance, praise. Competition to claim correct answers and have the first hand raised. Call on me. Look at me. Acknowledge me. “Like” my post. Like me. Reward me with scores and post them online.
High school is a student’s reality for four (sometimes five) years. For an educator, it is the real world (despite having shorter lunch periods than those not serving a lifetime sentence within school walls). Real life is happening every day.
And then a parent or friend asks, “How was your day? What did you do in school?” It is baffling when those questioned struggle to produce answers. Students simply have to look through their social media to review the archives of the day’s lessons. Some of the learning is academic, some social, and some needs to be unlearned. Unfortunately, much of what is captured and shared is through the limited (selfie-centered) perspective of students, but it does tell a story. This is where teachers have an opportunity to add transparency to learning and validate all that is good in education by curating student work.
Part of my current mission is to make learning accessible to all stakeholders. Fortunately, we are a GAFE school with access to technology which adds convenience and efficiency to the process. Students are invited to utilize their devices. All I have to do is guide students to use these tools for good, not evil. So, I do my best to model the process in a variety of ways.
In addition to a teacher website and class web pages, I have a class Twitter account to share snapshots of what takes place. I take pleasure in capturing highlights of the school day and document the memories my students create. (Side note question: Why are students so comfortable snap chatting ridiculous-faces-and-up-the-nose selfies to each other, knowing the images will be saved by their friends, but question a teacher taking pictures of brilliant group work? Seriously.)
Parents deserve to see what their children know and can do. They appreciate seeing what is produced in classes–contact that tends to disappear after students leave grade school. Last year, I wrote about and posted a Six Word Memoir video from my creative writing class.
We needed to publish our words–allow the world to hear our voices. Several visionary artists took a lead role, and within a week–after having us choose between five songs to accompany our words–produced a class video. The video might not signify much to a general YouTube audience, but it forever unifies our class. It also gave me something more impressive than my artistic syllabus (which I handed out…) to showcase during Back-to-School Night. As the parents of my writers watched intently, waiting for the words of their son or daughter to flash across the screen, they were overcome with emotion (several to tears). The power of the written word, combined with the potential of our children’s minds, made a bold statement about the quality of our educational system. I am proud to share our video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkymNjSz_OI with you. Enjoy.
I am constructing a class blog site where we can house student blogs, showcasing their writing and videos. It took several years to be launched, but I now have an entire class of seniors writing for a global audience. Alas, I am no longer the only intended audience of my writers.
In the near future, I would love to see students in our school build digital portfolios for presentation at the end of each year and once more before graduation. They should be proud to display their achievements and leave high school with a collection of authentic, purposeful artifacts. Let’s validate the growth process and the quality of education received by every student in our district.