Tagged: Creativity

Visions, Voices, Creative Choices: Preparing Learners for the Future

What a week. By the end of an emotionally-draining, anxiety-ridden election week, many find themselves struggling to breathe, smothering under the weight of an insecure future. Each breath as shallow as the destructive rhetoric of intolerance forcing American voters to choose a side—a blade that cuts deeper than partisan politics. With respect to our right to have a voice in the democratic process, what message did adults express to a generation of impressionable children?

Rather than answer that question, I ended the week in the most comforting place I know—with my family. As the father of two compassionate, open-minded, respectful children, I maintain hope for the future. While I cannot protect them from all the realities they will encounter, I will continue to model empathy, encourage dialogue about their questions, and equip them with knowledge and courage to overcome ignorance.

Raising children to become critical thinkers and selfless citizens feels overwhelming at times, but parents are not alone. They have a support system and powerful ally in education. Together, we send a message of hope built on trust, protected by knowledge, and secured by an understanding that all lives matter.

Before closing the week by spending a quiet Friday night watching movies with my family, I attended a two-day conference: The 7th Annual National Convening on Personalized Learning. This year, The Institute for Personalized Learning focused on Preparing Learners for the Future, “to produce learners that work independently, are able to drive their own learning, and want to learn out of curiosity.” From one presenter to the next, all conversations challenged traditional thinking about the way we do school. In fact, every speaker inspired an audience of educators to rethink their vision of school. Breakout sessions shared models of success and struggle to personalize learning, while reinforcing the fact that personalization is not a pre-packaged educational program, initiative, or buzzword. It is a culture-shifting philosophy that puts learning at the center of all decisions, leverages student voice and choice, and empowers every student, every day.

Here are my notes and greatest takeaways from two days of rich dialogue, challenging thoughts, and memorable conversations with passionate educators… Continue reading

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Writing With the Stars

We spend hours of our academic lives attempting to analyze and interpret the literary works of others. We strive define what an author’s text says, then determine what the writing means. While critical thinkers recognize the benefits of these literary discussions and classroom activities, occasionally we have to ask, “What does this matter?” Why dedicate so much time studying the words of authors whom will never share the truth? If we could simply ask Shakespeare if he intended to communicate what was recently Shmooped

The process is frustrating at times. It assigns students the role of the confused reader and authors as the untouchable expert. Learners in my high school English courses should consider themselves writers as well as readers. The most effective strategy I’ve used is to study our own work as literature. Here’s how. Continue reading

Cleaning Up Our Act 3

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

Adjusting the Tee: Respect the Learning Process

Tee Work

Tee Work

As my Twitter handle @RESP3CTtheGAME indicates, I am passionate about baseball–a dedicated student and teacher of the game. Baseball is more cerebral than most sports, not necessarily won by the bigger, faster, stronger team. I crave the competition, strategy, and team success; there is no greater reward than watching players execute the skills emphasized in practice. Baseball is a dignified team sport–especially when played the right way–but those who understand its intricacies know baseball is also a game of individual failure, constant adjustment, and mental combat. Fighting these demons requires sustained focus, patience, and a growth mindset. This is where we lose many participants over time, be it on the field or in a classroom. Learners must be willing to overcome educational adversity and constructive discomfort in order to improve.

In my roles of high school teacher and varsity baseball coach, I attempt to create memorable, brilliant (potentially award-winning?) practice and lesson plans. I love strategically differentiating to meet everyone’s needs, while adding enough variety to maintain enthusiasm. I do not want practice to feel boring, tedious, or laborious–the negative connotation of work. Reality reminds me that the majority of those involved want to skip the preparation and get right to the performance. One of the greatest challenges of any coach or teacher is to get participants to invest in the value of practice time.

Allow me to introduce my coaching staff…

Anyone who has attended one of my baseball camps or practices around the batting cage knows that after I introduce each member of the coaching staff, I present my top instructor… the hitting tee. He gives specific, immediate, continuous feedback; he is flexible, patient, and adjustable; he is always willing to put in extra time without expecting recognition. These characteristics also separate the master teacher from the rest of a staff. Despite the impressive qualifications, even the master teacher must show results to validate effectiveness and earn respect. So, we allow the tee to do the teaching.

We talkin‘ about practice

Some of the most physically gifted athletes overlook the value of tee work. They find it mindless, repetitive, and pointless–an insult to their abilities. Many consider it a child’s toy, a prop used by beginners incapable of hitting live pitching. As I passionately speak of fundamentals, discipline, and work ethic, players hear, “blah-blah-coach-speak-here-we-go-again-blah.” They know better than to roll their eyes, but I see doubt in faces of nonbelievers. Peers look at an invested teammate as an overachiever, or Coach’s pet, rather than a hard worker attempting to avoid a slump.

In an ideal world, baseball players and students would arrive ready to practice–eager to learn. Obviously, this is not always realistic, so we must initiate a level of excitement. This happens naturally in a culture of learning. Hitting consistent line drives to the far end of the cage is not as easy as it seems, but the goal is clear and attainable. The depth of the tunnel reminds the hitter to swing hard, but the ball will not travel properly unless the head remains steady and eyes focus softly on the point of contact. None of this is possible unless the lower half rotates and allowing the hips to clear a path for the hands to follow.

Every learner has strengths, where understanding and skill result in quick mastery. This comfort zone enables students to grasp concepts with relative ease. In hitting terms, this is finding the sweet spot. Given no specific instruction, hitters place the tee in the most comfortable position and hack away. I support these “feel good” reps knowing they increase confidence, build muscle memory, and identify individual strengths. However, learning stagnates when unforced beyond a comfort zone; fear of failure inhibits growth. If only pitchers were more considerate in delivering the ball to the sweet spot with regularity; unfortunately, stepping into the batter’s box is an unpredictable, overwhelming test at times. The enemy scouts our weaknesses and attacks our flaws. Nine players on defense versus one hitter doesn’t seem fair.

Many students approach their academic reps in the same way. They use the most comfortable–often apathetic–shortcut, through the formative process. They fall into a routine of compliance to appease the teacher and keep parents satisfied, especially where points are awarded. An even greater challenge is awarding no points for practice work, especially in a world where grades dictate student “worth.” Will this be graded? Does this count? How much is this worth?

Teachers, coaches, and parents must work with students to shatter this harmful mindset. Yes, it counts–more than any quantifiable grade, percentage, or average–but this is where teachers need to make sure students and their parents understand the value of the learning process. If practice is perceived as worthless, it is disrespectful to students and detrimental to a culture of learning. Formative practice is where learning occurs; this is the time for interaction and growth.

Those who respect the game of baseball, honor the importance of preparation. They find beauty in the art of practice. Classroom learning must be purposeful in relation to course standards. It should be interactive, engaging, and (dare I say?) fun. When students refuse to accept the value of practice, they turn the process into a points game. Maybe the class work is too easy, mindless, or repetitive; they can test without doing any work. Maybe the work is not tied to any standards. The teacher assigns homework because that’s what is expected; there is no clear rationale for completing perceived busy work. So, students rush to complete the assignment, copy a peer’s answers, or accept a zero–none of which prepares them for game time. When formative assessment is calculated to determine an average, the final grade is not an accurate indicator of learning.

Time to reconsider the educational purpose behind instructional practices, home work, and assessment. Time for educators to adjust the tee.

Tee Time

Tee Time

 

Adjusting the tee

Teachers tell students to be more creative but use the same lessons, tests, and plans every year. Schools tell teachers to be innovative, while expecting educators to increase standardized test scores and stick to the curriculum. We have predetermined outcomes that control learning, yet complain about kids’ lack of creativity. Children have wild imaginations (maybe video games are beneficial), but do not have the time nor freedom to express their creativity.

Learning, like tee work, requires the complex thought process of visualization. Hitters must conceptualize scenarios to discover the feel of staying on top of a high fastball, or driving a pitch on the outside corner. Reset. Move the tee out–then in–to simulate various points of contact. Initially, hitters might need situational prompts from a coach, but if effectively modeled, visualization becomes an art. Growth requires multiple opportunities for success–a full bucket of balls. Stretch the imagination. How does it feel to drive in the winning run with two strikes and the game on the line? What if it’s an off-speed pitch? Adjust. Make learning a memorable event–celebrate growth.

While the real education takes place throughout the formative stages of each unit, if treated properly, the final product will reflect successful growth. Formative feedback should guide further instruction and provide clear indication of preparedness for the summative assessment–game time. If I have done my job of providing multiple opportunities while communicating continuous, target-specific feedback, students should want to showcase their learning. In my classroom, such assessments are known as “celebrations of knowledge.”

Celebration of Knowledge

Celebration of Knowledge

 

Allow space for failure and recovery

Learning is messy. The growth process must be nurtured with care. No one wants to be evaluated on every swing in practice. Even with the best intentions, a batter inevitably strikes the rubber tube with such force practice stops to locate the source of the embarrassing thwack. It’s bad enough having to pick up the tee in front of teammates, let alone the judgmental eyes of a coach. As difficult as it is to resist the teachable moment, sometimes I have to step back and allow a hitter to work through his flaws. Proud or stubborn competitors don’t always seek a coach’s advice. The tee provides ample feedback. The hitter makes corrections. Following failure or success, I ask what he learned from the hitting instructor. Self-assessment and verbalization of the learning create ownership of the lesson. The hitter will adapt in much the same way during a game when isolated in the batter’s box.

Such cognition is powerful; this hitter may share his learning with teammates through understanding only one with experience can express. A partner can make helpful suggestions or simply provide support by loading the tee with another ball. The team builds a unique culture during practice, which should transfer to the dugout and onto the field. The chatter around a batting cage highlights my summers in much the same way an active classroom composes the soundtrack of the school year.

 

Join the Culture of Learning team–dominate the Major Leagues of Education. Lead a team where everyone shares a vision of success, outworks the competition, and earns playing time. But we must careful with our analogies. There are plenty of games to enjoy in life; if we make learning a priority in education, we will stop playing the game of school.

 

*Day 21 of @Teachthought #reflectiveteacher 30-day blogging challenge

The Voices of Genius Hour Geniuses

As documented in my previous post, Escaping Education’s Cave of Apathy With Genius Hour, my World Literature and Composition classes have committed one hour per week to explore our individual passions. We launched our mission with a challenge to attack the destructive apathy that spreads throughout a high school—especially following the first semester of a school year. During our most recent genius hour, I created a simple Google form to collect feedback from my students. Their responses to seven weeks of genius hours are overwhelmingly positive. Student voices are considerably more powerful than reading an educator’s observations, so I have decided not to write this post. Instead, I am going to let my junior geniuses do the work (despite the anxiety of the ACT test looming at the end of their chaotic week).

THE BASICS

I think that genius hour is awesome, it’s a nice break and escape of the regular school schedule of just sitting in class and continuously learning about subjects you have no say in partaking. It’s great to be able to choose what you want to learn about and research.

I really enjoy this time!

I think this is a great idea.

I enjoy genius hour.

Genius hour is awesome.

Enough said…but there’s more.

 

NEVER ENOUGH TIME IN OUR BUSY LIVES

Genius hour gives us a fun hour to help explore what we want to explore. The trouble with today is that there are never enough hours in the day, and by having this hour once a week gives us a little time to get to find what we really want. Genius hour is very helpful once a week.

I think it’s a great idea. It gives me time to do the things I love to do, even when I don’t have the time on my own, and to even increase my skill in what I love to do.

I like genius hour a lot. I think it gives students the ability to work on their projects for this class. I also think that more teachers should start doing this because sports nowadays seem to take up more and more of our time outside of school. It seems to me like all teachers would suggest/require a minimum of 30+ minutes of work on that subject every night. Some classes prefer even more than that! With golf currently lasting until around 6:00 every night, I have found myself all of a sudden staying up until around midnight and sometimes beyond. I can understand why teachers would like us to work hard on all 6 or 7 subjects every night, but there are times where that is not physically possible. I really respect genius hour and I am proud to say that I use it to its fullest extent.

 

A STRESS-FREE ENVIRONMENT IS VITAL FOR MENTAL HEALTH & WELL BEING

I really enjoy Genius Hour and I think it really helps me relax about the stressors in life and it lets me do what I want and look up things that interest me and make me happy in life, which is a pleasure that I don’t get very often.

I really appreciate Genius Hour. Not only do I have valuable time to research something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but it is relaxing and stress relieving as well.

It is relaxing and calming. It’s nice to have some time to ourselves during the school day.

I really enjoy Genius hour. Good way to end the week in a more relaxed, independent way, researching topics of interest.

 

RESPECT = AUTONOMY TO PURSUE PASSIONS

I really like genius hour, as it gives us a chance to learn about something that we never had a chance to in any other class.  It gives us complete freedom over learning about what really interests us.

I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn about something we are interested in. It is also nice to be able to learn about what I want.

I think it’s nice to finally learn about something I want to learn about.

I have enjoyed Genius Hour and I like working on my own and doing my own thing. I can work at my own pace doing what I want to accomplish for my blog.

I really enjoy doing genius hour because it gives us a chance to do what we are interested in and finding ways to help around the community and future generations.

I think it is a good “project” to do. It gives us the ability to do what we want and be free and if people don’t take advantage of that freedom it is a very successful activity. 

I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward the class period each week where I get to explore something that interests me. It is a nice break from school and all the pressure to do what is expected/required of us. It can get so tiresome being forced to do things that don’t interest me at all.

I love it!! I look forward to having time to study things I want instead of being told what I have to study like every other class.

 

STUDENTS APPRECIATE LEARNING & DISCOVERY THROUGH INDEPENDENT EXPLORATION

I very much enjoy the independent learning opportunity. It is very interesting and inspiring.

I enjoy having an hour to myself to research topics that spark my interest.

I feel that this has helped me improve my overall knowledge.

I think it’s amazing to learn about musicians and bands because music is a very important piece of my life.

It is fun to go through Tumbler and build a fan base!  I really enjoy the website, even though GHS has decided to block it, I am getting around that by going through my Data Plan even though it takes up a lot of data…  I am willing to sacrifice that to further this project!

Personally, I think this is what everyone needs. A lot of people I feel are looking to focus on what they want to do in the future career wise. Also, giving kids the option to study, explore, practice, and work on what THEY find interest in can show their work potential. My overall opinion on Genius Hour is it’s genius. I think this was a great idea and maybe see it as evolving into something bigger for kids to further explore their future career or an interest of some sort. I suppose my view of it is from the career and future aspect of Genius Hour but none the less, it’s a fantastic idea.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS…

Genius hour is a genius idea.

Thank you for the opportunity to do this!

I loved the idea. It gave everyone an incentive to study something they truly care about in class periods. I wish we did this more often because I think students would enjoy school more often if we continually did things like this.

 

Kids These Days...

Kids These Days…

And there you have it. Kids these days…

  1. are creative, passionate, and worthy of respect
  2. share their inner genius when given time and opportunity
  3. continue to impress and inspire me

 

*Part 3 of my Genius Hour posts will address specific projects. Prepare for mind-blowing awesomeness.

PBL: World Perspectives’ MAP of Authentic Learning

World Religion Wall

Project-Based Learning, the key to learn with a purpose

Learn with a purpose–for the sake of knowledge, reflection, and individual growth. Take ownership of your learning by thinking, questioning, and exploring beyond the hour we spend together in the classroom. My students receive this message daily. Some figure it out and thrive in my classes; others simply hear the words, go about their business, and continue to ask how many points an assignment is worth. I’m sure several turn up the volume on their iPod and tune me out before I start talking.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

English: This image outlines the basic path of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”. Non copyrighted, free work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to earn English credit, all juniors are required to take World Literature and Composition. The course is structured thematically around the stages of the hero’s journey in which we receive a call, cross a threshold separating us from the known world, face the trials and tests of initiation, transform our thinking and understanding of life, and return to our world enlightened, poised to impact others.

I am fortunate to teach at a comprehensive high school which takes pride in its reputation of offering opportunities for every student. Students take AP courses and generally perform well on standardized tests. They go on to have college and career success. There is a comfortable–almost secure–definition of appropriate, acceptable, and normal we choose to abide by and conform to. We claim to be tolerant, open-minded, and even accepting of differences; but this is where our flaws are exposed. While the majority of our students are considerate and respectful, many are apathetic or unintentionally offensive. The only plausible explanation is that we have always done it this way, as if to justify our good intentions–our way of life.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Plato acknowledges our flawed perception–that which we choose to overlook or ignore–and challenges us to question reality. What are the images cast in shadows on the cave wall? What exists beyond our known world? Many of us have no knowledge or understanding of life outside the cave, but are we to blame? Can we trust those claiming to be enlightened: the Form of the Good?

Too much talk…not enough action

This is the rationale I shared with students in my two junior classes before proposing their final exam:

The title of this course is World Perspectives. We spend months studying cultural themes and human behaviors; we analyze the archetypal journey and reflect on our metaphorical quests for personal understanding; we study religions of the world, while claiming to appreciate and respect diversity…yet, we do not transform beyond knowledge level–comprehension is assessed, but action is rarely taken. Therefore, little change occurs in our life patterns.

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

Gustave Doré’s illustration to Dante’s Inferno. Plate I: Canto I, Opening lines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epic heroes model strategies for overcoming struggle. Siddhartha shares the secrets of his enlightenment–that teachers can relay information and provide knowledge about life, but they can not teach experience. We walk the allegorical path beside Dante through the Dark Wood of Error into the depths of our conscience with only a guide to point us toward spiritual salvation. We even analyze our flaws–no one wants to end up like Oedipus, right? So what have we learned? Do I provide authentic opportunities and real guidance or am I a hypocrite preparing to give another meaningless final exam? How does our 11th grade study of world literature impact our perspectives?

THE RETURN: Completing the Journey

*After surviving the trials and tests of the journey, we must return–transformed–to everyday life with greater wisdom

*We discover our gift and may become a great leader; we are spiritually enlightened

*We must contribute to our society (possibly renewing or even saving it)

*Like Gilgamesh, we must leave something behind–a MAP for others to follow (an acronym for My Awesome Project or My Action Plan…I couldn’t pick one title, so we refer to our PBL quest as MAPMAP…creative, I know)

Essential Question: “As you complete this year’s journey, how will you use your knowledge to impact life on a personal, societal, and global scale?”

Use the following steps as an initial guide:

1) Establish a concept of the “Others” based on the psychology of human perception

2) Identify discrimination, prejudice, bias of those considered “Others.” We generated the following list:

{disability, religion, race/ethnicity, gender, height, weight, sexual orientation, age, education, social class, social theories/politics, nationality, appearance, language, labels/stereotypes}

3) Select one topic to further explore

4) Narrow your plan to include a summary of the issues, challenges, investigations, scenarios, or problems

5) Frame an essential question to guide your actions (MAP your journey!)

6) Establish your purpose and audience

7) Commit to a goal: How far are you willing to take your learning according to Bloom’s pyramid? What action will you take?

C = Comprehension level: learn about the topic, collect information, knowledge (share with teacher, continuing a comfortable pattern)

B = Application level: teach others, urge others to join your cause (share with the class, the requirements of a typical class project)

A = Creation level: take action, publish, utilize technology, transform yourself, impact others (share with the greater community, crossing the threshold into an unknown world)

Here is a sample of guiding questions my students will explore throughout the final quarter of the school year:

*How can we create a more open-minded and accepting society?

*How does clothing and style influence the treatment of individuals?

*What would the world be like without the conflict created by religious separation?

*How can adolescents use social media to positively impact others?

*Accepting the fact that discrimination is a natural part of high school, how can adolescents survive the bullying and harassment they will face due to their appearance?

*Why do our appearances lead to ridicule and what can I do to raise awareness?

*In what ways can we prevent our peers from harming themselves both physically and mentally?

*How can I change standardized testing to measure everyone’s unique talents? (we had a quality discussion about Caliban while studying The Tempest)

*How can I create awareness about human rights to an online audience? (already a member of Amnesty International looking to have a greater voice)

*How can I make students aware of hurtful words made in school that people are unaware of?

*What can be done to support gay members of our school?

*Is it possible to create a community that will not reject ideas or judge others based on age?

*How can lyrical messages in music be used to inspire individuals to preserve freedoms, fight injustice, and put an end to discrimination?

I am impressed by the variety and depth of their questions and the number of students accepting the challenge to venture well beyond their comfort level. Normally, students would be coasting to the end; I could predict everyone’s final scores if given a written exam, paper, or presentation. Contrary to typical exam performances, students will close this year at their academic peak, with mostly A’s in the grade book.

So what’s in it for me? I am excited to watch my students transform, separate from their known world, and make something of their learning. I want students to have lasting evidence of their education. Next year as seniors, they will have something substantial to write about when applying to college or interviewing for a job. I am proud to share the impact of their discoveries with anyone willing to listen. Real creativity and problem solving is taking place without limitation, unrestricted by standards or curriculum. Autonomy has no answer key. My students, in turn, observe their teacher in the role of a learner challenging traditional lessons; at this point in the school year, I have renewed motivation and a quest to complete.

My Awesome Project…My Action Plan