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
Thanksgiving receives plenty of attention for traditional feasts, shopping, and family time; but for teachers, Thanksgiving week means more than a couple days off of work. It represents the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with former students.
Yesterday, as if posted on the school calendar, a former student stopped by at the end of my prep period. He told me about his current studies and adventures as a college sophomore. We exchanged stories and shared laughs. These reunions are my reward–my holiday bonus.
But conversations with this graduate always go deeper than catching up on life and reminiscing about old times. He wants to know how systems work and asks questions about education that challenge my thinking. He has always been a genuine learner, urged by intellectual curiosity. And he possesses one of the most observant, insightful, brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to teach (even when he was a freshman). The limitations of a traditional high school structure were the only obstacles in his education at the time. He exhausted our school’s offerings of Advanced Placement courses and conquered all standardized tests with ease. As anticipated, he needed the independence of college to thrive and be challenged intellectually.
So why do we continue to lack vision of the possibilities and impede the potential of our learners?
…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
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
Rick Wormeli reminds us, “The punishment for not doing work is to do the work.” The unjust act of lowering grades due to when work is completed merely damages morale; it does not motivate. I refuse to factor a behavior into an academic grade, so when students do not hand an assignment in on time, I torture them by continuously expecting them to get it to me. I need evidence of learning before I can assess proficiency and I am well aware of the mathematical injustice of the zero (especially when calculating averages on a 100 point scale). The expectation is that each student complete the assignment–which must be perceived as purposeful to learning and a respectful use of time.
With this in mind, I created a late work cover letter. It is hot pink and obnoxious, but allows students to complete work without penalty. The form letter is light-hearted but highly reflective in holding students accountable for their learning process. It also provides the teacher with a hard-to-miss paper trail for student portfolios.
At the end of each quarter, students prepare a self-assessment reflecting on their performance for the quarter. I have students complete the rubric and support their claim with evidence of their efforts. I also urge students to complete the form with the person who cares most about their education in mind.
Again, this is a point of accountability, much of which is behavior-related; it communicates nothing about what students know and can do, but pushes them to think about factors impacting their level of success. The self-assessment is where I tend to open parent-teacher conferences. Parents love reading the sincere comments from the perspective of their child. Students are typically critical of their efforts. When students can communicate areas where they know improvement is needed, they can plan strategies for growth. In situations where students need to be challenged to refocus their goal setting at the close of the year, I enjoy reading responses to Finish Strong: Self Reflection prompts.
The most powerful way students can reflect on learning is through the metacognitive process. My favorite and most informative assessments are ones in which students communicate evidence of growth. Google Docs and Microsoft Word have comment functions where writers can highlight revised portions of their work and provide the rationale for change. This is easy for me to assess and lends clarity to the depth of learning.
The blue exam below could be used in any class–simply shift the evidence based on course content. The questions ask students to reflect on how they “learned with a purpose” throughout the year (or semester). They state a claim and support it with evidence and reasoning. This is the easiest way for students to show what they know and can do with their learning. You may also notice the student-friendly rubric. Students compete to supply me with the criteria I will use to assess the level of proficiency for each standard, another reflective exercise.
Here is another example of the type of assessment I have used as a World Literature final exam:
Purpose: To reflect on and express 2nd semester learning
LEARNING WITH A PURPOSE: Essay Prompt
Please reflect on your learning throughout second semester regarding course content, literature, and self-understanding. Make specific references to knowledge you gained through research, reading, and discussion
Students have to prepare–not study–for this exam. They appreciate that. This reflective practice also eliminates a student’s temptation to cheat and a teacher’s temptation to take the scan-tron shortcut.
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).
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.
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.
And there you have it. Kids these days…
- are creative, passionate, and worthy of respect
- share their inner genius when given time and opportunity
- continue to impress and inspire me
*Part 3 of my Genius Hour posts will address specific projects. Prepare for mind-blowing awesomeness.
Perfection may be a lofty goal in a chaotic school day, but on our quest for mastery, I expect students to:
- “Determine the central ideas of a text”
- “Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content”
- “Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research”
- “Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole”
- “Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience”
I am not superhuman—I am a teacher of high school English and the communication arts.
Whether we use the formal language of the Common Core or make the standards more student friendly, these are daily expectations in most language arts, literature, and composition classes. The purpose of English language arts courses is to develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills so students become insightful, creative, empathetic citizens—a worthy cause. Best wishes and keep up the good work, English Language Arts department.
Of course these concepts are addressed in language arts classes; however, according to the Common Core State Standards, the aforementioned list is now the shared responsibility of teachers in all content areas. In fact, these examples are quoted from the science and social studies Common Core Standards—not from language arts. Naturally, the expectations have been received with mixed reactions, primarily due to the insecurity of teachers uncomfortable with their ability to “teach” writing.
To alleviate the anxiety, I recommend “Two Perfect Sentences,” a versatile approach to assessing students’ understanding of content, while holding them accountable for the craft of writing. The strategy is as simple as—and may be used as—an exit or entrance slip.
Each student receives a slip of paper with one sentence on it (I prepare enough so no more than three students have the same sentence). Typically, the statement is an academic thought about a selected chapter, article, or excerpt of assigned reading. For example:
Juliet unknowingly foreshadows her impending doom.
Siddhartha recognizes the downfall of humans competing in the material world.
The directions state:
- Find evidence from _____(the text)______ to support the statement.
- Practice integrating the “directly quoted evidence with fluency, while adding the appropriate in text citation” (author’s last name page#). Pay attention to punctuation.
- Then, add one more sentence of analysis to clarify or highlight the significance of the information. This is your chance to make a connection and show critical thinking.
- Two perfect sentences will be assessed on the following criteria: ___________________________
Teachers have the freedom to adjust the focus on specific areas of emphasis, which should be communicated with students in advance. I always check for content understanding, making sure the evidence is logical and the argument is coherent. Quote integration and fluency is also simple for any reader to assess. Do the sentences flow smoothly or is the writing mechanical?
At this point, I hold students accountable for proper formatting of in-text citations. While language arts teachers prefer MLA format, they applaud any efforts to see appropriate use of content area citations. All teachers have written research papers throughout their education; therefore, they should feel comfortable requiring students to credit a source.
Having limited the task to two sentences, there are nonnegotiable expectations of writing conventions, such as punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and usage (I add tense and point of view here). If students receive a consistent message from all teachers, the quality of writing will improve.
Variations, Results, and Teachable Moments
A simple variation is to supply the quote and have students provide a main point before the evidence. This forces students to draw conclusions from the text. The activity may be done in small groups (competitively), with a partner, or individually (especially to check for learning).
Students are undaunted by the challenge of composing two sentences. The word “perfect” simply narrows their focus on detail and craft. They do not have to worry about organization or content development—although many ask if they may write more.
Teachers do not have to stress about increasing their workload by collecting long writing assessments. Missing work is not an issue; this is easily made up after students return from an absence.
Two Perfect Sentences is an ideal formative assessment. Teachers may survey student understanding with efficiency and provide immediate, specific feedback. I often walk around and check for perfection before I accept a submission, especially at the outset of class. I do not provide answers, but I will comment on the criteria not yet proficient. Students revise in front of me or ask their peers for advice—simple, effective peer editing practice.
When used as an exit slip, this strategy guides planning for the following day by organizing differentiated instruction. The learning process is easy to track using the Two Perfect Sentences approach.
We acknowledge the art of writing is never perfect, while the teaching of writing is certainly an imperfect art. In a world of increasing expectations and accountability, let’s work toward mastery two sentences at a time.