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?
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
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
Thank you for making week one of #slowchatGSD a success. Congratulations! You have officially added to your digital footprint by taking time to reflect and connect with others. This week presents a new challenge dedicated to project-based learning.
Here is the driving question to guide our project:
How do we design an educational course for new teacher training?
Monday: What would be the course title? Provide a brief description or syllabus.
Tuesday: What would be included in the course’s recommended reading?
Wednesday: Flip the lesson. What video links would you include as additional training?
Thursday (Happy Thanksgiving!): Time to share our gratitude. What colleagues and members of our professional learning network would you recommend to teach course topics? Provide rationale for your choices.
Friday: How do we know our students are ready to enter professional education? Create the culminating project required to pass the course. Those taking #slowchatGSD for honors credit may include a rubric for assessment.
Please join the conversation. Let’s get creative during the long weekend.