Eric's School of Thought
I handed out a 12-day schedule, with three items for each class. One topic, one question, and resources for further investigation.
My classes use Portfolios, and target students to produce one artefact per class, about twelve classes per unit. Whether they are in class or not, whether they are engaged or not, each student will at some point focus their attention if they are going to meet requirements. An element of the requirement is to have someone else give feedback on the work they’re submitting. There’s a common framework tool, but my basic aim is to encourage someone else to grade so I can serve to audit. This practice encourages student voice, and incentives students to choose how they learn.
Students are learning that what they choose to bring to class will shape the seven-five minutes that follow. Last Friday, one Grade 12 started class to cite a statement he’d developed since last class:
One cannot stay continuous motivated until they learn to embrace failure.
I put the statement up on the board for the class to consider. Someone else had another one she wanted to share.
One cannot live creatively until they lose the fear of being wrong.
I remembered how last class we’d heard Daniel Pink’s RSA video, and put up his basic summary: Because of automation and outsourcing, future jobs will be shaped by working through complex problems. Motivation to deal with complex problems requires Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose.
I don’t recall how we got there, but students started complaining about school. Why school is the way it is, and how much it sucks that they’re teachers are unreasonable.
Another of my classes had showed me Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud, and his opening four minutes does an outstanding presentation of the history of our school system. Mitra concludes that schools aren’t broken, but obsolete.
Several students voiced they wanted to keep watching, and after Mutra’s twenty-minute lecture was finished, students led themselves through a seemingly engaged conversation.
I also had lots I wanted to say, but I believe student voices are often more valuable. Towards the end, I claimed the stage to share my own experience on what I’d heard, and then left class with a few minutes Production Time to make artefacts for their Portfolios.
These days I often feel like I don’t know what we’re doing, so it was encouraging to hear one student say to another, as they left class for the day, “that was a really good class.”
It was the start of first period class, and students seemed lethargic after the long weekend. I made a couple attempts at conversation, but few expressed interest. More directly, I asked students what they wanted to do today.
“I’m easy,” said one teenager. “I’m open to whatever.”
The general desire was to be told what to do, preferably something easy and relaxing. I was reluctant to assume the lead. Instead, I wanted the impetus to come from the voice of students. So I pressed further, going student by student in hope of finding some spark of interest.
One student asked, “Can we do yoga?”
I said that if she were able to organise the activity, then the class was welcome to do yoga. Among the sixteen students in the class, a few expressed interest, and this group congregated at the centre of the room. They strategised among themselves, and before long, had slipped into a chat about their weekends.
I waited a few moments before calling for student attention. Then I presented them with a choice; either take on some textbook work, or suggest another productive activity. Yoga was reaffirmed as an area of interest, and another said he wanted to listen to music.
“Why don’t we do yoga while listening to music,” suggested another student.
I asked students to say whether they were in or out. On first call, several students expressed interest, and none objected. Then I made clear that keeping silent is also a choice, and with no dissention, all students would be expected to participate.
On second call, two students voiced that were not into yoga. They offered instead a desire to free write to the meditative sounds in the room. A third student suggested that this was good music for doing Slam Poetry, and if they wanted, he could teach them how to do it.
And so it was that my students cleared space in the classroom, found a YouTube video called Yoga for Dummies, and led themselves through a 45-minute yoga session. The level of engagement seemed high, and I was able to participate, as well as check in with individual students.
I expect most teachers would ask what this “lesson” had to do with the curriculum. After all, these students are enrolled in a Grade 11 Marketing class, and we were scheduled to learn about Brand Identity.
At the start of each unit, I provide students with a daily schedule, which list the learning topic, and a couple of investigative questions. Today those included ‘how do I see myself?’ and ‘how do I want others to perceive me?’
We spent the last fifteen minutes of class in classroom dialogue, using the questions as platforms for discussion. Students pointed out that, while doing yoga, it was uncomfortable to stand in front of the group, because it felt like you were being watched. That led to a few comments about presenting yourself, and that the way you see yourself influences the way others see you. Then I wrapped up with my own thoughts about Identity and how they relate to the world of Branding.
I’m not sure how effective a curriculum administrator I was today, but I’d like to think I helped sixteen teenagers take a step forward in taking ownership of their learning.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education has requested public input as they develop a strategy leading up to next year’s election. Called From Great to Excellent, the intent is produce a renewed vision for Ontario’s public schools.
My participation in the Mississauga leg of the in-person consultations encouraged me to contribute my experience and ideas to the province’s effort. What started out as a brief memo has now turned into an informal white paper – a combination of both my research and practice in this sector. I’m calling my paper Suggestions From the Frontlines, and invite you to have a read for yourself.
Regardless of what the current administration proposes this spring, I believe we will continue to see a shift towards learning models that incentivise cultures of trust rather than the culture of compliance that permeates so many of contemporary education institutions.