A simple reminder on the most significant classroom innovation

OK – So the article’s title did catch my attention (just like the author said it would):

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

I thought about it a moment and made a guess. I then read the author’s response:

Learning how to learn

So true.

I believe that helping students learn how to learn is really a gift that we can offer them. It can free students to pursue interests beyond what we may do in the classroom. As such:

Learning how to learn embeds the notion of self-directedness and self-motivation as a learner.

Learning how to learn is a process and a skill that allows students to respond and grow in an increasingly changing world. I believe that this is the key to opening doors and offering a bright future to students.

It may, indeed, be the single-most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years.

It is no longer enough to simply equip students with the primary literacy and numeracy skills that have been a staple of schools for a long time. I affirm the importance of the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic, especially when they are taught and developed in the context of a rigorous cross-disciplinary curriculum. However, I have also been advocating that we have to do more to help students in their learning journey. They need to know and practice the important learning management skills, such as note-taking, test preparation, and time management. Far too often, I find that teachers are simply assuming that students will know what to do as they encounter new material in their classes.

But now in our 21st century learning context, I appreciated the reminder on four additional dimensions that we need to address in our classrooms if we truly want to help our students learn how to learn:

Students need to …

  1. Know how to access and curate information. This includes the critical 21st century fluencies such as Information Fluency, Media Fluency and Creativity Fluency.
  2. Know how to work and learn with others. This can be fostered as we help students develop their critical 21st century fluencies of Collaboration Fluency and Global Digital Citizenship.
  3. Know how to adapt to new media and different ways of thinking. I understand this to include a proficiency in Solution Fluency.
  4. Know, understand and use a variety of digital platforms (blogs, social media, learning management systems, etc.) and networks for different uses.

What this blog post reaffirmed for me was the value in teaching with the 21st century fluencies in mind, too.  I have been a strong proponent in integrating these fluencies in my teaching and have attempted to integrate these skills as part of the learning experience in the new school, too. You can read about this here. The connection between the fluencies and the learning management skills I have been advocating for so long, in addition to their value to helping students learn how to learn, became even clearer today.

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Modern learning routines enhance student engagement

One of my goals in the classroom is to create the learning conditions that lead to engaged students who are thoughtfully and actively taking their learning to the ‘next level’ as they discover more about the subject area and about who they are as learners.

I have been using different ways to gauge my effectiveness in achieving this goal. One such way is through fostering student voice in their learning. I like to know what students are thinking, how they are processing the content we are learning together, how they can demonstrate their learning through innovative examples of application and synthesis. Our use of individual blogs has been very helpful in this. I ask myself how I can design learning situations that foster creativity in learning which, I believe, will lead to higher levels of engagement (you can read more of my thinking about that here). How do I help students practice and reveal their ability in using those essential literacy skills, or 21st fluencies, that will help them succeed in today’s global environment? Ultimately, I want to emphasize the development of thinking about content rather than simply focusing on the details of content as we engage in learning in the classroom. (You can read more about this distinction here.)

With this in mind, I was thankful for the post about modern learning routines that can help reveal student thinking in the classroom. Silvia Tolisano reviewed 5 great modern learning routines that promote learning as well as revealing student thinking. You can read about them here. In list form:

  1. read – write – comment
  2. learn – reflect – share
  3. contribute – feedback – grow
  4. watch – do – teach
  5. document – present – disseminate

Not only does each routine engage students in active thinking about content, each routine also equips students with skills for content creation. More importantly, each routine helps reveal what students are thinking, and apply this thinking, in an authentic context and manner.

i like her suggestion that we need to encourage students to be transparent with their work. (This is a good reminder for us as teachers, too, so that we can grow and develop as members of a professional learning community.) In particular, each routine requires action on the part of the student.

Note some of the verbs of modern learning in action:

  • comment
  • share
  • contribute
  • teach
  • disseminate

These are just a few verbs/activities that hint of student engagement in their learning, of routines that I am integrating more and more into my teaching with the goal of fostering a vibrant learning culture.

For example, I have been working with my students this week to provide authentic feedback on each other’s blog rather than the simple encouraging comments of “Way to go!” or “I agree.” I am trying to help them share their thinking in response to their classmates’ posts.

  • “What connections can you make that could further the ideas of the post?”
  • “What new ideas did your classmate share that you hadn’t thought of before?”
  • “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the main idea of the post”?

Through this process I am trying to help my students understand the value of their own contribution to someone else’s learning. I am also trying to help them be open to the positive impact of feedback from others on their own posts. Through comment modeling and providing time to read everyone’s blog, we are fostering a greater appreciation of learning together. What I have noticed is that the students are actively engaged as they support each other.

Learning from a question week: Day 5 – Learning, reading & commenting

The students were excited to return to the lab today, and they were eager to read what everyone learned this week. Before doing that, we first walked through how to comment effectively on a blog and talked a bit more about extending a conversation through the commenting process. This included a few comments and discussion on leaving a positive digital footprint, especially on a school blog site.

Once in the lab, it was so quiet as students went from site to site commenting and sharing their thinking. I was happy to hear some conversations take place, too, on the topics they were reading. The time went by so quickly for the students – another sign of engagement in the learning.

Learning from a question week: Day 4 – In the lab (again)

The focus for today’s class-time was to continue our research and attempt to answer our questions in the lab. I reminded the students that our goal is to share our findings publicly through our newly-opened blog sites. Then, following a good question on using an image in a post, I led a brief discussion on the importance of citing other people’s work. I knew that they were used to this step in their language arts class research, but the reminder served as a good prompt that much of what we learn in one class applies to other classes, too. This included also included a quick lesson on linking websites within a blog post. We then went to work.

As we focused our efforts in the computer lab, I heard a number of comments that were signs of student engagement in the entire process:

This is awesome!

I like how this looks online.

How can I change the size of this image?

How do I change …., because it doesn’t look good enough for others to see?

I was even more interested in those comments that hinted at the thinking behind the student questions:

I never knew that the deep ocean was so interesting.

I was glad to learn more about NASA’s plans for sending astronauts in space.

Until now, I only thought that dogs could see in black and white. It was interesting to learn that they can actually see in some, but not all, colors.

Learning from a question week: Day 3 – In the lab

Today is our third day in answering our questions and we returned to the computer lab to carry on with our research. I noticed that the students were generally choosing the first Google result of their query and accepting that as ‘the’ answer. This promoted a discussion on the value of multiple resources and viewpoints, especially in response to an ‘open’ question. This also necessitated a quick review on gathering and writing notes, as well as citing sources.

The students were focused on their work and wanted to share what they were learning with me. It was great to learn more from each question, and they started to see the value of sharing this with the larger world once we post our learning on our blogs.

Learning from a question week: Day 2 – Starting our research & Opening a blog

I shared yesterday about how I wanted to engage a group of students in a passion-based learning activity that would allow them the freedom and time to research a question that interested them personally. Today we started our research and talked a bit, too, about ways to present our findings through a blog.

I had served as my students’ technology teacher last year, so I am aware of their developing abilities online as digital citizens. Thus, one of my teaching goals for this year was to get my students actively blogging in my classes so that they can share their thinking and assignments. I had already started this process with the high school students, but was waiting for the right opportunity to begin with the middle school students. Well, today was the day to begin!

We reviewed the central ideas behind blogging and I then guided the students to open their own student blogs through my school site on Edublogs. I provided some guidance on how to open their site and respond to a first post. (This was actually a great exercise in following directions.) They could also change the appearance of their blog through one of the many themes that were available.

The students took to this activity with great enthusiasm and I was happy to see how eager they were to share their initial posts. My goal for today was to get the students started right away in their blogging and begin researching their question. So, I decided to take a few minutes tomorrow to develop our ideas on commenting a bit more. I would also continue on-going discussions on issues related to digital citizenship. They were clearly engaged in what they were doing.

One opportunity did present itself during the afternoon session together when students started using images they found online as part of their blog’s theme. It was in this moment that we discussed copyright and the use of other people’s work. Was it right to steal an image and claim it as our own or use it without permission? What does it mean to present your work online? I reminded the students of how we worked last year to cite our image sources in PowerPoint presentations, too. This was a great opportunity to teach “in the moment” when there was a real need to understand and apply.

Learning from a question week: Day 1 – Developing a question

With approximately 60% of the middle school students absent this week on a school trip to DC, I knew that I would have a group of students for an extra hour of class-time every day during the week while their teachers are away. I also knew that this would be a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders from different classes and with mixed abilities. I was reminded of this series of blog posts on an attempt/experiment with passion-based learning in an elementary classroom as well as some reading I completed during the summer on Genius Hour. So with this in mind, I wanted to engage the students in an activity where they had the freedom to explore their passions and interests. More specifically, I wanted to encourage the students to follow a question in search for an answer.

We started today by briefly differentiating two different types of questions: “What do we mean by an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ question?” After a few examples as a group, the students drafted some additional examples of each type of question.

We then moved on to brainstorm individual passions and ideas. I asked each student to consider the following prompts:

What are 10 things you love to do and learn?

What are 10 things you  are good at?

What are 10 things you wonder about?

I had the students share their lists with others in the class. They enjoyed this step. I believe that students love to share their ideas together, especially when it is on topics that are dear to them. In addition, this provided an extra opportunity to build some community among this new “class” of students who would be together all week.

For the next step, I asked the students to consider 2-3 items in order to draft 2-3 ‘open’ questions that they would like to answer if given the opportunity for research, practice and reflection. I then asked the students to share their questions with other classmates so that they could be “fine-tuned” by each other: Did the question make sense? Was it an ‘open’ question? How could the question be worded better to help focus any research to answer it?

To end our session together I highlighted how we will attempt to research and answer our questions, and what we will do to share what we learn. I was surprised at how the class time flew by, and the students were, too. They were definitely engaged in the sharing of their interests and drafting process of their questions. A wide range of passions became evident, and I learned more about each student, too. They left feeling good about being “stuck at school” while their classmates are away. Even this little feeling of student empowerment was a reward for me.