It was another day of library time in fourth grade. Most of my classmates headed to the fiction section. A few dared the dark musty nonfiction corner (I still have no idea why it was always so poorly lit in that corner!). And I went for the picture books. I just couldn’t get enough of the pictures, and I certainly didn’t have the patience to spend 20 minutes reading just one page.
So it had gone week in and week out — until that momentous day that my sweet librarian, Mrs. Lutz, chose to intervene. She had apparently noticed my quiet reading habits, and chose to step in to offer a challenge. And what could easily have turned me off from reading instead launched me into the world of children’s fiction and deepened my self-identity as a reader.
How did she strike that careful balance of providing challenge without judgement?
Listened to what kept me coming back to the picture books (the pictures, of course).
Shared some books that she loved (that conveniently included some pictures).
Encouraged me to keep stretching my reading muscles.
It can seem an impossible task to help our students stretch themselves while simultaneously honoring their choices. And while choice should ultimately take precedence for their personal reading, finding this balance can help students expand their view of literary possibilities.
This week, I had the privilege to volunteer at my old school as one of the trainers for professional development day. I was asked to focus one of the workshops on inquiry planning and concept-based instruction in science and social studies. But the more I prepared, the more I realized that when it comes to inquiry, it’s not so much WHAT we do, as much as HOW we APPROACH.
So instead of spending our hour discussing science/social studies-specific ideas, we started off with a personal inquiry inventory, adapted from a couple posts by Kath Murdoch.
Next, participants used their inventory responses to determine which area of inquiry they wanted to investigate more.
As participants researched, they were also on the hunt for a sentence-phrase-word that helped them determine the difference between the same science/social studies activity used in a traditional teacher-driven classroom vs. an inquiry, concept-driven classroom.
I loved hearing the conversations, and engaging with participants as their research prompted new wonderings.
As everyone shared their Sentence-Phrase-Words, it led to more fabulous, thought-provoking discussions, such as…
…the fact that it’s a sacred trust to protect and cultivate the natural curiosity of our young charges — to not allow “the game of school” to drain that from them.
…the fact that everyone is on a different trajectory when it comes to adopting an inquiry approach — it’s not so much about how much of your day is dedicated to an inquiry-based instruction, but rather how consistently.
But by far my favorite part of our workshop was finishing up with “I used to think…Now I know…” sticky notes.
In case you can’t quite read them all in the above photo, I’ll list out the content here, too:
I used to think that students need to be taught. Now I know that they need to be guided.
I used to think the teacher had to give all the instruction using books, videos, etc. to teach about other cultures and countries. Now I know we can connect with other places in the world and talk with REAL people about their culture and country through technology.
I used to think that giving students agency can be scary. Now I know that with the right tools, it isn’t.
I used to think that joining curriculum and student-driven inquiry was too difficult to join in the classroom. Now I know it’s possible here as it is anywhere & not as hard as we convince ourselves.
I used to think that inquiry was complicated. Now I know we are making it complicated.
I used to think that questions were used solely at the beginning of a unit to drive the inquiry. Now I know questions can be a result of the inquiry and lead to more exploration.
I used to think inquiry was more work on the teacher. Now I know I need to lend it over to the kids — let them be kids.
I used to think that you had to fit everything in your lessons. Now I know that student driven lessons are more effective and fun.
I used to think that I always had to have an answer. Now I know that I don’t. Students can discover their answers through their own research.
I should add that thanks to the discussion during this workshop, as well as my continued online learning with teachers around the world, I need to add my own:
I used to think that to be an inquiry teacher, we must have students directing the learning 100% of the time. Now I know that it’s more about working toward creating a culture of ownership and curiosity, which can be present even during explicit teacher instruction.
Here are the links to all the research I shared with participants. Thank you so much to the many educators who so freely share their thinking and learning. I learn so much every day because of you! Kath Murdoch, Edna Sackson, Taryn BondClegg, Richard Wells, Sonya Terborg, Aviva Dunsinger, Sam Sherratt, and more.
You’d think that shortening my New Year’s Resolutions down to just one word would make it a piece of cake. Turns out, it’s not. It is, however, a worthwhile endeavor.
I wrote about my #OneWordGoal of Synthesis last January. I want to revisit it here both as a function of accountability, and to help me reflect on its impact.
The biggest takeaway thus-far is this: there’s more in my life that can complement rather than compete for my energy, time, and resources.
This has broken down into two distinct shifts in mindset:
#1: I used to think that getting “stuck” meant I just needed to dig deeper, work harder, and plow forward with grit.Now I know that most of the time, I simply need to draw from the other wells in my life for the inspiration, strength, or resources I need.
#2: I used to think that committing to even worthwhile opportunities would consume my time. Now I know that, while I still need to be judicious about commitments, the truly meaningful opportunities I engage in turn out to be an investment rather than a drain of my time.
Here are some examples where these shifts have come into play:
Time spent lingering to experiment with the microscope at the library → opportunity to practice letting go as I allowed my daughter to investigate figure out the instrument for herself → opportunity to be reminded of what exactly the wonder of inquiry and learning looks like → opportunity to build my relationship as a parent with my daughter.
Time attending Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett’s book signing → opportunity to share insight with present and future students about what it’s really like to be an author and illustrator → opportunity for a great blog post (I’ll be blogging more about that fabulous experience soon!)
Time spent reading → opportunity to model to my kids important literacy habits → opportunity to broaden knowledge on quality children’s literature and current research on teaching practices → opportunity to have great conversations with teachers around the world through my PLN.
Focusing on synthesis hasn’t magically given me more time. But it has helped me become better at making connections, noticing opportunities, and applying my learning across all the spheres of my life. I’m looking forward to continuing to focus on this skill, and to start considering my #OneWord2018!
In just a couple of weeks, I get to run a Love and Logic workshop at my old school. This has me reflecting on the purpose of the Love and Logic approach, and how it applies during particularly difficult situations.
For example, what do we do when our students actually seem to be getting something out of the opposition with us? One of Seth Godin’s recent posts examines what to do when someone refuses all our efforts to achieve a solution. “It might be, though, that being oppositional is making them happy. It may be that the best way to satisfy their objections is to let them keep objecting.”
Now, when that someone is very young and very stuck in their frustration or poor choice, we can’t very well just say “Fine! Keep being frustrated!” Not only does that kind of response leave everyone upset, but it doesn’t help teach the child better choices. So what options are left to us (especially when we’re not exactly feeling, “Oh, goodie, a learning opportunity!”)?
One of the important rules of Love and Logic is to keep anger, threats, and lecturing out of our communication, because kids actually tend to feed off this entertaining display of adult emotion.
So when a child is being oppositional, here are some Love & Logic strategies that might come into play:
Don’t set yourself up to lose, which includes avoiding making requests for a change in behavior in front of the class — the opportunity to argue on display can be another source that feeds the opposition.
Maintain your personal energy levels and feelings of dignity, even when logical consequences aren’t available, through the Energy Drain approach.
Don’t feel like you must come up with a consequence in the very moment of the poor behavior, when emotions are likely running high all the way around. Instead, try Anticipatory Consequences.
We all want and need to focus on building the relationship with each child. But if they have become accustomed to argument and defiance, we must also work to help them break habits and understand that you value dignity, both for themselves and yourself. Through it all, work to be genuine and express love and appreciation for each and every child, because that is where any good relationship starts.
As I’ve spent time this week trying to take care of some blogging technical difficulties, my thoughts have turned to re-reflect on why I do what I do here. So I wanted to share the introduction that I’ll be sharing with new blog subscribers:
“Are you the teacher that’s always asking questions? Constantly searching out better ways to reach your students? Daily taking risks in your learning alongside your young learners? If you’re here, probably.
My hope is that through reading and sharing and reflecting as a global professional learning community, we can in turn bring our students closer to a more personalized and meaningful education. I hope you’ll drop us a comment from time to time so that we can learn together — sharing what has (and has not) worked for you and your students.
I want to finish this little introduction by sharing a powerful video that reminds me that we don’t even know how far our students will go, if only we’re willing to help them ask questions, search out better ways, and take risks.
Edutopia recently shared Sal Khan’s story and vision in establishing Khan Academy. What stands out most to me was his goal for Khan Academy to help “Bring [us] closer to this model of true personalization where every student is on their own learning path and feels fully engaged.”
Khan Academy can indeed be such a tool for this personalization goal. But it certainly cannot and does not stand alone in such a lofty pursuit. Fortunately for us all, teachers are globally and daily sharing their aha moments and best practices. Here are additional ideas, largely thanks to my PLN’s incredible willingness to share their learning journeys, for helping students get on “their own learning path.”
1. Allow them to plan their day. As teachers Taryn Bond-Clegg and Aviva Dunsiger have illustrated, this can be done with older and younger students:
2. Do whatever it takes to find out how they really feel. I believe it’s mainly fear that holds us back from uncovering student voice — because what if they say they hate our subjects? What if it invites conflict? What if it takes too much time?
Indeed, when I read posts from Pernille Ripp like her recent “When Reading is Trash or Magic” that shares how she seeks for students’ honest feedback, I wonder how on earth I would respond to some of their bold answers. However, the truth that she and others who do the same have taught me is this:
Only when we uncover students’ true feelings can we help them develop shifts in mindset.
Only when they recognize that they can express what they truly feel — without fear of teacher disapproval or backlash — will they be willing to let their guard down enough to give things a shot.
And only when they see that we are willing to work with them wherever they are will they be able to embark on their own learning path.
3. Help them break down required learning outcomes to tackle them on their terms. Again, Taryn Bond-Clegg shares a fabulous example of this in her post above. Rather than just presenting students with a list of objectives, she helps them break things down into a gradual increase of independence. I have yet to find a better way to negotiate the existence of required learning outcomes with student ownership over their learning.
4. Explicitly teach AND model the growth mindset. And it’s not enough to settle on simple platitudes of, “you can do anything if you just try.” It takes being authentic and vulnerable with them. As Jo Boaler recently shared in season 3 episode 1 of #IMOOC (32:10):
“One of the problems kids have is they look at their math teacher and they think, ‘Oh, that’s what being a math person is; you know everything, you never make mistakes, you’re totally sure of everything.’ That’s a terrible image to give kids. So one of the reasons teachers don’t try some of those more open creative tasks is because they don’t know what will happen. They don’t know what kids are going to do.”
Katie Martin adds, “[We must] have conversations with kids about making mistakes — and not just a fake make-mistake — but when you’re actually taking a risk, where you have the possibility of something not working out, [that’s] really powerful.”
5. Explicitly teach AND model metacognition. Visible thinking routines are especially useful on this front because it brings that thinking to the surface. I loved having the opportunity to work with teachers at my old school last year during which we applied visible thinking routinesto bring their thoughts on inquiry to the whiteboard for group dissection. Students must learn their processes to bring their thinking to the surface in order to more fully take the reins over their learning.
6. Provide choice in how they organize their thinking. Melanie Meehan recently shared an excellent example of how we sometimes get caught in the pitfall of believing all the students need to use the same graphic organizer to gather their thoughts. Here’s her example of several writing graphic organizers:
7. Provide choice in how they express/assess their thinking. Seesaw, notebooks, vlogs, portfolios, word clouds, Storybird, Prezi, sketchnotes… the list goes on and on. The point is that we need to get out of the mindset that all the students need to have the same presentation in order for it to be valid.
8. Create a rich and diverse culture of reading. I loved watching Colby Sharp’s vlog touring his classroom library — quite aside from the sheer volume, I was impressed at his clear efforts to reach all his students’ reading needs. Obviously, this culture goes beyond just the presence of books — my short list for additional inspiration includes Nerdy Book Club, Pernille Ripp’s blog, and LibraryGirl.
9. Give them autonomy over self-regulatory basics. This includes bathroom use and snacks. I wrote some time ago about why and how we need to abolish “Can I Go to the Bathroom?” and it’s just as relevant as ever now. I also appreciated Aviva Dunsiger’s classroom tour when she showed where and why she has a designated spot for her kindergartners to “eat when they feel hungry.” After all, how can we expect them to be on their own learning path if they are distracted by waiting to take care of their personal basic needs?
10. Prioritize the pursuit ofmeaning. Time and time again, through my own practice and through the many wonderful teachers in my PLN, meaning is the way we get out of “the game of school.” If it doesn’t personally matter to them, nothing we do will matter in the longterm. See my story of “Digging Deeper in a Poetry Unit” on Edutopia for a personal example.
I look forward to continuing to learn and discover ways we can truly help our students own and personalize their learning. Thank you to all the teachers out there who have and continue to share their learning journeys!