On Pacing

I recently had another “aha moment” as a result of reading Seth Godin’s blog. Check out this passage:

“I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.”

Pacing was my biggest opportunities for growth in the classroom. I’d plan on a “mini lesson,” only to find myself talking at my kids for 20 minutes before letting them get started. Or I’d try to keep it brief, and then find myself interrupting them again and again as I added additional thoughts.

Of course, pacing isn’t just about the length of our lessons. It’s also about gauging our kids’ learning and development in general. How soon and how fast do we push? How much room is there for students’ voices and inquiries amid the curriculum we have “to cover?” This is where the fear can also come in that Seth mentioned in his post; how often do we allow our fears to keep us letting go of control?

Either way, when our pacing is off, it’s often because the focus has strayed more to our timetable than our kids‘ timetable. Just as great sourdough is “ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be,” kids are ready when they’re ready. The best way at being more in-tune with our kids’ needs is by listening to their voices. This might include:

  • using a suggestion box/holding class meetings
  • using wrap-ups at the end of our lessons to reflect collectively on the understanding thus far
  • co-constructing rubrics and soliciting kids’ definitions of success (both for specific units and for learning in general!)
  • talking less
  • inviting kids in on the planning
  • tapping into kids’ process for work (rather than focusing solely on compliance)

Even when we think we’re too short on time, when we choose to seek out students’ voices, we will more often find ourselves uncovering great learning and great learners.

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Do We Give Students The Opportunity to Show Their Best Selves?

I came across this incredible story this morning:

As moving and remarkable as this story is, it makes me wonder: would this kind of response be unique to just that group of students? It seems to me that this highlights the broader goodness that is inherent in our kids, if only we give them the opportunity to rise to and express it.

And what does that take? Clearly, this teacher has taken the time to form a relationship with her students. She describes a classroom environment of shared ownership as her students step up to write on the board and pass out papers as she’s confined to a wheelchair.  She gives them the opportunity to find and share their authentic voices.

Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of these things amid all the obstacles we face as teachers. Pressures of time. Pressures of curriculum. And, like in the circumstance of this Detroit kindergarten classroom with 38 students this year, pressures of resources.

We can and should do what we can to fight for improvements in our schools. But even as we wade through these limitations, we can always find opportunities for student voice/choice and agency.

This might take the form of:

  • inquiry-based learning and provocations to help them make connections and discoveries.
  • regular class meetings in which students help address issues and express concerns/suggestions.
  • Authentic problem-based learning in which students investigate personally-relevant issues.
  • Less dependence on contrived-learning (ie, boxed or computer programs that take the person out of personalized learning), and more meaningful co-constructed learning experiences.
  • Teaching them ways to positively harness the power of social media and digital tools (rather than solely focusing on cyberbullying/safety).

As we work to find ways to give our students their voice and ownership, we will be astonished again and again at their ideas, their empathy, and their capacity to lead as the next generation.

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When School Is a To-Do List…

…do kids see anything but the list?

…do they put themselves into the learning?

“Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving…Let’s just remember that in “personalization” is the word “person.”” ~George Couros

…are they bringing their own energy and passion into those tasks?

…how is their ability for a self-driven life impacted? Are they more or less equipped?

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.”” ~William Stixrud

…do they get the chance to discover the power of their own voices?

…is there any room left for curiosity, when so much energy is spent on compliance?

“How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?” ~Edna Sackson

…is there time for reflection and metacognition?

…do students feel they are making personal discoveries worth discussing?

“I want the students to sit on their own shoulders – watch themselves, notice their responses and listen to their self-talk.  I want them to slow down, press the pause button and review their actions. I want them to ask: “what am I noticing about myself in this?”  “What did I just do/say?” “What is this telling me about myself?” “What could I do differently?” I want them to bring an inquiry stance to learning about themselves as people  and I want them to carry that disposition into the rest of their lives.” ~Kath Murdoch

What small changes can we make to better help students learn to own and drive their learning?

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Apparently I’m Completing a “Design A Better Future” Project, Too

Each year, the company that sponsors this blog also sponsors a scholarship for high school seniors, which I have the privilege of maintaining. I have been so inspired by the passion of so many of these students!

This year’s Design A Better Future scholarship is much more involved than the multimedia/essay submissions of previous years because we have also dramatically increased the tuition award (from five $1,000 awardees in the past to five $10,000 awardees this year). Thus, we are asking students to dig deep and utilize the design thinking framework to launch a project that will improve their local communities.

Maybe it’s that as these applications have started rolling in, their visions have rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s because my #OneWord2018 is encouraging me to better discover my capacity for influence. Maybe it’s just my innate teacher-drive to model desired expectations to students. Whatever the case, I find myself also completing a project to try and improve my community.

Based on the Design thinking Launch framework (developed by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer), here’s where I’m at so far. I’m usually the one giving feedback to students, so if you have any feedback to share with me, I would love to hear it!

Look, Listen, & Learn: 

I have been an avid urban cyclist with my kids for the past 7 years. Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more bike-friendly changes: murals on the bike trail tunnels, more marked bike lanes, increasing social media presence, and a deluge of bike events, amenities, and general interest. My family and I have directly benefited from these changes as they have made our rides safer and more enjoyable. This has led me to curiosity about why and how these changes have come about? And more importantly, how can I help?

Ask Tons of Questions:

My curiosity led me to volunteer for our local city bicycle committee and attending one of their monthly meetings, during which I unexpectedly found myself signing up for a project to increase/improve bike parking in our city. The questions came in a downpour and continue today:

  • Why is quality bike parking important?
  • What defines quality bike parking?
  • How did the bike parking that exists come about?
  • How do we encourage business/property managers to add or improve bike parking?
  • How do we work with bike rack companies to help make it easier/more appealing for business managers to obtain quality bike racks?
  • How will better bike parking impact biking in our community?
  • Who are the people I talk to about what has been done so far? How do I ask for their help?
  • What existing organizations can I collaborate with to extend our reach?
  • …and on and on and on…

Understand the Process or Problem: 

These questions led me to immersing myself in TONS of literature. I read just about every bike parking guide in existence, and I created a new RSS feed category devoted purely to biking (my growing list currently includes Strong Towns Media, BikeLeague.org, Dero Bike Racks blog, Little Bellas, Momentum Mag, and more). I am also learning a lot from other more experience bike activists in our community through emails and meetings.

Navigate Ideas: 

In this phase, I synthesized what I had learned and started creating graphics to help me distill the most important information and to be able to share moving forward.

I also came to the realization that our bike community needs a coordinated representation of all the bike parking that’s currently available so we know where to go next. This led me to…

Create a Prototype: 

…a bike map! I discovered that I could create my own Google Map with custom layers and location markers for our city. I got started right away and presented back to our committee.

Highlight & Fix: 

Feedback from others in the committee led me to create multiple layers to differentiate which bike racks are in ideal condition, which need improvement, and which need to be installed. I also realized that the Maps layout can be kind of clunky for smartphones, and since we decided it would be best to use this as a crowd-sourcing tool, it has led me to tinker with other options like Google sites with an embedded Google Form.

Thanks to feedback from a particularly active member of the committee, I’m also working on incentivizing contributions to the map by asking for swag donations from local bike shops, as well as working to find discounts on bike racks to help encourage business owners to purchase.

Launch to an Audience: 

I have cycled back and forth between the “Highlight and Fix” and “Launch to an Audience” phases as I’ve met with various individuals and committees. But I’m currently working to prepare to launch to our public community for the crowdsourcing to commence. I know that my work with our bicycle committee will have me cycling through this Design Thinking framework again and again!

Whatever our role in working with students, it’s always a mutually beneficial exercise to try out what we’re asking of them. Not only does it help us develop more accurate insight on all that’s entailed in our requirements, but it demonstrates to our students that we are willing to continue to learn and grow alongside them as well.

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When Texts Become Our Mentors — Really

What happens when we earnestly look to the text for learning?

I mean, really look to the text.

Not some sterile passage from a basal.

Not the occasional book that seems to coincide with our unit.

Not even the mandated whole-class novel, though I have heard merits on both sides (some pros here, cons here).

I mean full-blown looking to texts as our mentors day in and day out.

Starting out units immersing ourselves in books on every level and topic we can find (our school librarian was a saint in consistently helping me prepare for the immersion stage of our units).

Getting to really get to know the author–his/her style, favorite strategies, even personality — and then talking about what ____ is doing to make us feel or think the way we do?

Setting out each day for authentic discovery within the pages of the mentor text — which, of course, means we don’t necessarily know what our students will find?

Engaging alongside students as we also seek out examples of what we’re trying to better understand as readers and writers?

I have been on both sides of this approach to mentor texts. And I’d like to share a few before/after effects I observed in my students:

Before: 

  • I rarely, if ever, heard students refer to themselves as authors
  • The writing strategies we were trying to learn about usually felt much more abstract with little context.
  • As we inevitably turned to worksheets, our approach felt more contrived.
  • Students looked to me for each day’s literary learning.

After:

  • Students saw authors as people — people who were once kids like them that had to learn and hone their craft in the exact same way we were — which led to them referring to themselves as authors, too.
  • We made it our daily mission to seek out clear context within books.
  • The strategies we were trying to learn about felt much more natural.
  • We all looked to the books for rich, co-constructed literary learning.

We become better equipped to find and share mentor texts when we read as much as we can as teachers. Whole language reading/writing workshops will also include plenty of examples of texts that coincide with each unit (One of the reasons I enjoyed Pam Allyn’s Core Ready series). But of course, there are also plenty of free online resources available, too! Here are a few:

Making the shift toward integrating mentor texts into our daily literacy learning has been pivotal for authenticity. After all, if we say it’s all about reading and writing books, shouldn’t books be our primary companions?

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Autonomy & Cell Phones In Class

My scope of experience with kids and phones doesn’t extend past 5th graders. There’s only one real incident I can even recall where a student kept visiting her backpack to check out her phone, which was resolved without much fuss.

But the question of whether teachers should make sweeping bans of devices from their classrooms is highly relevant to teachers everywhere because it speaks to our efforts toward fostering greater student ownership and autonomy over their learning.  At the same time, we do know that app-makers design apps to be as enticing as possible, to which kids are even more likely to fall prey to distraction and time-wasting.

In fact, an educator in this KQED MindShift article compared it to candy: “Don’t give kids unlimited access to “Halloween candy and Christmas cookies while they are still learning to eat a balanced diet.””

For whatever reason, this reminded me of a couple of plates that my dietitian mother-in-law gave to my kids:

I’ve liked these just because it’s easier to pour applesauce and yogurt into the portions. But to my surprise, they’ve also caused my kids started initiating conversations about food groups, portions, and intake balance. We also noticed together the absence of candy and treats as a food group, and have discussed the importance of moderation there, too.

The MindShift article also quoted educators who emphasize the importance of making cell phone use and distraction a direct conversation. Surely, just as there is value in letting kids in on the big picture of dietary balance, there is value in letting kids in on the big picture of balanced cell phone use.

Of course, that does not equate to an automatic green-light on all devices at all times. In fact, having an open conversation is a great way to invite student input on troubleshooting. Questions/discussion points you might ask might include:

  • How can devices enhance our learning?
  • How might devices enhance feedback within our classroom? With learners across the globe?
  • How might devices cause a distraction for ourselves? How might they distract our peers?
  • What does balanced device use look like?
  • What are the possible dangers of unbalanced device use?
  • What strategies or guidelines might minimize distraction while maximizing learning in our classroom?

However we choose to manage the issue, inviting our students to take a more proactive role can help not only mitigate the management issues but empower our students for more longterm ownership over their own device use.

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Media Literacy, ISTE Standards, & #FakeNews

In the wake of #FakeNews, and, more recently, President Trump’s “Fake News Awards,” it makes me reflect on our role as educators when it comes to media literacy, which has me again pondering the purpose of education. In 1934, John Dewey wrote,

“The purpose of education has always been to every one, in
essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in
order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of
society. This was the purpose of the education given to a little
aboriginal in the Australian bush before the coming of the white
man. It was the purpose of the education of youth in the golden
age of Athens. It is the purpose of education today, whether
this education goes on in a one-room school in the mountains
of Tennessee or in the most advanced, progressive school in a
radical community. But to develop into a member of society in
the Australian bush had nothing in common with developing into
a member of society in ancient Greece, and still less with what
is needed today. Any education is, in its forms and methods, an
outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists.”

In this unprecedented, exponential, and experimental age of communication, information, and sometimes misinformation, all previous norms and rules start to blur. As online rhetoric becomes more polarized, it starts to seem that our needs as a society are also becoming divided.

But the ability to ascertain truth remains a common, fundamental need of a democratic society, which makes our free press all the more essential. As educators this pursuit of truth comes through cultivating healthy media literacy. The ISTE standards are a powerful resource, as they can all be used to strengthen our students’ capacity to assess whatever information comes their way. Here are my thoughts on what this might look like.

1. Empowered Learner: “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.”) Helping students learn to identify bias, and giving them the technological know-how to discern among different types of online media (ie, social media posts, blog posts, journalism, etc.)

2. Digital Citizen: Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.”) Helping students learn specific strategies for fact-checking, and a general “think before you share” mindset.

via Marshall University Libraries

3. Knowledge Constructor: “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”)  Giving our students immersive opportunities to read a large cross-section of sources when embarking on a new unit.

4. Innovative Designer: Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” → Encouraging students to be part of the solution when it comes to misinformation by creating their own carefully-sourced media literacy resources (infographics, videos, etc).

5. Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.”) Teaching students the science and driving force behind “click bait,” as well what methods mainstream news outlets use to fact-check.

6. Creative Communicator (“Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”) Giving students the opportunity to have authentic audiences via student blogs to increase their literacy as online contributors. 

7. Global Collaborator (“Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.”)Join a global collaborative platform such as The Wonderment where students can gain a sense of themselves as citizens of a global society, in which their voice matters.
There are many unknowns as we continue to collectively feel our way through this unparalleled time. But we can be certain that media literacy will empower and equip our students and ourselves to better access and anchor our society in truth.
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