It’s spring break, which means my 2 year old gets to have his big sister home from school for more make-believe play together. Yesterday, I overheard them playing “house.”
In the course of their play, I heard my daughter ask her little brother how he wanted his kitchen to look. After he gave his idea, she asked, “Are you sure?” She proceeded to try to convince him of all the reasons for why her way would be better.
It was like looking into the proverbial mirror.
I knew I was witnessing my 6 year-old simply playing out the many times I’ve asked her the same question — after all, in their game, she was the mom.
It made me pause and reflect on the idea of autonomy. I’ve written about its benefits for our students before, but I wonder just how effectively I walk the walk with my own children. When we offer them a choice, but then cast doubt on their decision, we don’t give them the full opportunity that real autonomy affords.
Of course, that’s not to say that my young children get to choose in all things, just as my students did not always have a choice. But if we want to build trust, confidence, and ownership, honoring the decisions they do get to make is pivotal.
And when we don’t, well, I guess we’ll just watch the cycle start all over with our own children…
As I continue to pursue my one-word goal of synthesis, I’ve decided to give another graphic a shot! I love the process of visually uniting the learning concepts on my mind, as well as the opportunity to sift through recent ideas from my PLN that have inspired me most. I would love your feedback on this project! (Below is the jpeg version. See the clickable version here!)
One word of caution however: spend more time “coaching from the side” than you do lecturing from the start. Chances are, they’ve heard it all before, and they need hands-on, timely feedback more than anything! (I’ve definitely gotten this all backward in the past, giving far too much time and energy to the initial instruction and then expecting them to put it into practice effectively).
Resource #1: “They All Saw A Cat” by Brendan Wenzel
Both the advantage and disadvantage of collaboration lies in the fact that we all have different perspectives. Enter “They All Saw A Cat” to get kids thinking about what this means.
Resource #2: 21 Balançoires (21 Swings) by Daily tous les jours
Every time I watch this, I keep forgetting that the background music was not, in fact, a professional soundtrack, but was created by these people simply cooperating with one another on the swings. Sure to evoke serious thought from your students!
Why does perspective matter when it comes to collaboration?
What makes collaboration work?
How has the need for collaboration changed over history?
“As I reflect on what I call the “transference of learning to application,” I wonder how this works for our diverse learners? Is drill and practice an option? How do the programs you have, work with your students? How do we adapt our lessons to meet their needs? We know one size doesn’t fit all, but where is the “give” that’s okay?”
Readers of this blog know I am a huge advocate for student ownership over learning. To me, Faige’s questions come down to the balance of asserting our timetable over our students’ progress vs honoring their individual pace, development, and interests.
There is no quick, easy answer to this. But I strongly believe that every measure we take to be aware of this balance and to prioritize our students’ needs over external agendas/pressures is worthwhile. Here are 10 strategies I have found to be helpful in this pursuit.
“For example, the inquiry into invertebrates has potential for students to develop a greater understanding of interdependence, cycles, growth and adaptation. Once we are aware of this, we can stretch students thinking beyond the ‘topic’ itself and compare and contrast the learning we are doing in this instance with conceptually similar contexts in the past.”
This helps place skills and abilities from standards into better context as students make connections within broader, more meaningful/relevant scale.
2. Encourage autonomy & metacognition in skills practice. I am a big fan of the Daily 5 routine for literacy skills (& Daily 3 for math) for this very reason–it’s one framework that not only allows students to choose how to spend their learning time, but helps them learn how to discern how to spend their time. In other words, help students stop waiting for you to tell them what skills they need to work on, & start teaching them how to identify that themselves.
3. Use Visible Thinking Routines. This practice helps strengthen metacognition and allows you a way to document thinking in a setting that provides much more student ownership and expression than perhaps a worksheet might.
4. Model reflecting on progress frequently. In the above article by Kath Murdoch, she lists possible questions that might help students to better understand the learning process, such as “What have we been doing to find out about this? What have been some of the most effective resources? How might we go about organizing this information?” This allows students to take greater ownership over the learning process, better understanding when and why practice might be necessary.
5. Make assessments as metacognitive & student-centered as possible. 5th grade teacher Jess Lifshitz shared a phenomenal example of this in the revision process with her students. Their “Revision Checklist” for their fiction writing unit prompted students to examine not just what their writing was like, but the specific reasons their writing improved.
6. Use standards-based grading over traditional grading. Younger grades are generally already good at focusing on the standards instead of grades and averages. But for older students in particular, it’s crucial for them to break away from the mode of doing “enough” for the grade, and that starts with a shift in mindset to the actual progress. An ASCD article entitled “7 Reasons for Standards-Based Grading” gives a great example of what this kind of grading might look like:
7. Keep whole-class instruction to a minimum. Rely more heavily on student conferencing, small group sessions, and, when needed, whole group mini-lessons. You’ll be better equipped both to differentiate and to keep up individual conversations on students’ progress and what practice is needed.
8. Use creative problem-solving to promote student voice & to assess. We have countless digital tools at our fingertips today to help us solve old problems in new ways. A recent example of this was when Taryn BondClegg introduced back-channeling to her 4th graders so they could share and discuss ideas during their read aloud–without actually interrupting the read aloud. She even uses the transcript as a formative assessment of their reading comprehension. An ingeniously authentic way to both ascertain and develop their abilities.
9. Allow students time for personal inquiry. This goes by many names– Genius Hour, 80/20 time, Passion Time. Allowing our students time to pursue their questions gives them the opportunity to practice & build upon many of the skills they are learning in a way that’s meaningful and directly relevant for them.
10. No “Secret Teacher Business.” This is one of my favorite phrases learned from Edna Sackson, and it makes complete sense. We are all be on the same team, and students should be familiar with all the vocabulary, longterm goals, standards, etc. that are in place for their progress and benefit.
Student ownership is key for taking practice from a place of “doing school” to a place of purpose and context in our individual learning journeys.
Professional development meetings are usually an aside, right? We often want to hurry and get them over with so we can get back to our classrooms and students.
But what if we deliberately embraced them as part of our learning process? And no, I don’t mean a general, feel-good, kiss-up-to-the-admin kind of embrace.
I mean, what if we identified one genuine learning moment, and then (here’s the important part) shared that learning with our class when we returned?
It was easy for me the first time I did this, simply because that particular professional development training had been a particularly engaging and enlightening session.
My students had always asked where I’d been when I returned from meetings. But this time, rather than my usual quick response of “meetings,” so we could get back into our learning, I opened up:
(them) “Mrs. Wade, where did you go?”
(me) “A meeting for teachers to learn about how to become better teachers. Did you know we do that? And guess what?! Do you know what I just learned about? Reading workshop! Want to try it?”
My enthusiasm was contagious, and they were instantly curious. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect opportunity to introduce the very concept we’d been encouraged to start implementing.
I continued sharing with them about how I’d learned that we could model reading workshop just like we do writer’s workshop; namely, a mini lesson, guided practice, and wrap up. I shared how I’d discovered that they can make connections during reading workshop that will help them strengthen their writing, and vice versa. And I shared how excited I was because discovering and practicing reading strategies in this way seemed much more interesting than reading comprehension worksheets.
When I asked them if they wanted to give it a shot, they were all-in. And when we actually started, we kept the open dialogue going. I would say things like, “What did you think? How did that compare to the way we used to do that? How could we improve this process?
There was an openness, an energy, and a collective commitment to make this work. And I believe this stemmed from trust. Because the truth was, I was a novice at reading workshop. I had just barely learned about how to implement it. So I know that had I instead pretended to be the expert, rolling it out in a grand introduction of authority, we would have lost that precious element.
When we let our students see our authentic learning process, we build trust and respect and cooperation because they know we’re in this arena, too. And when we let them in on the vision (even if all the little pieces are not yet in place), they are more willing to bring it to life together. Our students need our genuine, messy learning process more than they need a polished and perfect appearance of control.
Last week, I asked my 6 year-old to get something from the car. I knew the item had fallen under the seats, so I added the instruction, “Make sure you look all over!”
She came back empty-handed, telling me it wasn’t there. Of course, with mom omnipotence (momnipotence?), I knew that item was indeed in the car and that she had simply not looked thoroughly enough.
Anyhow, I was ready to heave my usual sigh and go look for it myself when it occurred to me that “look all over” is a very vague and abstract concept for a 6 year-old. My mind jumped to an old-school Sesame Street episode featuring Grover we had recently watched:
I referenced Grover’s silly song about prepositions, telling her, “Try checking one more time, only this time, be sure to be like Grover and look ‘Around…over…under…and through’ all the seats.”
Though she did not end up finding the object during her second search either, she nevertheless took much longer and was clearly far more thorough (in the end I discovered it had fallen down into a remote and camouflaged corner).
As I reflected on that small teaching opportunity, I realized how often I take for granted what I think my kids ought to be able to do, yielding to frustration rather than teaching. In my classroom, I generally made it a point to help my students explicitly identify, “what does _____ look/sound/feel like” (ie, what does working respectfully in pairs look/sound/feel like?).
Yet there were still moments when I felt frustrated by shortcomings I felt my fifth graders should just know by now (penmanship, writing in complete sentences, group work skills). The reality was usually that they simply needed more modeling, more support, more patience.
I hope this #TeacherMom moment will help me better recognize those learning opportunities with my own children and my future students.
In the middle of a long speech about her favorite books, my 6 year old recently said something that surprised me: “But learning books are boring.”
I paused, not quite sure what she meant by “learning books.” Then I asked, “Do you mean nonfiction–books about real people and places and facts?”
“Yeah, I don’t like those ones very much.”
As I thought a bit more, I was transported back to my own elementary school years–I could almost feel the musty dinginess of the nonfiction corner of the library again. I honestly didn’t like nonfiction very much as a kid, either.
So I told her, “You know what, I have a hard time liking learning books sometimes, too. They often don’t really tell a story, do they? And I’ve noticed that a lot of time, the pictures aren’t as fun. But you know what? There are WAY more fun nonfiction books now than when I was a kid. How about we hunt together for the good ones?”
Since then, we’ve been working to shift her opinion of nonfiction. I try to forego even telling her a book is nonfiction until we finish reading it–then it’s all the more a pleasant surprise when she finds out how much she liked that “learning book.”
This is just one of several strategies to help students become better readers and enjoy the process of making meaning for themselves–which, of course, is what reading is all about.
Since we started this expedition, here are a few of our favorite discoveries. If you have any great “learning books” to share, too, please add them in the comments–my 6 year old and I will thank you!
Laurel Snyder’s biography of dancer Anna Pavlova had us both mesmerized. The beautiful illustrations and vibrant storytelling felt like a dance in and of themselves. My daughter spent days afterward creating her own versions of “Swan.”
I love the way Tina Kugler shares Mary Nohl’s love of making art for her own enjoyment. It’s a beautiful and important message for kids everywhere.
My daughter couldn’t wait until the end of the story to find out if this was a real “learning book.” We were both eager to learn more at the end of Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw’s book about Julia Hill’s conservation activism.
A simple and charming read by Angela DiTerlizzi to get us thinking about all the different types of bugs and their functions.
Kate Messner’s Over & Under the Snow was really an eye-opener to get my 6 year old considering what happens to animals in the wintertime.
Both my daughter and my 2 year old son loved Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size, comparing the images with their own hands.
Lindsay Mattick’s story of this loveable bear is an instant classic. You’ll be surprised to find out whose origin story this is…
Despite Bethany Barton’s best efforts in providing all the facts that show what useful and loveable(?) creatures spiders are, my 6 year old still wasn’t convinced. But she did walk around afterward for a while telling people that she was trying to love spiders.
Miranda Paul does a beautiful job introducing the water cycle in a way that will captivate any audience, sparking our imagination for the many forms and uses of water.
Already an avid birder (following after daddy’s footsteps), it wasn’t tough to get my daughter to love this one. But I was impressed at just how engaging and informative Annette LeBlanc Cate’s guide on bird watching was. And best of all, it resulted in my daughter creating her own birding field journal.