That Time I Failed At Inquiry: 5 Missing Elements

Years ago, toward the end of the school year, I felt like our class was in a rut. I wasn’t sure what we were missing–Autonomy? Inspiration? Creativity? All of the above?

Whatever it was, I decided to do something drastic. I had recently come across a story online of a teacher who encouraged her students to create videos, and it seemed like a great idea to me.

So the next day, I checked out the laptop carts and dived head-long. I told them they had to work in small groups. I told them they could create any commercial they wanted. I might have had slightly more structure than I can recall, but if there was, it wasn’t much. And I stepped back, awaiting the student-centered magic to come to life.

It was bedlam.

Shocked and dismayed at the chaos and the discord and the aimlessness, I cancelled the whole thing the next day.

Today, a small part of me still wants to leave this experience forever buried in the corner of my memory labeled, “I-can’t-believe-you-actually-tried-that.”

But the rest of me knows that our failures are rich with learning opportunities. It reminds me of a teacher’s remarks during a PD session on inquiry this fall in which she expressed a wish to hear more about inquiry attempts that have crashed and burned. So, having come a long way since then (I hope!), I think I’m ready to finally retrieve that memory from its dark recesses and shed light and learning on it instead.

Here are 5 major elements that I now realize I was missing:

What We’re Still Not Getting About How Teaching & Learning Has Changed

Last month, I followed Pernille Ripp’s 7th grade English class’ progress through a project on refugees. I even pointed to it in a recent post as an example of Twitter’s potential for learning. And on Tuesday, Microsoft shared a beautiful Youtube video of their experience:

After witnessing how all this learning and growing has unfolded, I was saddened to encounter the following comment on the Youtube video:

pernille-ripp-youtube-comment

It’s not the first time we’ve heard this kind of rhetoric, nor will it be the last. The “reading, writing, ‘rithmatic” camp is still alive and well.

However, what those who are of this mindset still don’t understand is that this is English in today’s world.

A world in which we’re flooded with false, misleading, and clickbait-y “news.”

A world in which current events no longer sit quietly in the morning paper, and instead are loudly debated at all times from the devices in our pockets.

A world in which the negative is amplified and distorted truths go viral.

So when the standards instruct us to “engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.1), is it beyond English instruction to tackle an issue that is very much a part of their lives?

Or when we’re to teach students to “Delineate a speaker’s argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.3), is it beyond English instruction to seek out civility and compassion to help bring clarity to current events fraught with misinformation?

The truth is, we can’t just direct our students to the encyclopedia anymore. The volume and quality of the information our students receive every day from the Internet is staggering, and we simply cannot pretend that it does not shape their learning process. Especially since with greater global access comes greater global citizenship. Thus, dramatic is the difference between asking a student from 1990 vs. 2016 to “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims” (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.8).

In the complexity of teaching and learning today, 21st century educators know that we are tasked to teach our students how to think, not what to think.

Or, as Pernille put it so well herself at the onset of this project,

“My job is not to make you think a certain way, my job is to make you think.  So whatever your opinion may be, all I ask of you is to have one based on fact, rather than what others believe.  Keep your ears open and ask a lot of questions.  That is the least you can do as the future of this country.”

Keep up the great work, Pernille, and all other teachers dedicated to helping their students make sense of this dynamic and exponentially shifting world!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Meeting Your Students’ Authentic Reading Needs with Goodreads

I recently started reading Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer. Two quotes stand out sharply to me. The first:

“I believe that this corporate machinery of scripted programs, comprehension worksheets (reproducibles, handouts, printables, whatever you want to call them), computer-based incentive packages, and test practice curriculum facilitates a solid bottom-line for the companies that sell them, and give schools proof they can point to that they are using every available resource to teach reading, but these efforts are doomed to fail a large number of students because they leave out the most important factor. When you take a forklift and shovel off the programs, underneath it all is a child reading a book.”

Amen!

“I am a reader, a flashlight-under-the-covers, carries-a-book-everywhere-I-go, don’t-look-at-my-Amazon-bill. I choose purses based on whether I can cram a paperback into them, and my books are the first items I pack into a suitcase. I am the person who family and friends call when they need a book recommendation or cannot remember who wrote Heidi. My identity as a person is so entwined with my love of reading and books that I cannot separate the two.”

The best literacy teachers I know of are these kinds of readers. And they do it without the “corporate machinery” of literacy instruction.

It’s obvious why, isn’t it? For one thing, they are able to give timely book recommendations tailored to students’ needs and interests; their kids don’t need those drill-and-kill comprehension worksheets when they are already talking excitedly about that book you helped them find! More importantly, these teachers have thoroughly shaken off the hypocrisy of teaching students to embrace something they themselves do not. They keep literary enthusiasm front and center, regarding books as familiar friends, rather than as benchmarks to “pass off.” They are the embodiment of those “not the filling…a pail, but the lighting…a fire” (William Butler Yeats). Our literacy teachers should be the best readers around.

Yet, for me personally, I admit that I have felt overwhelmed by these prodigious teacher-readers. I love reading, but I have limitations that make me worry that I wouldn’t be able to meet my students’ needs as well as they can.

For me, those limitations here boil down to problems: #1) I’m a slow reader. #2) I have a terrible memory for book titles.

Enter Goodreads. Though I’ve had an account for years, I’d always considered it to be too cumbersome to use regularly. But the two features below have at last shown me how my efforts there can be richly rewarded and magnified to meet my students’ and my own reading needs.

Problem #1: Slow reading 

I don’t read the volume of books that these teacher-readers that I admire do. Without that volume, it’s difficult to offer suggestions that sufficiently meet their needs and interests. But as I sort books that I have read into custom digital shelves on Goodreads (see below), it generates recommendations based on the genres/levels of those shelves. This allows me to leverage the reading/reviews of millions of other readers to help me get that perfect book in my students’ hands.

Problem #2: Memory for titles

For the still-many books I am able to read, the titles tend to swirl together over time, making it difficult to pull one out for a timely student recommendation. Goodreads solves this problem by allowing me to sort and “shelve” these books into a personalized library with custom categories.

To an outsider, my many shelves may seem like madness, but for me, I know they will help me pick out the trees in the forest, so to speak. Some of my current shelves include:

  • 5th grade: Friendship (titles like WonderFlora and UlyssesThe Inquisitor’s Tale: Or the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog, Three Times Lucky…)
  • 5th grade: Other-Worldly-Whimsical (The Magician’s Elephant, The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, The Wild Robot)
  • 5th grade: Overcoming Odds (Rules, Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, Holes)
  • Picture books: Challenging Status Quo (“In Mary’s Garden,” “Rosie Revere, Engineer,” “Cinder Edna,” “Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music”)
  • Picture books: Loss and Emotion (“The Heart and the Bottle,” “Boats for Papa,” “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgois”)
  • Picture books: Unexpected Endings & Humor (“Stuck,” “The Skunk,” “The Wolf’s Chicken Stew”)

Bonus feature: Integrate your search with your local library’s database!

Today, I added a button to my account that takes me from a book page on Goodreads directly to the book on my library’s online catalog. This allows me to check availability and to place a hold that much more easily! Here’s a link to help you learn how to add the button. If you run into any trouble, just contact Goodread’s customer support and they will add your library for you so you can select it from their list! 🙂

Whatever your strategy–whether through Goodreads or more regularly scheduled library visits–our students will reap the benefits when we choose to commit to move toward greater authenticity as readers ourselves.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Self-Perpetuating Cycle of Authentic Creativity

Earlier this summer, my daughter started expressing interest in all things behind-the-scenes-movie-making. Not only did she seem more attentive during the “bonus features” than the movies themselves, but she took rapt illustrated notes as she watched.

When she told us she wanted to make movies for Disney when she grows up, I sensed a learning opportunity. I downloaded a stop motion video-making app for her to explore (Stop Motion Studio on Android).

Though the first attempt was pretty rough, I was impressed that a 6 year-old was able to figure out a fairly complex creative app almost completely independently. After some time exploring, I offered her an additional resource: a camera holder. We Googled some solutions together, found a cardboard lid, cut some slots, and let her roll. Below was her attempt a few days later:

Over the months, I noticed continued exploration of the the app’s features and techniques, including altering the speed of the stop motion, adding music, and typing in titles to her videos.

She also wanted to watch examples of high quality stop motion videos on Youtube. Her favorites were this:

…this…

and this… (which included a particularly rich conversation as she watched with wonder and made hypotheses on how each shot was created. We paused, rewound, and re-watched frame-by-frame. It was a magic in and of itself to watch her try to unravel the mystery).

I was not surprised when our mini-film festival inspired her to create something new, with markedly improved technique:

But I was ever so surprised to find that as I went about my business later that day, I was suddenly struck with an idea for a stop motion video myself (having had a bumpy, less-than confident relationship with creativity in the past). So we brought “Goldilocks and the 3 Chairs” to life together (the “river” and “bridge” were her additions):

I would never have guessed when I first downloaded the app that this would have evolved into such an enjoyable shared pursuit. And I marvel at the skills that she is developing (no sticker charts, grades, or rewards needed here!):

  • Story structure Over time, I can see her getting better at developing a beginning, middle, and end of her stories. She’s also considering settings, characters, and key details that bring a story to life.
  • Phonics As she slowly locates each letter on the keypad for her titles, she is making connections about spelling rules and “rule-breakers.”
  • Speaking and listening I listen to her record her voice, listen back, and then rerecord over and over until she is satisfied with the way it sounds.
  • Media literacy All this device and app exploration has increased her confidence in navigating and wielding the device features.
  • PATIENCE Would you have thought it possible for a 6 year-old to spend hours going back and forth between snapping photos and making infinitesimal adjustments to her set over and over and over again? Me neither.

The teacher-side of me is reminded that when we allow ourselves to be authentic participants of the learning (and not just the ringmaster or director of it as it swirls or marches around us), not only is that learning exponentially enhanced for our students, but it is enhanced for ourselves. The entire process becomes self-perpetuating in an ever richer cycle. And the relationships are deepened in a way that worksheets and boxed units can simply never replicate.

featured image: r. nial bradshaw

Inquiry Into Tech Use, Twitter Edition

Last week, I shared an inquiry into tech use provocation that teachers can use with their students to consider its effects on them as individuals, as families, as communities, and as a world.

I also spent part of last Monday running some PD sessions at my old school (one on inquiry, and two on tech use).

The most rewarding moment during my tech sessions was when teacher told me as she left, “You made me think differently about Twitter!” Mission accomplished!

Of course, Twitter is just one piece in the puzzle of effective and innovative edtech, but there really is something special about it when it comes to becoming global citizens as teachers and students! So this week’s provocation is going to consist of examples of how Twitter can impact student learning, a worthwhile possible investigation for both teachers and students…

  • Example 1: These 3rd graders found this animal skeleton on their campus. Study “Approach C” for their Twitter use example.

Unidentified skeleton found on school campus

  • Example 2: 7th grade teacher, Pernille Ripp, searching for refugees to Skype with her students. See the breathtaking results of that Tweet here.

  • Example 3: This 5th grade teacher started with the tweet below with a link to a Google Slides global collaboration…

…and a month later, here’s a glimpse of her class investigating it:

  • Examples 4/5: And here are a couple of current ongoing requests to which you can contribute today:


Provocation Questions:

  • What do you notice about the way these individuals reached out to others on Twitter?
  • What do you notice about each of these teachers’ Twitter profiles?
  • What do you notice about the resulting responses?
  • Why do you think some got more responses than others?
  • How do you think these students benefited by reaching out to the world through Twitter?
  • What do you think are the challenges of using Twitter as students and teachers?

featured image: Mister G.C.

In Which Twitter Shows My 6 Year-Old Her Voice Counts #TeacherMom

Two weeks ago, I posted a list of “not-boring learning books.” When I shared it on Twitter, I tagged several of the authors in case they got the chance to see their books made a 6 year-old’s cut.

I’m sure most probably just didn’t see it. A few hit “favorite” and a couple retweeted. But Bethany Barton, author of, “I’m Trying to Love Spiders,” responded:

I read it to my daughter. She squealed and responded:

And then one more reply from Bethany:

This was pure gold. Not only did it completely make my daughter’s day, but it reinforced to me the value of Twitter (and other social platforms) for our children and students everywhere. The way it creates possibilities for real, meaningful connection. The way it brings to life faraway names and places. The way it globally amplifies a voice, and then brings audiences back down to a personal scale.

It also reminds me of all the other wonderful examples of this that I’ve seen recently, many of which I shared on Monday with the staff at my old school as I ran a few PD sessions:

My daughter and these other young children can’t yet navigate these platforms independently. But they are already starting to catch a glimpse of the digital world and their place and power in it. And I rejoice for such positive and meaningful introductions. I wonder what would happen if students everywhere had similar experiences…

featured image: Case Wade

An Inquiry Into Tech Use

By show of hands, who else is exhausted by the ping-pong-like opinions on tech use whizzing by?

One side: “We’re disconnected, we’re not missing anything when we cut screen time, our children aren’t getting enough exercise, we don’t carry on proper conversations anymore.”

And the other: “We’re more connected than ever on a global scale, accessibility is growing, we are finding new ways to connect with our loved ones, we are building new literacies.”

Author Alison Gopnik recently said in an Edutopia interview,

“We tend to panic too much about technological change. Maybe this time the technology is, in fact, going to have all these disastrous effects that everyone’s worried about. But children have always been the first adopters of new technologies, and the previous generation has always been terrified when the new technology was introduced…

But school-age children have been gossiping and interacting with one another and trying to figure out peer relationships for as long as we’ve been human. And the way that they’ve done that might have been just whispering and talking in that hunter-gatherer culture, or passing notes in the culture that I grew up in, or texting in the culture that children are growing up in now. I don’t think there’s any particular reason to believe that the technology is going to make that worse or more problematic than it was before.”

So, this week’s provocation is to let those children consider both sides of this tech issue themselves. The first resource is a photo series by Eric Pickersgill entitled “Removed.”

removed1

removed2

removed3

removed4

The second is a video I’ve shared before, but that I think would pair well with the above resource for this provocation.

Provocation Questions:

  • Why do people have different perspectives about technology use?
  • How does tech use impact your life?
  • How does tech use impact your family’s life?
  • How does tech use impact your school/community function?
  • How do you see tech use impacting your future?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto