Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I'm Beyond Happy, Actually.


Unsolicited mail from students makes up some of the best content in my "Happy File."  This particular piece (pictured above) is one example of the deep impact that autonomous learning makes on both teachers and students.

Te@chthought blog challenge  #reflectiveteacher

Day 24

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.)

Say what you want about trends...  here today, gone tomorrow.  If you consider your own preferences, however, and the responses of learners for more than fifty years, (and probably longer than that), people who REALLY are interested in learning learn best through immersion in a topic of interest.

What is the best way to learn a language?  Go hang out with people who speak that language.  What is the best way to learn to sing?  Certainly not watching videos of people singing -- it's about finding a community.  Authentic learning is the key to meaningful, insightful, learning.  More so if the learner is also responsible for structuring the outcome of that learning.

Today I sat in a chair in a circle of 27 freshmen after returning their rough drafts of their first essays.  My observations were the following:

1.  The word "invigorating" is either trending on twitter, or a vocab word this week.  NINE students used the word to describe a potential career.

2.  Despite my best efforts, nearly everyone wrote their INFORMATIVE piece using first or second person.  I circled so many "I" and "YOU"s that my pen nearly went dry.

3.  All in all, everyone did fairly well with including the material requested from the graphic organizer of research they'd completed prior to the rough draft.

Here's how the conversation went:

ME:             So.  How do you think the final draft should be graded?
THEM:        Blank stares.  Finally - from one student -- "Don't you use rubrics?"
ME:             Sure.  What should it look like?
THEM:        Blank stares.
ME:             Seriously.  What is important to you in this final draft?  What should I grade you on?  I want to know what is important to you.

After a few minutes of looking at me and shuffling silently, and not so silently, in their chairs, they realized I wasn't backing down.

ME:             The rough draft was worth 40 points.  What should the final draft be worth?

Someone suggested 100 points.  Others argued against it.  Eventually they opted for 100 points "because the math is easy."  Sheesh.  Powergrade will calculate it, but whatever....

They all looked relieved, as if the chore were now over.  And then I dropped the other shoe.

ME:             So what is the criteria for the 100 points?

This time they got it.  Someone suggested that MLA formatting was important, someone else agreed.  I stopped and told them that I had a motion and a second.  Discuss.  Weird looks ensued.  I think you get the idea.

With a student scribe at the board, I sat amongst these 14 year olds and created a democratic classroom.  They owned the rubric, and once they realized it, they did a great job in crafting it.

The point here is autonomy.  The trend I am most focused on these days is the concept of fostering the autonomous learner.  Give ownership to individuals and to classes.  Let them define their projects, their focus, and their timelines,  (within reason).  I adopted this philosophy about a year and a half ago with gifted classes, and have expanded the philosophy to include my academic Information Literacy classes using the process described above.  What I've found is that the kids produce better quality work -- often amazing me with their products -- when I don't supply the benchmark for them to hit.

In my higher level classes, we hold each other accountable.  Is it about a Personal Record?  You bet.  It's about each individual defining where they are, and reaching for where they are capable.  Autonomous Learning and Democratic Classrooms can, and do, exist.  I encourage you to try to give your students a greater voice in their own learning and assessment process.  What I've found since I started this is that kids are working harder than ever, and reflecting upon their learning, and looking to see what they are capable of doing that pleases THEM instead of me.

Last semester, I dug out an old rubric for that final career essay and scored the new set of papers against it.  My class scored a full 11 points higher on the old rubric, on average, than the class who was graded only using my rubric.  I see growth.  I see achievement.

And I see pride.

I'd love to wax poetic a bit longer on this topic, but it's Back to School Night and I'm off to rearrange my desks!

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