Sunday, March 8, 2015

Time for Change.

Raise your hand if you got enough sleep last night.  Not seeing many, I can assume that Monday morning will feel and look even more desolate, especially after a four day weekend in mostly arctic temperatures.  I know it's hard to get up in the dark -- especially if you aren't excited about the checklist to be completed that day.  

"Springing forward" is loathed with the same intensity as turning back the clock is celebrated in the fall.

A Reason to Celebrate.

Fortunately, for my students, tomorrow is a TDO Day.   TDO is the not-so-secret code for working on their independent projects, while focusing on the metacognitive process.  The hope is that high-achieving students who focus on the thinking process can become more aware of their actual learning process, and increase student achievement. (Which, of course, is the mecca land for public education these days.)  TDO happens once a cycle, so in the Themes in Literature class, 1/3 of the classroom time is dedicated to working on the project.  Most of the time, TDO days are celebrated as a good thing, and I suspect the reason is the ownership and choice involved in the project.

As you are probably aware if you are a regular reader of this blog, yesterday was the local level National History Day competition.  If you are an educator and are unfamiliar with NHD, I encourage you to check it out.   NHD allows students to focus on a particular research topic and create a project using an area of strength, ultimately presenting their research in front of an authentic audience in competition.  Students work on exhibits, performances, websites, documentaries and written papers, completing annotated bibliographies at the junior high level that rival what many colleges expect.  They learn research skills, they focus on primary sources, learn to dig deeper to find more authentic information, and impose critical judgment over both their work and the information that they discover, while putting their efforts into a greater understanding through historical context examinations.

These kids become experts, developing a lifelong appreciation for a particular event or individual.  And the individual aspect of the project allows for an autonomy and an ownership that is unmatched by any teacher-designed assignment.

Edutopia offered commentary on the value of students designing their own curriculum last June in their article entitled Student Power.  The experiences designed by students in a western Massachusetts high school four years ago, affectionately known as Independent School, were more intense than anything expected in even the highest level AP classes, yet the kids thrived.  

Somehow, education has become more about teaching than learning.  I see a value in allowing the learner to have a say in what they learn, ultimately creating a willingness or desire to do so that allows the motivational hurdle to be cleared without cajoling and nooses dragging the proverbial bodies past the first checkpoint.

Honestly, I have a hidden (okay not so hidden, now) fear that some of my learners are scamming me some of the time when they're working on their projects.  Do I fear that it's all a game for some?  Absolutely.  Am I thrilled that I work in a place where the administration supports creative efforts?  Doesn't even require an answer.  Do kids hold each other accountable?  Sometimes.  I'd like to see more of that happen.

What I do see is an increase in student thinking.  We've been focusing on Habits of Mind this year, and the learners seem to be "getting it."  Case in point, a recent text I received from a student skiing over the weekend:

Mrs. Heydt!  Today I took a risk and went on the slope that was the next one up from the bunny slope!  And I didn't fall!  Thanks for encouraging us to take risks! (:  

So maybe some of them don't get it, just yet.  But getting a text at 10 pm on a Saturday night from a student excited about a habit of mind, let alone putting it into action, is well worth the attempt.