Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Selfie x 189.

It seems hard to believe that a little less than a month ago this was projected on my board, in an attempt to convince the unconvincable that the end of the year was looming - actually RUSHING - full speed ahead, and that nothing stood in the way of the last day of school and report card delivery except, well, a research paper.

For some reason, the idea of a FIVE PAGE research paper to freshmen is something that is perceived as insurmountable.  There is fear, trembling, and doubt over the ability to achieve.  This is the final project in the triple crown of papers necessary to complete the graduation project requirements embedded in the Information Literacy course, and is, arguably, the most challenging.


Well, for starters, kids need to have an opinion.  (Okay, I can hear you laughing.  Of course kids have an opinion.  Sometimes even when they aren't even asked.  Okay, all the time.)  Ask any fourteen year old for an opinion, phrased in the form of a thesis statement, and the paralysis, confusion, and utter silence begins.  

Selfie X 189

For 189 school days, (minus the 7.5 to go until the end of the school year), I've attempted to create an environment in my classroom where students have ownership of their learning.  I've defined tasks, and asked for input on how we, as a class, arrive at the destination, allowing students to problem-solve, take risks, and explore new learning in meaningful ways.  I've sat on my hands, zipped my lips, and tried not to make approving-looks eye contact, while hoping that students are gaining the confidence to have an opinion and defend it as their own, rather than seeking approval from me and nodding in total agreement ala Eddie Haskal.

Paul Moss recently wrote an interesting analysis for Te@chthought, and asked the following questions:

  1. How much I have set up a culture of independent learning?
  2. How good are my questioning skills?
  3. How much do I ‘open’ up students’ minds with pertinent and differentiated questions?
  4. How much do I allow the students to ‘find’ the answers to questions themselves?
  5. How much do I let students breathe with a challenge, before I step in?
  6. How much do I use wait time effectively?
  7. How good am I at supporting the transition to learning like this?
  8. How well do I tie in the learning objective with the tasks presented?
  9. How much do I encourage an environment of curiosity about the learning, why it is being undertaken, and how it links to other areas we have been focusing on?

Talk about the ultimate selfie!  Paul put a video camera in his classroom, and then analyzed what he saw.  His analysis of his observation is very similar to my own:  
kids are looking for the answers that they think I WANT THEM TO GIVE rather than answers that will help them defend their own opinions.

Paul's analysis:

When watching the videos it is strikingly clear that the students are not used to such a learning culture. Many of them have great difficulty in making progress on their own. They seem to have fallen into a pattern of passively learning material, completing exercises with little connection to anything other than the moment, and worst of all, easily giving up when the challenge is ostensibly too difficult (often at the very first moment of difficulty).
The consequence is that often I have had a classroom with an overwhelming vibe of student angst and annoyance at not being told the answers, and not being able to complete tasks quickly. At times students have literally challenged my teaching credentials. Many times I gave in to such disharmony. In hindsight, and ironically, I gave in too easily. However, as I have evolved and learnt to be patient in the method, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the students are slowly becoming more independent, and fighting that little bit harder to achieve an understanding of a task.

The rubric written in red to the right of the calendar pictured above was yet another attempt to allow student input into what criteria should be judged in the aforementioned research paper.  I've done this process for several semesters now, and the papers are generally better quality when the kids spend some time defining the expectations in a dialog as a class about important elements of the assignment, point value, etc.  I am also amazed by how many of the most vocal during the design phase seem to miss the checklist that they've created once they hit the magical fifth page signalling their completion of the paper.

We (they, and I) have come far this year, and have miles to go before we sleep, with apologies to Robert Frost.  I know that a year or so from now, five pages worth of text will truly be no big deal to most of them, and that in-text citations will not be the enigma they are today.

I'm hoping that I, too, can grow in that next year, after another year of reflection.

Maybe I need a selfie stick after all....

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