Learning Process

What is Deep and Joyful Learning?

March 11, 2021

I believe that ALL students can and should learn deeply and joyfully every single day.  (I also believe that everyone should find great joy–daily–in their work, but that’s for another post.)

So, what is Deep and Joyful learning, anyway?  Sometimes when I wonder whether or not I should use the phrase.  In particular, I worry that the “joyful” part sounds fluffy–that it sounds like I care more about superficial happiness than I do about rigorous learning. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

I liken deep and joyful learning to the way you feel after a really great run or a spin class or game of soccer.  You know, how you give it everything you have, you dig deep, and you end both exhausted and elated.

It’s like that.

You see this in classrooms regularly.  Students are buzzing with enthusiasm as they solve problems, make new meaning or transfer their learning in one area to another. I ask you, is this happening for all students every day in your school? If we’re truthful with ourselves, probably not.  

Even setting that expectation probably feels overwhelming. After all, teachers have so many standards to cover and their jobs are so complex, that to ask them to make sure each student is joyfully learning seems like a huge ask.  And sure, as with any goal, we set ALL or 100% of students as an aspiration–knowing that the higher we set our targets and expectations, the better chance we have at getting better results.

OK, but HOW do we do this. From what I’ve observed, it’s all about regularly and repeatedly using a few high leverage strategies that allow students to develop multiple competencies simultaneously.

In synthesizing the work of Michael Fullan, Monica Martinez and the Hewlett Foundation, CASEL, and Tony Wagner, three distinct competency areas emerge:

  1. Academic–skills like critical thinking and complex problem-solving built around standards
  2. Interpersonal –skills like collaboration and communication
  3. Intrapersonal–skills like self-awareness and self–management and the ability to set and achieve goals and learn from mistakes.

 

In subsequent posts, I’ll go deeper into the importance of each area and share some strategies for developing them in and alongside our learners.

 

 

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Simplify-essential standards

Now is the time to simplify our learning standards

April 16, 2020

Simplify-essential standards

Teachers are overwhelmed.  Parents are overwhelmed.  Leaders are overwhelmed.

And, to be fair, this feeling isn’t new for educators, though it’s magnified now.

It’s time to simplify.

Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not  mean that we are letting up on learning.

Instead, when we simplify, we arrive at what’s really essential.

When I’ve worked with curriculum teams, we usually start with the work of  DuFour, et. al.

Here are their “big questions” to guide teaching and learning.

  1. What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
  2. How will we know if they’ve learned it?
  3. How  will we support students when they struggle?
  4. How will we enrich the learning for students who are already proficient?

Educators always love these questions.

Great, I say.  So, now, let’s answer that first question.

Teachers pull out their state standards, textbooks, final exams, etc and soon our response to question 1 fills up pages.

It becomes clear that we cannot teach everything if we want students to learn deeply and joyfully.

We need to strip down to the essential standards.

Teachers understandably have trouble with this.  EVERYTHING feels essential.

But then I ask them to picture a capable student in their class.  Now, consider that this student will endure some tough circumstances this year–perhaps illness–that causes him/her to be out for a significant portion of the year.

Most teachers can’t conceive of having this student repeat an entire year or course. So they then consider what the student would REALLY need to know and be able to do in order to move beyond this class or course.

We use this guidance from Larry Ainsworth to choose our essential standards (aka Power or Priority Standards.)

Essential standards are those that exhibit:

  1. Endurance–skills and knowledge needed for life outside this course
  2. Leverage–skills and knowledge from this course that help us learn and understand standards in other courses
  3. Readiness–skills and knowledge that we must have to advance to the next year/course

In fact, there are schools  and teachers that do this regularly for students with special circumstances. 

We just never considered that we would need to do this for all students…in all subjects.

But we can. Simplify. Get down to the essentials–the real and true essentials and go from there.

Right now, I would ask teachers to consider the ONE thing students must know or be able to do between now and next year.  How can we teach that? How will we (and students) know if they’ve learned it?

Then, go on to prioritize the NEXT thing on the list and so on.  If the first is all we can reasonably achieve this year, so be it.

Kudos to those districts that have made this focus on essential standards crystal clear, reducing overwhelm and giving space for deep and joyful learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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teacher-with-students

Teachers, are you afraid to say yes?

March 11, 2020

Are you afraid to say yes?

I bet you are, at least a little bit.

Saying NO is easier.  It’s safer.  It lets you maintain control.  NO is the word of restraint.

I think that’s why it’s a first response for so many teachers.  Too many “yeses” and all hell breaks loose —or so we think.

And, like everything, that can be true when the response is reactive rather than proactive.

But a well-placed YES can change everything.

Just a few days ago, I was working with a team of High School English teachers who are working to make their classrooms even more student-centered.  One of the tools we’ve used to contemplate the shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning is Scott McLeod and Julie Graber’s terrific 4 Shifts Protocol.  We use the protocol to review lesson plans and determine a focus area for observation.  We then visit one another’s classrooms and provide feedback.

Sabrina had a terrific plan. She and her colleagues had developed a research unit on genocide.  Students first read The Book Thief, did some group research on the Holocaust and were now researching other genocides.  They then had a wide choice of methods for demonstrating their learning to one another—including infographics, slide presentations, etc. Thinking about the shifts, I asked her who had determined the assessment products–Was it the students, the teachers, or both?  It was the teachers, she told me.  Had they asked the students for ideas, I wondered? Or had they considered leaving a space for “other” in case the students wanted to try something different?  No, they just hadn’t thought of it–but she agreed that would be great.

In her classroom, we observed actively engaged students. Their curiosity was ignited and several were toggling between researching their topic and determining which of the products would be the best vehicle for displaying their knowledge.

The plan called for students to create individual products, though they could and were talking to one another to get feedback, discuss the pros and cons of presentation choices, etc.

One group of students, however, appeared to be collaborating at a deeper level and out of the blue they asked Sabrina if they could create a podcast as their final product. It was as though they had been eavesdropping on our lesson review conversation!

Sabrina immediately gave an emphatic “YES!”.

Later, she told me that a day earlier she might have said, ‘no”.

Why?

Because she hadn’t considered this possibility.  She was more comfortable staying within the lines of what the teacher team had created.  But, based on our earlier conversations, she decided to say yes and give the students more ownership.

So, what changed her mind:

  1. She’s convinced that more student ownership leads to deeper engagement AND deeper learning.
  2. She put the responsibility on the students to make sure their proposal still met the requirements of the assignment.
  3. She plans to have all students write a reflection about what worked and what didn’t and what they might do differently next time.

What’s the worst that can happen? The students might find this wasn’t the best way to demonstrate their learning. So what? In addition to self-reflection, students will also give feedback about their peers’ products.  All of this will build their metacognition while also providing Sabrina and her colleagues the information they need if they decide to use the project again in future classes.

Win-win.

And all because she said yes.

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Teachers, why all the “shushing”?

March 1, 2020

Shhhhh. Finger raised to lips, teacher looks sternly at students. Once again, “sshsh:

Why?

What message are we sending our students when we shush them?

I recently posed this to some teachers I was working with.  I’d noticed it in their classrooms and in others the day before.  Now I couldn’t help but hear it.

And I cringed every time.

Look, I’ve done it. We all have.  But when have to ask ourselves—what’s happening in a class that leads to the shushing?

Are kids talking “out of turn”?  If so, why?

Are they trying to get clarification from another student? If so, why?

Are they shouting out the answer?  If so, why?

In the first example, let’s ask—when should they speak?

Why isn’t this the “right” time?  When CAN they speak?

More importantly, what happens when kids talk?

         They think.

         They inquire

         They communicate

         They make sense of things.

And when we shush, we shut that all down. We reinforce compliance and we make it clear who the class belongs to.

Shushing—that thing that we have ALL done at some point or another—likely means that we haven’t established a classroom in which students’ voice matters, in which they can engage with each other and with the teacher.

Let’s stop shushing and start creating robust classrooms full of meaningful dialogue and chatter.  That’s when we think. That’s when we learn.

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Frustration with homework or schoolwork or child with learning difficulties.

Teachers, Are you Sabotaging your Students–and Yourself?

February 21, 2020

“I know you hate this, but let’s plow through.”

“I see lots of anxious faces out there.”

“This is really hard.”

I’ve heard many comments like these over the years. I’m sure I’ve said them as well.  Why? When we say things like this, we are probably doing some or all of the following:

  1. Trying to reassure students/show empathy
  2. Acknowledging the difficulty of the work
  3. Acknowledging some student comments.

All of that is well-intentioned.  We should find ways to put students at ease and to acknowledge that difficult work lies ahead.

But what else are we saying:

  1. “I don’t expect you to enjoy this.
  2. This is objectively anxiety-inducing.
  3. Hard ≠ enjoyable

Often, we are also saying much more about ourselves than our students.  And, as we do that, we are taking away their chance to grow self-awareness and perseverance. 

So, what can we do instead?  Here are some possibilities:

  1. Swap out “hard” for “challenging”.  We can all get excited about challenges, especially if we are encouraged to create plans to meet our goals.
  2. Instead of putting words like “anxious” into the atmosphere, use reflections to ask students how they feel about the work.   We can use reflections before during and after the work to see how habits and attitude helped us to engage with the work. 
  3. Try not to assume that all students think the same way about all work. What’s difficult or boring for one student may be thrilling and engaging for another.  (To that end, we should try not to put our own biases about any type of work on our students!)

Here’s the bottom line: The more exciting we make the work, the more students will rise to our high expectations. So, go ahead—assign very challenging work.  Tell kids it’s challenging, sure, but make sure they see how wonderful it is as well!

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Give students ownership with the Jigsaw

Give students ownership with the Jigsaw

January 25, 2017

Differentiating learning for all students is hard enough—now we are asked to think about giving students a choice and voice in their own learning. Seems like more work for the teacher. And, on the front end, it is.

But here are some ways to make it easier.

1) Give students choice in a JIGSAW. Usually, jigsaws are used by teachers looking to differentiate learning for their students. The teacher chooses 3 or more materials related to the topic of discussion. The materials may differ according to reading level or interest or, sometimes, are simply a number of related resources that are valuable, but there are just too many to have each student read each one, so using a jigsaw allows students to get summaries from their peers.

You can also do this with a flipped Jigsaw—in which the students read or view (in the case of a video, etc) their chosen piece at home, take notes and prepare a summary to share with their peers the next day.

2) Then, allow students some choice in how they create a product to share with their peers. Usually, after a jigsaw, I’ve provided a choice board— a menu of activities the group can do to make synthesize their learning. This is great. It gives the group a choice and, done well, teaches students how to make group decisions and then work together. (See examples of choice boards here and here)

But you could do this differently. You could do the meaning making part of the jigsaw in class. Students either read and create summaries in their home group in class or they’ve done some of this work at home in the flipped scenario, and then come together briefly to create a group summary to bring to their rainbow groups. Then, have the rainbow groups come together for discussion of all the readings/resources and make sense of them tougher, engaging in dialogue and debate (structured or unstructured based on their familiarity with the process, age, your preference, etc). After that, instead of working on group projects for the final piece, students might choose to work individually—or some might work in pairs, or you might have a sign up sheet (physical or on a shared document) where students sign up for the type of final product they want to create. So, you might end up with 3 groups of 4 students who want to create a game based on the readings and 2 students working individually to write a poem and others doing any number of appropriate learning tasks. (Note that the options in the choice board should have accompanying rubrics whenever possible in order to ensure rigor).

Finally, I would recommend bringing the class together for presentations (OR having the students make videos of their presentations for their peers to watch at home) and including some sort of feedback sheet from peers. (More on that to come).

One last thing—I don’t think it’s possible to overuse the Jigsaw. If you are new to differentiation, ad/or if you find it incredibly time-consuming, why not return again and again to something that works. You can mix up HOW you assign pieces or give choice, you can mix up the activities or questions in the home group and the rainbow group, you can have students do the final product in groups or individually. The final products can take hours or weeks or days. I would love to see examples from others.

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