Learning looks different right now. Knowing what students truly understand is difficult but more important than ever before. In order to differentiate and make learning meaningful, we have to be able to "see" what is being learned. Documentation of learning is something that should be carefully considered and done in a way that is both manageable for educators and meaningful for our learners.
So, what does that look like? How do we encourage documentation of learning and how can we do it in a way that makes sense for both in class and at home learners. First of all, I think we have to consider what we are looking for within the documentation of the learning. Below are some essential pieces of learning that I consider to be very important...
PBL, Project-Based Learning, has a big impact on learners. Edutopia describes this way of learning as "a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge." Sounds like a good idea, yes? Definitely sounds like something that might result in true engagement from our learners. I often say that completing work, paying attention, or logging into an LMS is not engagement. That's compliance. Engagement is a willingness to invest in the learning. In my own experience, I have seen more of a willingness to invest when I made project-based learning a priority in my classroom.
I was recently asked why, with all we know about the benefits of PBL, this type of learning isn't more of of a reality within our current educational landscape. Several things came to mind with the first being time. Planning and implementing project-based learning requires time to plan, time to collaborate, and time to provide feedback. It requires a different planning mindset and can seem quite overwhelming.
Self-Assessment is super important right now as it's a great way to know where your learners feel like they need support. Being able to honestly share what you do and do not understand encourages the social-emotional skill of self-awareness and will be important beyond the walls of the classroom. There are five important questions that should be asked as part of a self-assessment opportunity...
"The adventure you're ready for is the one that you get." ~ Jeff Probst
So, I'm a huge Survivor fan. I absolutely love watching every season, every episode. As I was watching recently, I began to realize some of the parallels between the show, Survivor, and what educators are experiencing right now...the elements are rough, the challenges are difficult, and every day brings a new set of circumstances.
As I watch, I can't help but realize that there are two types of people that play the game. Some come into the experience with the intention to thrive and some come simply to survive. Let me explain.
The definition of survive is to manage to keep going in difficult circumstances. But, what if we could do more than just keep going? What if we could go actually grow as a result of these unprecedented circumstances? The definition of thrive is to grow or develop well. However, in order to grow and develop well, we have to be intentional about our perspective.
I never want to suggest that this year will be easy or predictable. In fact, just the opposite is true. The reality is that this year will be difficult and uncertain. Things will happen that are out of our control and there will be challenges that seem almost impossible to overcome. But, if our perspective is to grow through the difficult circumstances and develop as we overcome challenges, everything changes. As Jeff Probst said, "The adventure you're ready for is the one that you get."
Here are three suggestions for moving beyond simply surviving and into thriving throughout the 2020-2021 school year...
It's the end of July and so much still remains unknown. Administrators and educators are continuing to work so hard to do what's best for learners while following the recommendations and limitations put in place because of our current circumstances. So much changes every day and it feels like we are all just trying to keep our heads above water.
As I meet with both teachers and administrators, I find myself coming back to two questions regardless of what we are considering. We might be talking about...
I could go on and on. The reality is that regardless of what we do right now, we should be considering sustainability. Intentionality will provide the opportunity to continue to use so much of what we are putting into place for years to come.
So, what two questions do I ask in every single planning meeting, professional learning experience, and conversation that I have with educators right now?
There are still many things that remain unknown about the upcoming school year. While it can be super scary and frustrating to lack so many answers, there are several things that we do know...
Simply, knowing these things provides enough clarity to move from the reactive state that we have been in to a proactive state as we begin to prepare for and think through what learning will look like moving forward.
I just can't stop thinking about what the Fall might look like and how we will have to think so far beyond what we've always done to make any of this work. Regardless of what I think about or the conversations that I have, I always come back to this idea of Collaborative Experience Design. Now, stay with me...this isn't new. In fact, it's something that you've probably done at at some point in your career if you've been in the classroom for some time.
The idea involves creating teams of teachers to come together to design cross-curricular experiences for learners that will be meaningful regardless of where the learning happens. I don't think it's fair, realistic, or sustainable for educators to be expected to design different experiences for at-home and in-class learners. Instead, I think every learner should be given the opportunity to learn through the experiences are designed by a team and given the support that they need along the way.
Weekly, blended, cross-curricular learning experiences make sense right now. Here's what I'm thinking...
Digital equity will require so much more than additional devices and better access to wifi. Instead, it will require a fundamental shift in how we see learning. Let me explain.
There is a difference in remote learning and remote teaching. I'm not saying there isn't a place for both but we have to understand that it's the remote learning that will likely have the biggest impact on our learners. Remote learning involves the connections that are made beyond the walls of the classroom. It transfers ownership and requires action from the learner. Technology does not have to be involved in order for remote learning to happen. Remote teaching is the act of delivering information whether that is done through a video, discussion board, or learning management system. I think of remote teaching is the delivery of content from the educator to the learner.
I completely understand that technology makes communication easier and provides tools that can make learning relevant and meaningful. I'm not suggesting that it's not important to consider ways that additional devices and better connections can be achieved. However, the reality is that this is not a solution that is coming overnight. Instead, many districts will have to work toward better access and additional devices over a period of time and it's that period of time that I'd like to address.
I still can't believe our current circumstances and wake up every morning thinking about how we can make the most of the hand we've been dealt. As an educator that believes so much in this generation of learners, I refuse to simply see this as an obstacle. One of the benefits of this time is the opportunity that our students have to become more self-aware as they find ways to make connections and learn by doing.
It makes so much sense to make Genius Hour a priority during this time. Giving students the opportunity to learn through the pursuit of their passions has the potential to reignite a love for learning and help them make connections to not only content but also social-emotional and life-ready skills. Below are a few more of the benefits to giving learners the opportunity to pursue their passions:
What does Genius Hour at home look like and how can we support our learners remotely as they work on their projects? I think there are some important things to consider as we decide how this can be implemented:
I believe so much in the power of passion-based learning simply because of how it impacted my learners and myself in my classroom. I have constantly considered how to help teachers make this a reality throughout the remote learning experience and beyond. Below are two ways that you can access ready-made #geniushourathome resources that I created. If you need to create your own process, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Genius Hour is super personal and you have to do what works for you and your learners. However, if you feel like either of these resources will be helpful, please use them in any way that you can.
Genius Hour at Home - This is just a Google Site that I created for students to use as they work through the 6 Ps of Genius Hour. I've created a video for each step that explains what they need to do as well as shared resources for them to use along the way. There are slides that they can complete as they work to document their learning. I've also created a Teacher Information Page for you to use as you consider how you can communicate and set up the entire process using Flipgrid. This resource is super simple and easy to use.
The 6 Ps of Genius Hour Playlist in Thrively - I'm super excited about this! I love Thrively as it's a wonderful way for students to find their strengths and pursue their passions. I have a created a playlist in Thrively that includes:
The playlist also includes videos from me and instructions for learners to follow as they work through their project. They will be able to document their learning through text, video, and/or audio using the Collaboration Feed.
This playlist is available for FREE until June 30th! Check it out by creating an account in Thrively, finding The 6 Ps of Genius Hour playlist, and using the code 6PSANDI as the promo code when you check out.
I hope that these resources are helpful. If you are wanting to make Genius Hour a priority during this time and need any help at all, please reach out. I am more than happy to help in any way that I can.
So, I've been thinking about the word pivot a lot lately. Remote learning has taken us on quite a journey and along the way, many of us have experienced frustration, exhaustion, and anxiety. We are frustrated by a lack of engagement from our learners, tired from the late nights that we lie awake worried about our learners, and anxious about what will come next and how we will sustain if we have to do this much longer.
I was chatting with my thought partner and friend, Kari Espin, this evening about the word pivot and the role it plays in this situation. After looking at the definition, I couldn't help but realize that this word may be more meaningful than any other in our current situation.
You see, to pivot means to turn on a central point. I think that right now, our central point is authentic learning. While on this journey, it is going to be necessary to turn around that pivot in an effort to change our perspective, achieve different results, and frankly, find solutions that work. It makes no sense to continue to do something that isn't working. The truth is that there were no "best practices" in place for remote learning during a pandemic. We are having to create our road map as we go. There will come a time when we will be able to look back and see all of the essential checkpoints that were important as well as all of the obstacles were overcome. We aren't there yet.
As Kari and I chatted, we discussed the pivot point of a seesaw. When you are on a seesaw, the person with their feet on the ground is in control of the situation. They decide when to give up some of the control and push up to change positions. Up until this point, we have had our feet on the ground as educators. Now, our learners are the ones with their feet on the ground. They control when they do the work, how they do the work, and IF they do the work. As educators, we feel as if our feet are not on the ground and we have lost so much of the control that we had while in the classroom.
A seesaw is only fun if it's a back and forth exchange of the control...a give and take if you will. I can't help but wonder if instead of feeling like we need to control or have all of the answers right now, we should instead focus on that give and take. The reality is that our students are very aware of the situation. They know that we are the ones in the air right now and many are afraid that if they give us back that control, we will not be willing to engage in the give and take that it will take for learning to be meaningful. Let's embrace the fact that our learners have been given the opportunity to drive their learning and begin to have conversations with them regarding what is and is not working. It's the conversation and willingness to both share ideas and listen to theirs that will create the up and down experience that makes a seesaw so much fun.
We cannot be afraid to pivot right now. If we continue to do things that are not working, we will look back on this experience and realize that we missed opportunities for our learners to make authentic connections and understand what real learning looks like. It's okay to make real-time decisions and change direction if it will result in a more meaningful experience. Communicate decisions well and listen to different perspectives (parents, students, administration). Doing so will result in a remote learning experience that makes sense for you and your students.
Remember the episode of Friends when Ross was yelling at Rachel and Chandler to PIVOT? I was talking to someone last week about this episode and watched it again this evening. Rachel and Chandler quickly became frustrated and upset because they didn't know why they needed to pivot. They couldn't see the situation from his perspective and didn't realize that they were stuck and wouldn't be able to continue to move if they didn't pivot soon. This is the perfect example of why clear communication and a give and take is so important.
There are no right answers and none of us have been here before. This is hard, this is different, and this is not school. Take a deep breath and see pivots as opportunities for growth. Changing direction doesn't mean that you were wrong, it means that you are willing...willing to do what's best, willing to do what works, and willing to make authentic learning the priority during this difficult time.