Pivot! Pivot! Sound familiar? Remember the famous Friends episode when Ross was yelling for his friends to pivot when he was being backed into a corner carrying a couch up the stairs?
After being a traditional teacher for a really long time, all of a sudden I knew it was time to pivot. I knew that I had to do something radically different to engage my learners. I was tired of my classroom being a place that none of us wanted to be. I had two choice - change or leave education. I just couldn't continue to do the work without purpose. I didn't want to continue doing work that wasn't meaningful and I didn't want my learners to have to do work that wasn't meaningful.
So, I made the choice to change. I'd be lying if I told you it was easy. It wasn't. I doubted myself for so long. Had I made the right choice? Was my new approach impacted my learners in a positive way? Did I have any idea what I was doing? But, as I began to watch and listen to my learners, it became evident that they had found their joy in learning again. They were asking questions, becoming more curious, and seemed excited as they came into my classroom...it was night and day. Something had shifted, changed. I also began to realize that I was more excited about being in the classroom every day. I looked forward to learning with them and helping them make connections rather than spoon-feeding them information to regurgitate.
I wanted to share three very intentional decisions that I made in order for this to be my reality:
1. I became a connected educator. - I needed to see what learning looked like beyond my classroom, my campus, and even my district. I needed to know and understand the risks that other educators were taking and how it was impacting their learners. In order to do this, I became connected. In other words, I created an account on Twitter that I only used for education. I only followed educators and only allowed educators to follow me. In this journey, I became connected to the Genius Hour community, and if you don't know my story, it was Genius Hour or passion-based learning that changed everything for us.
2. I stopped writing lesson plans and started designing experiences. I learned from reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess that experiences could be very powerful in the classroom. In doing so, I began to do my own research and realized that it was my job to do so much more than just write lesson plans, I needed to shift to designing experiences. I looked up the definition of experience and started to ask myself every day if what I was designing was going to leave an impression on my learners. If it would, it was a go, if it wouldn't , it was going to be a waste of time.
3. I began to ask how my learners would learn rather than asking how I would teach. In asking how I would teach, I was not focusing on the objective or the goal. You see, it didn't matter if I taught the content and they didn't learn it. In order to decide how I would deliver content, I started asking how my students would learn that content. And, it changed everything. I began to ask for feedback more often and really pay attention to how they responded to the learning experiences that I designed. That small shift in thinking gave me the focus that I needed to create real change in my classroom that provided a real return on my investment.
That's it. Those are the three small shifts that I made in my classroom to pivot my teaching practice and begin doing what made sense for both me and my learners.
Do you need to pivot your practice? Do any of these shifts make sense to you? What small step might you take to begin to create the change needed in your classroom to make learning meaningful. Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Passion projects are such a great way to engage today’s learners and empower them to make connections to content, practice life-ready skills, and understand the importance of social-emotional learning. However, if we simply focus on passion and don’t prioritize purpose, the reality is that their passions will fizzle out very quickly.
So, how do we do that? How can we help learners understand that Genius Hour is about more than just creating a poster board about something that you enjoy? How can we help them understand that it goes beyond a research project and is more about doing something as a result of their passions and interests.
One solution is to help your learners determine a purpose BEFORE beginning the project. Help them identify not only what they will be learning about but also why they will be learning about it.
Below, I’ve shared four different types of projects that can help learners identify a purpose. Ask them to put their projects in one of these “buckets” to make the work that they are doing purposeful.
1.Mastery Project: A mastery project is a project will lead toward a deep understanding of how to do something.
2. Kindness Project: A kindness project is a project that will impact someone else in a positive way.
3. Innovation Project: An innovation project is a project that will result in creating something new or making something better.
4.Perspective Project: A perspective project is a project that will change your perspective or the perspective of someone else.
Utilizing these buckets will help your learners understand that there needs to be action behind the project that they are working on. It will provide clarity and something to refer back to when they become frustrated or forget their why.
It’s really important that we make purpose a priority when implementing Genius Hour in the classroom. Doing so will make the process more authentic and much more meaningful.
To learn more about this type of learning, check out my book, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry and the Genius Hour Page on my website.
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. Do you think purpose is important and will these ideas make it easier to make that a reality in your classroom?
P.S. If you aren't receiving my weekly email in your inbox and you'd like to stay connected, be sure to sign up HERE!
I am so excited to have finally created The Meaningful Mess Design Framework that I've been working on for so long. I am passionate about helping educators shift from simply writing lesson plans to designing experiences. In my book, A Meaningful Mess, I introduced the 3Es as important considerations when designing an experience.
Since writing that book, the 3Es have evolved into a comprehensive framework that I believe any educator can use to intentionally design in a way that will be manageable for them and meaningful for their learners.
Engage - Igniting a willingness to invest has to the first priority in any classroom. The reality is that without a willingness to invest, learners will not take advantage of the opportunity to learn.
Experience - Considering how you will provide the opportunity to learn is important. Will your learners learn through application, learn by listening, or another way that makes the most sense for the content that is being presented? It's important to focus on how they will learn this standard, idea, or concept, rather than how you will teach this standard, idea or concept.
Empower - In order for the learning to stick, learners have to understand how they will use what they've learned beyond the walls of the classroom. When we make this a priority, we are giving them an opportunity to make important connections and empowering them to utilize what they've learned. Doing so will give them a reason to remember the content.
Evidence - How will you know if your learners have reached a deep understanding of the content? What is the evidence that can be shown? Designing with this in mind will help us, as educators, be intentional about the differentiation that we plan and support that we provide moving forward.
Extension/Encouragement - Learners that deeply understand the content will receive extension while those that need extra support will receive the extra support. When we plan for this on the front end, we will be more prepared on the back end to differentiate for learners in a way that makes sense. This will make the learning more manageable for educators and meaningful for our learners.
That's it! It makes so much sense and prioritizes intentionality. My hope is that this framework helps you find meaning in your mess. If you'd like to access a printable copy of the framework, you can access The Meaningful Mess Teacher Planner at bit.ly/AMMPlanner.
When done well, Genius Hour is one of the most meaningful experiences that we can provide for our learners. It’s personal, makes learning relevant, and makes purpose a priority. Just like any strategy or tool that is implemented into the classroom, passion-based learning should be manageable and meaningful.
I’m a big fan of the idea that any type of PBL experience should be the main course. PBLworks.org suggests that a "main course" project is one “in which the project is the unit.” In other words, it should be the way that students learn rather than an activity that happens after the learning takes place. Genius Hour gives learners the opportunity to learn through application.
I’m always looking for tools to share with teachers that will make Genius Hour or passion-based learning sustainable. I was recently introduced to Tract, a space created to deepen student passions through project-based classes and challenges.
Tract offers on-demand, project-based video lessons that challenge kids to think critically and creatively as they engage in self-directed learning on the topics that interest them the most. But wait, it gets better…many of the Tract Creators are youth influencers and changemakers, making the experience even more meaningful for your learners as they learn and create.
Challenging them is a great way to engage, or ignite a willingness to invest from, today’s learners. As learners complete challenge-based experiences within Tract, they earn coins that can be used to award their peers or make an impact on a real-world problem that is important to them. This part of the experience makes the work that they are doing purposeful. And, the reality is that when learning becomes purposeful, it becomes a priority.
This type of learning makes so much sense and should be prioritized as a way to not only engage, but empower today’s learners to value what they are learning and understand the change that they are capable of making. Tools like Tract make passion-based learning easier to implement and ultimately, more meaningful for our learners. And, I saved the best news for last. Tract is absolutely, 100% free for educators!
Do me a favor…take some time to explore Tract at tract.app. Trust me, you will be so glad that you did! I’ll make it even easier for you. Below is my code that you can use to access all that this resource has to offer. Check it out and comment below if you have any questions or just want to let me know what you think. I can’t wait to see how you use this amazing resource to make Genius Hour manageable for you and meaningful for your learners!
Want to learn more? Register for the upcoming webinar to learn specific ways that you can utilize this resource to make Genius Hour work for you and your learners. The webinar will be on Wednesday, March 23 at 8:00 pm CST. Registering will allow you to watch the webinar live or receive a recording of the event in your inbox.
So, a while back, my friend, Kari Espin, and I were planning a professional learning experience for teachers. We were trying to come up with a way for them to reflect and intentionally consider what they had learned and how it applied to their classrooms. In doing so, we developed an idea that we like to call the "perspective diamond" and I wanted to take some time to share the idea with you and how you might use it in your classroom.
First of all, a diamond (or rhombus), can be broken into two triangles and that is key for this classroom strategy. Ask learners to consider two different perspectives. This could be the perspectives of two different characters in a book, two perspectives of a conflict on the playground, or two perspectives of what was learned in class today...the possibilities are endless. After both triangles are filled out (by the same learner or two different learners), they can be put together to form a "perspective diamond".
One specific example of how this could be used in the classroom is as a reflection tool. At the end of class, you could use the 3-2-1 strategy. ln the largest part of the triangle, learners could document 3 things that they've learned, in the middle, they could document 2 connections that were made, and then at the top, they could share 1 question that they still have.
After filling out their triangles, they could grab a partner and compare their triangles by creating a Perspective Diamond. They might realize that they have the same questions or maybe something that they learned is what their partner is still wondering about.
This strategy can be utilized in so many ways. It's a great way to implement Depth and Complexity using Multiple Perspectives and encourage critical thinking. It encourages learners to be willing to see someone else's point of view and consider how it connects to their own.
I'm excited about sharing more about this strategy and how it can be utilized in a new book that will be released in the Fall 2022. Until then, I'd love to hear how you are using or intend to use this strategy in your classroom. Please share in the comments below.
So often, those of us that share Genius Hour, talk about how amazing it is and what we did well. However, the reality is that most of us did a lot of things wrong, too. It's important to not only talk about what went well, but also what went wrong. I know that I made several mistakes along the way and my hope is that sharing those mistakes might help someone else in their journey. So, here it goes...five mistakes that I made as I began to implement Genius Hour and what I would do differently today.
1. I didn't value productive struggle.
What I Did: As I began to implement Genius Hour, I wanted my learners to be all in. I also wanted their parents to be all in. I quickly realized that they were going to struggle while working on their projects and I wasn't always going to be able to help. In the beginning, I did all I could to prevent struggle and tried my best to have as many answers as I possibly could. That was a terrible idea. The reality is that it was only through allowing my learners to struggle that they were going to gain the skills and perseverance they would need beyond the walls of the classroom. I had to learn that I didn't need to have all of the answers and had to restrain from trying to "save the day". Instead, I needed to support them in their struggle and give them opportunities to independently work toward the solutions for the problems that they encountered. As I began to realize the important role that productive struggle played in the Genius Hour process, I became more comfortable with my new role.
What I Would Do Now: Today, I would help both my learners and their parents understand the importance of productive struggle and make it a priority from the start. I would understand that my role as a teacher was not any less important because I wasn't providing answers. Instead, it was different and I would have an even greater impact on who my learners would become beyond the walls of the classroom.
2. I wasn't flexible with my timeline.
What I Did: When we first started Genius Hour, I explained to my learners that they would complete one project each semester. In doing so, I was dictating how long their projects should take. This was a mistake as it limited many of my learners in so many ways. Some of them needed more time while others could have completed 2 or 3 projects in that amount of time. By dictating what the timeline would be, I was not allowing my learners to make an important decision, practice time-management, and have full ownership of their project.
What I Would Do Today: Now, when I explain Genius Hour and how important purposeful planning is, I explain that it's important to let learners decide how long they think the project will take. You might even provide options (3 weeks, 3 days or 3 months). The goal is to encourage full ownership of the project and give them an opportunity to make decisions that will result in a willingness to invest. If the project isn't completed by the date that they thought it would be, it's not a huge problem. The date is just a target that we are trying to get as close to as possible.
3. I expected immediate buy-in.
What I Did: When I first learned about Genius Hour, I knew it was what my classroom had been missing. I was so excited and expected my learners to react with the same excitement and buy-in that I had. However, I didn't account for the fact that I was changing everything for them. I was taking what was comfortable, familiar, and honestly, easy and replacing it with something that was uncomfortable, different, and more open-ended than anything they had experienced before. As a result, they had questions, their parents had questions, and the excitement that I expected didn't happen right away.
What I Would Do Today: Instead of assuming that they would buy-in, I would make more of an effort to have honest conversations BEFORE implementing Genius Hour. In looking back, helping both my learners and parents understand WHY Genius Hour was going to be a priority would have been a good idea. Today, I would definitely schedule intentional conversations that would allow everyone involved to ask questions and provide feedback before full implementation.
4. I made assumptions based on my own perspectives.
What I Did: Often times, I made assumptions based on what I thought my learners might be thinking or feeling. I assumed they were good if they weren't asking questions and that they understand the process. However, looking back, I realize that often times, they needed me to ask them questions. Sometimes, my learners didn't know what they didn't know. Providing feedback and asking for feedback is a so important and should be a priority throughout the entire process of Genius Hour.
What I Would Do Today: Feedback would be my number one priority. I would consistently ask my learners how it was going and check in with student conferencing and documentation of learning. After realizing the importance of documentation of learning and feedback, I created these slides. Feel free to use them in any way that you'd like. I also think that consistently asking for feedback through student conferencing or even Google Forms is a good idea. Maybe ask the following questions...
5. I didn't provide a road map.
What I Did: When we first started Genius Hour, it was a mess! I'm convinced that it was as messy as it was because we didn't have a road map. Don't get me wrong, with or without a road map, it's going to be a little messy. However, I was spending all of my time managing projects and I didn't have the time to actually connect with and create relationships with my learners the way that I had hoped. Without a roadmap, my learners were never exactly sure what I expected or what they needed to accomplish along the way.
What I Would Do Today: Upon realizing what a huge problem this was going to be, I created the 6 Ps of Genius Hour - Passion, Plan, Pitch, Project, Product, and Presentation. After implementing this process, my learners began to understand what they were expected to accomplish while still being given the freedom to do it in a way that made sense for them. Having a road map for Genius Hour changed everything for us and I would make this a priority today. I began to spend my time weaving in connections to the standards, life-ready skills, and I was able to build the relationships with my learners that I knew were so important during this time. The 6 Ps of Genius Hour made Genius Hour manageable for me and meaningful for my learners.
(If you'd like to learn more about the process, you can read the original blog post here or even enroll in my online course that will teach you EVERYTHING you need to know about the process and Genius Hour before getting started.
BONUS MISTAKE 😊 - Our projects weren't driven by PURPOSE.
When I first began Genius Hour, our projects were just projects connected to what my learners liked to do or what they wanted to learn. Along the way, I realized that their passion projects needed to be driven by purpose. In other words, they needed to have a why behind the work that they were doing.
Genius Hour can be about so much more than a product and presentation. Ask your learners what change they'd like to create or what impact they'd like to have on the world around them. You might also encourage them to write purpose statements for their projects like, "I want to learn about ____________________, so that I can _______________________." That sentence helps them realize that they aren't just doing this because it's part of their day, but that there is purpose behind the work. This makes a HUGE difference and reminds our learners that they can use what they do in the classroom to influence what happens outside of the classroom.
Well, there they are...five mistakes (and a bonus) that I made when I first implemented Genius Hour. I was blessed to be able to realize most of these mistakes early on and make the changes that would be most beneficial for my learners. Remember, Genius Hour is messy. It won't be easy but it will be worth it. You will make mistakes, but just like I did, you will learn from those mistakes and be better for them.
I hope reading about my mistakes is helpful and gives you the confidence you need to dive in and make Genius Hour a priority in your classroom. Passion-based learning is an opportunity for learners to make connections, practice life-ready-skills, and make an impact on the world around them. It only makes sense that we make this type of learning part of the process.
I'd love to hear about any mistakes that you've learned if you have implemented something like Genius Hour in your classroom. Feel free to share in the comments below.
While it’s important to consider what effective intervention is, I think it’s just as important to consider what it is not. Below are some thoughts...
Effective intervention is NOT immeasurable.
Intervention with no data cannot be effective. In order to know if what we are doing is working, it’s important to check in often, collect data, and make decisions based on that data. Data should be used as a tool to diagnose where students are and what they will need going forward.
Simply creating an intervention time and providing assignments for students to work on during that time will not move the needle. Instead, we must collaborate to look at what students are doing, where they are in their journey, and what tools we need to add to their backpack to help them progress.
Measuring the impact that intervention has on our learners helps us continue to make progress. When there is no progress, there will be frustration. Intentional intervention with meaningful data can make a huge difference in learner’s experience and willingness to invest.
Effective intervention is NOT irrelevant.
Just like anything else that we do in the classroom, the methods that we put in place must be meaningful. This means that we have to know our learners well.
If a stranger was following you around the grocery store putting things into your basket, you would be putting those things right back on the shelf. If what we are doing isn’t relevant and our learners don’t value the content, it can feel like we are putting things in their baskets only for them to put them right back on the shelf. However, if that same stranger was putting things in my basket while reminding me why I needed that specific item, I would probably be grateful and appreciate them differently. The same is true for our learners. If we can make the concept or standard relevant and help them make a personal connection, they will be much more likely to keep it in their basket.
Effective intervention is NOT insulting.
Learners shouldn’t feel like intervention is a negative experience. Instead, they should understand that very few learners understand everything and it is likely that, at some point, everyone will require some form of intervention. It might sound silly, but I think it’s important to be creative and innovative with how we refer to intervention time during the school day.
Many schools refer to this time as WIN (What I Need) Time. I like this because it speaks to the reality that learners may need different things on different days. Some days, they might need extra support, other days they might need enrichment. However, if we are going to call that time What I Need, it’s important that we are intentional about making that time about what our students actually need and not what we think they need, assume they need, or wish they needed.
It’s insulting to make intervention about rules and timelines. Even if that is the reality, possibly because of the result of a standardized test, we still have to find ways to intentionally focus on real goals and meaningful outcomes of an intervention program. In doing so, I think we will help our learners realize that if intervention is part of their day, that simply means that they are being given an opportunity to practice autonomy, mastery, or even find purpose.
When we begin really consider what intervention is and is not, it will no longer be about getting the correct answer, but instead our learners will begin to think about thinking and truly recognize the power of deep understanding.
So, I’ve been thinking a lot about intervention lately. If I’m honest, it’s likely because it’s a reality that hits close to home. I think it’s important to have very real conversations about what this should and should not look like. While I know most of us know the things that I am about to share, I needed to write them down and get them out of my head. So, maybe you need to hear these things, maybe you don’t. But, with a strong focus on intervention in Texas this year, I just wanted to make it a priority to share.
The Edvocate shares that "...classroom intervention is a set of steps a teacher takes to help a child improve in their area of need by removing educational barriers." I think the question becomes, "What does effective intervention look like?" In thinking about this, I decided to share my thoughts and perspective of what I think intervention is and what it is not.
Effective intervention IS intentional.
Intervention must be done with intention. Every child is different and requires different strategies and solutions in order for intervention to work. It’s important that we are intentional about WHY and HOW intervention is being provided.
When a surgeon is operating on a patient, they never randomly choose what needs to be addressed. There is a diagnosis and ultimately, a strategy put into place so that the surgery that takes place will produce the desired outcome. The same should be true for intervention. We have to know exactly what needs to be learned and why it’s not being understood. Is it a possibility that in order to learn, we need to consider a different strategy, a different voice, or a different motivation?
A different strategy can be considered if students are simply not learning the concept, idea, or standard in the way that it is being taught. Doing the same type of intervention at a different time of day makes no sense. If a learner is unable to understand, it’s important to consider alternative ways to help them make connections to learn in a way that makes sense for them.
Sometimes, they simply need to hear it said in a different way. I can think of many times that one or two of my students just couldn’t “hear” it from me. For whatever reason, the way that I was teaching the content or asking them to learn the content just didn’t click. Allowing our learners to experience learning from someone else’s perspective can sometimes help them understand and make important connections. That voice might be that of a peer, an outside expert, or another educator.
Finally, we may need to explore a different form of motivation. Daniel Pink talks about 3 Forces of Intrinsic Motivation...autonomy, mastery, and purpose. If a learner isn’t driven through mastery, the intrinsic motivation to get better, maybe we need to focus on purpose, using that skill to accomplish something bigger or creating change. Or, maybe we need to provide more autonomy, more choice, and more opportunity for students to self-direct in order to learn a particular strategy or skill. I’m not suggesting that we make the intervention optional, I’m simply suggesting that we give them the opportunity to have a voice in what their invention looks like.
Effective intervention IS interactive.
I believe that intervention is a two-way street. While it's important for us, as educators, to facilitate and help our learners understand, it’s also important for them to invest and provide the feedback that we need to make decisions.
Intervention can be made interactive by making formative assessment a priority. Frequent check-ins and clear communication is important to help us know if the intervention that is being provided is working or if we need to consider alternative solutions.
Being self-aware is an important SEL skill that our learners need to practice. Give them the opportunity to practice this skill by asking them how they feel throughout a learning experience. I like the idea of providing a scale and asking learners to rate how well they understand what is being learned. Below is an example of what I think it might look like if we were to make this a priority each day.
In The definition of interactive is “two people or things influencing or having an effect on each other. If we want to have an effect on our learners, we have to intentionally understand where they are and what they need. We should affect them through providing effective instruction and intervention. They should affect us by providing the feedback that we need in order to do so.
Effective intervention IS impactful.
If intervention isn’t impactful, then it’s a waste of time. The definition of impact is “to have a strong effect on someone or something.” If what is being done or learned during an intervention time doesn’t leave an impact, our learners will forget what has been learned as soon as they walk out of the door. We ultimately have to understand who they are, what they enjoy and how they learn to impact them. Otherwise, we are simply spinning our wheels which will result in frustration for both the educator and the learner.
Sometimes, learning can happen through direct teach or explicit instruction. Other times, learning needs to happen through doing. Regardless of how we make it happen, it’s important to not ask how will I teach, but how will they learn. And, the reality is doing the same thing every day, such as sitting in front of a computer answering question after question, will not result in true understanding of a concept or standard.
In order for the intervention to be effective, we consider what is being learned and why it is not being understood. Is it because there is a lack of prior knowledge? Is the learner missing necessary foundational pieces? Why was the original opportunity to learn ineffective?
The bottom line is that if we want intervention to have an impact we must ask ourselves, “How will they learn this particular concept or standard?" What do I need to do as the educator and what do they need to do as the learner? Asking these questions prioritizes the learning and helps us remember that simply because our students hear it, see it or even do it, that doesn't mean that they understood it.
I hope that these three perceptions of what intervention are helpful and at least us begin to intentionally think about why intervention is important and how we can do in a way that is most effective. If you had to share what intervention is, what would you say?
*This is a 2-part post. The next post on my blog will include what intervention is NOT.
When I reflect on my time in the classroom, I remember how many different labels each new class of learners brought to the table...gifted, dyslexic, ADHD, twice-exceptional, English language learner, I could go on and on. We all know that this will be case this year as well. I wanted to take a little bit of time to address our perspective as educators and how detrimental it can be when we allow labels to determine that perspective. Let me explain...
You see, the reality is that when we find out that a learner is gifted, often times, our perspective shifts and we begin to focus on and notice their strengths. When we find out that a learner struggles, our perspective shifts and we begin to focus on and notice their weaknesses. I believe that as educators, it's so important that we begin the year with a strengths-first mindset. What I mean by that is that I believe that we should look for strengths BEFORE we begin to acknowledge and attempt to address weaknesses. The reality is that without knowing a students' strengths, it will be really difficult to address their weaknesses anyway.
So, how do we do that? How can we intentionally find ways to look beyond the label and begin to see every one of our learners in a way that will lead to success and confidence both in the classroom and beyond. Below are four ways that I believe that we can make this a reality.
1. Recognize and VALUE both strengths and weaknesses. While I think it's important that we identify strengths first, there is also value in helping our learners recognize and address their weaknesses. I know so many learners that are working under the assumption that they don't have strengths or they don't have weaknesses.
The reality is that every learner has both. You will have students in your classroom that may never pass a worksheet or standardized test but they can go home and put a car back together or speak three languages. So many of our learners have gifts that we will never see simply because we don't take the time to look beyond the school experience.
The same is true for their weaknesses. Many of our learners are amazing students. They have never made less than a 95 on any assignment and quite frankly, just know how to play the game really well. However, some of those learners have no idea idea how to collaborate or make their own decisions. It's important that while we want to identify and recognize strengths first, we don't forget how valuable it can be to understand our weaknesses and the role that our strengths play in addressing those weaknesses.
Finding ways this year to help our learners identify their strengths and the strengths of their peers will give them the tools that they need to address their weaknesses.
One practical way to do this is to use Thrively at the beginning of the school year. Encouraging every learner to take the Strengths Assessment within Thrively will help you, as the educator, and your students know their strengths, interests, and what they aspire to be. Having this information will be beneficial all year along and provides a meaningful learning experience for the first few days of school. The Strengths Assessment takes about 45 minutes to complete and is perfect for grades 3-12. I would suggest allowing students to work on this for approximately 10 minutes every day for the first week fo school. At the end of the week, you will have the information that you need to know your students well and help them make connections to what is being learned.
2. Reinforce the right things. So often, we reinforce what our learners produce or the outcome of a graded assignment or test. I think that reinforcing the life-ready skills that it requires to earn a good grade, follow through with commitment to an assignment, or even overcome frustration when the outcome is less than what our learners desire is even more important. You see, the more a gifted learner hears the words, "You are so smart," the more they begin to doubt themselves or feel like a disappointment when they don't feel smart. They begin to think it's who they are. When "smart" becomes your identity, there is no room for anything less than that. The same is true for our learners who hear the opposite message. If we continuously focus on their weaknesses or flaws, they will begin to think they can't move beyond those difficulties to accomplish whatever it is that they want achieve.
However, using phrases like, "I really like the way that you collaborated with ____________ to learn more about this topic," or "I saw how you took time to reflect on what you did well and didn't do well today and I couldn't be any prouder.". Maybe we say something like, "I realized that you made the decision to choose the more difficult assignment on the choice board today. I'm so excited that you were willing to step outside of your comfort zone to challenge yourself." Do you see the difference in these statements? I love this idea and I think reinforcing the right things might be what many of our students need to see beyond their labels and into who they really are and what they need to get the most from any learning experience.
3. Encourage productive struggle. This is a hard one. If you are like me, watching my students struggle was so difficult. I often wanted to save the day or at least save them in that moment. I felt like it was my job to keep them from struggling. It wasn't until I began to realize that productive struggle actually provided my students with the skills that they would need to not only succeed but survive beyond the walls in the classroom that I began make productive struggle a priority. When I did, it was difficult for me, my students, and their parents.
We often consider struggle a sign of weakness or inability to move forward and nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, struggle makes us stronger and helps us realize our ability to do hard things. Our learners can often learn more through productive struggle than any assignment that they breeze through without any difficulty. It's the struggle that prepares our learners for reality, helps them identify and value both their strengths and weaknesses, and gives them the tools that they will need to succeed beyond the walls of the classroom.
I think we can encourage productive struggle by designing for depth. I talk about this often and how important it is that we consider both our snorkelers and our scuba divers in the classroom. In a one size fits all classroom, many of our learners will never experience struggle. If we are so focused on our struggling learners that we do not intentionally design for our scuba divers, they will simply show up every day, check off the boxes, and never fully engage in the learning. Designing for depth provides an opportunity to EVERY learner to engage and be challenged. To learn more, visit Design for Depth.
4. Create a culture of willingness. Willingness is defined as the state of being prepared to do something or readiness. Many times our learners are unwilling to do hard things because they are afraid of failure or lack the drive that is required to invest. Regardless of a student's label or the labels that exist within our classroom, it's important that we build a culture that encourages a willingness to fail, a willingness to invest, and a willingness to dive deep into what is being learned.
I often times think about surfing when I think about the willingness of our learners. You never see a surfer just hanging out on their board with their knees locked and hands by their side. Instead, they are completely immersed in the experience. They are constantly challenged, knowing that they could fall off of the board at any time, and will need to be willing to get back on. I think that's what learning should look like. Our learners should be immersed in the experience as they are challenged each and every day.
In order to accomplish a culture of willingness in any classroom, the reality is that we, as educators, must model a willingness to fail, willing to invest, and willing to dive deeper. It's so important that our learners so what it looks like to take risks, invest as lifelong learners, and dive deep into new experiences and unfamiliar content.
So, that's it...four ways to look beyond the label this school year. Remember, it's imperative that we don't allow labels to determine our perspective. Stay focused on who your learners really are, what they bring to the table, and how we can prepare them academically and for their lives beyond the walls of the classroom. I believe that when we begin to do these things, our learners will respond with a willingness to invest.
Have a wonderful 2021-2022 school year! Let's do this!
I have to admit that I'm a big fan of the word purpose. Purpose should drive everything that we do in the classroom and give both ourselves and our learners a reason for the work. The definition of purpose is "the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."
Our purpose has to go beyond "because it's included in our list of standards or because it's on the test". Instead, the purpose has to connect to life beyond the classroom. How can learners apply what they are learning to their right now? While this is important for us to consider as we design an experience, I don't think it's necessary for us to make the connection for them. Instead, I think we should challenge our learners to consider how they will apply what they've learned. The question is, "How can we do this in a way that is both manageable and meaningful?".
Most learning experiences start with an objective or a statement that clearly defines the desired outcome. I think objectives are important and help us, as educators, identify a target that we are trying to hit through the learning experience that we design. However, objectives are rarely personal for our learners and making it personal means making it meaningful.
So, how do we do that? I think that this can be achieved through encouraging our learners to create purpose statements at the end of a learning experience. You could almost see objectives and purpose statements as bookends. One at the beginning, one at the end, both holding the learning in place.
I'm not going to lie. I like simple. Sometimes, the most simple tasks can be the most meaningful and are always the most manageable. That being said, I think purpose statements can be as simple as asking our learners to complete this statement, "Today I learned _____________________, so that I can _____________________. "
The "so that" part of this statement is most important. It's the connection between what they've learned in the classroom to what they experience beyond the walls of the classroom. A learner's "so that" might connect to sports, media, art, or something else that they see as a priority or interest. The reality is that if we can help them realize how they might utilize what they've learned in a real way, the learning will be more meaningful and more likely to stick.
Purpose statements can be written or documented using something like Google Slides. I do think it's important that they are created in a place that can be reviewed over time so that learners can go back to acknowledge all they are they are able to DO because of all that they have LEARNED.
So, what do you think? Could you take things to another level by adding purpose statements to your daily routine to make learning more meaningful? I definitely think it's something to consider. If you make this a reality in your classroom, I'd love to hear how it goes. Please feel free to share in the comments below!