I have enjoyed our session on design thinking and action plan work today. My thinking has changed in lots of ways but especially with regard to where student input and choice comes in - as "users" and "choosers" of the learning processes we plan. I used to think that my teaching partners and I had to plan the daylights out of our units. I am coming to realize that we are planning the life out of them too. I think our students can play a much larger role in our learning together. I am still wondering a lot about how to balance the students' need for some direct instruction so that they know enough of the "language" of a subject to allow them to navigate their inquiry. It is a puzzlement that I look forward to working through as I work on the action plan around increasing student engagement and creative confidence. I got some great ideas from Cohort21 colleagues - here is an image of a sheet that gathered some crowd-sourced suggestions:
Special thanks to Lara Jensen from UCC for sharing a great example about the inquiry process - Gord Downie's personal inquiry that led to The Secret Path. What a cool way to think about it!
Thanks for your reflection, Dan! I hadn't really thought much before about how teachers can "plan the life out of lessons" but it's a great point. I had a great mentor in my first years of teaching who told me "You should never be working harder than the students." I always tried to remember that and think about how I could put more control (and some of the planning) into the hands of my students.
I can't wait to see where you go with your approaches to solving your problem!
Dan BaileyPost author
Thanks for your comment, Les! I like your mentor's way of thinking and wish I had had that advice a while back. I am going to take a "glass half full" approach with this and hope that giving the courses a good and thorough going over as well as having a bunch of activities and tasks in hand might allow me to set the students up for greater success as they assume more responsibility for their learning journeys. Having the path prepared at least a little in my mind might work best with the middle school students I work with. The challenge will be to resist the urge and inclination to make it too smooth!
Thanks for this. I am intrigued by what you and @ljensen were speaking about with regards to The Secret Path and inquiry? Can you tell me more?
Dan BaileyPost author
Thanks for your note. I did a 3-day Grade 8 history lesson plan for my Special Education AQ relating to the treaty process, the Indian Act, and the residential schools. The first lesson/discussion/reflection was on the nature of the early relationship between Indigenous peoples and Europeans with a focus on the Columbian transfer. The second session revolved around the transformation of the relationship from a partnership to a problem-solving exercise in the minds of the Europeans. The final session looked at the Indian Act and the rise of the residential schools. I had various activities - tactile, reflective, demonstrations re: the land transfer and the language barrier. We finished by watching The Secret Path and have a discussion. The final component, which we couldn't do due to poor weather, was to go out to the community garden for a guided meditation followed by an opportunity to draw or write. I will aim to give this more time going forward - there was a lot there...
Oh wait... I realize that I did not deal with your "intrigue" with the discussion I had with @ljensen about inquiry and 'The Secret Path' - sorry! Lara was mentioning how the project that Gord and Mike Downie are undertaking is an inquiry. Mike heard about Chanie Wenjak's story, shared this with Gord. Gord thought about it, learned more about it, and he shared his learning and understanding by writing poems about it, then songs. The graphic novel and the movie followed along with the decision to do something about it - the creation of a fund to help. I thought that was a great way to describe an inquiry process. It is an description that I understand and think most students will too!
I find I've often openly expressed to groups of (older) students the frustration I sometimes have at striking a balance between direct instruction and student driven inquiry and discovery. I'd like to be able to refer to the particular pages, but I take some solace from the notion discussed in Ian Leslie's book "Curiosity" that indicates that the questioning that goes with curiosity (and in my mind student-driven learning and the corresponding engagement) is necessarily built upon the possession of a certain amount or type of knowledge that may need to be acquired in a more mundane way. I wonder if, despite its unappealing nature, spending at least some time and no little amount of effort on the mastery of details at the lower orders of thinking, isn't a necessary precondition for the richer and more engaging learning that can happen as students begin to direct their own learning and inquiry?
Dan BaileyPost author
Thanks for your post! I am regularly thinking about this mix. I do think you are right in your view that you have to have some basic knowledge. I am going to look into reading "Curiosity" as it might help me feel better! I do take some consolation in a conversation I had in a former work life. A well-known jazz drummer had passed away, and I was speaking with his grandson. The grandson remembered telling his grandfather that he wanted to be just like him, to play the drums. The grandfather thought that was great, but knowing the grandson's avoidance of practice and work, gently reminded him that he first had to learn the language of time signatures, tempo, and rhythm. I think our shared belief in offering direct instruction - creative but still direct - is a way for us to help our students to learn the languages they need to explore and create!
At a wonderful PD I attended this past August in Sudbury on transforming assessment, the speaker, Sandra Herbst (@Sanrda_Herbst), reminded us that "the teachers are the designers, the students are the drivers!" I like to keep that in mind when approaching personalized learning or student-centred approaches, whether they by inquiry-based or project-based or design thinking based. It is my belief that teachers and students need to meet half-way for learning to click!
Dan BaileyPost author
Thanks for this, Eric! I like that simple but wise saying. It and your idea of meeting halfway resonate with an earlier post in which I talked about the importance of teachers reaching out and students reaching back.The very interesting challenge for us is that each student will have fears and affinities that help to determine how close they are willing to come to the middle! The art is in figuring to out with them. I am humbled by the fact that my artistry in this regard fails more often than I am happy to admit! Back to the drawing board, or sketchbook, I suppose!
Great post and what a rich and engaging discussion you've created... again! It's true that in order to explore things critically one has to have a foundational understanding but I always question if standing at the front and delivering is the best way to get at this. I'm always amazed at what students can do when given the right activity or reading. Sure we can't just unshackle them and then hope they can run, but like the wisdom you shared from the drummer, there is a need to scaffold and engage the students. The magic is in the "how"! I believe the more students input into the how, the better.
Great to engage in discussion with you and @edaigle & @mjenkins to help wrestle with this topic. Going to get a copy of Creative for the winter break! Thanks @mjenkins!
Dan BaileyPost author
Thanks for your message and ideas! I am increasingly trying to share the load with the students. I am very excited about working with them on this as I interview them for the action plan. I think this is a great place to start. If we know more about their hopes and fears, we can dial in the scaffolding a bit better. The problem with solely teacher-driven planning is that we are only ever anticipating student needs through the lens of our vision of what needs to be learned, how to do it, and tasks that we might find interesting. In addition, if we work in a collaborative environment, we must balance the tensions/opportunities created by different teachers having different visions about how best to work at this. I love the word unshackled but think it is me who needs to start filing... When I think of the students just now, I see them as tethered birds of prey. They are hungry for learning but often, just as they take flight, they get snapped back by convention and are left circling the same old, same old perch. I guess our challenge is to train them up enough to untether them and allow them to find their way home, or not. That is the unnerving part - maybe it involves a broader concept of home?