“Is this on the test?” “Are we being marked on this?”
These are comments that make me a little crazy and something I heard a lot of. I continue to hear it in the halls as well and that’s why I want to change the culture of learning at my school.
I have been lucky enough to have mostly the same group of students from Grade 9 through to this year in my AP French class. In our first year together, I was doing what I could to make the learning authentic, meaningful and engaging. I did a lot of assessment for and as learning, but I took a lot of heat about the comparatively few assessments of learning in my course. I insisted with each of my classes that things were changing and that in a few years, their other courses would be like mine.
The following year, I joined Cohort21 and I felt invigorated and realized that there was so much more I could be doing to push the envelope. I immediately started to implement the toolbox with my students. I already had them blogging in French with Blogger but they were still fighting.
The keys to shifting the culture of learning in my courses was a complete reframing of the paradigm. Letting students drive their learning, voice and choice and lots of exposure to different methodologies – my focus was personalized learning.
Over the past 3 years, I have seen tremendous improvements in their critical thinking skills, curiosity and growth mindset. I credit this in large part to three factors that were revamped with my courses.
1. I changed the language I used to describe the relationships in the classroom. I was no longer the teacher because that meant an “us vs. you” model in which the teacher judges the work of students and “gives” them marks. Instead I wanted them to see me as a coach, someone who is vested in their improvement and will help them realize their goals. The role of a teacher has changed, and helping students see that we are open to learning is just good role modelling.
2. I lessened the amount of feedback students received at once and increased the frequency. Click here for 20 ways to give effective feedback. Instead of giving them a page of all the things they did well and need to improve, I focused on one or two things at a time. The nature of my feedback was much more in line with what we’re seeing with Growth Mindset these days. For instance “you are engaging really well during group discussions, and as a result you’re able to express your ideas clearly when speaking. Moving forward, let’s try to apply our current linguistic structure to your spoken expression so that your communication becomes even richer and more refined.” This comment links their achievement to a behaviour or an action that they have control over and over time helps them to see that they have control over their learning.
3. I talked about pedagogy… a lot… and why it’s in their best interest. Before introducing anything new, I broke down the goals and the why behind launching them into a new learning methodology. Over time, students bought in, or they humoured me but at any rate, the learning in my courses has improved over time with these students.
The culture of learning is shifting. No longer are they fearful of exploring concepts or themes they aren’t quite sure of. They have been exposed to so many different forms of edtech that rarely bat an eye at, whereas in the past they would melt with anxiety. One student spilled water on her computer and was able to keep up for weeks on her phone!! They have blogged, used Diigo to curate information in their other courses to the surprise of their teachers, and they are on Twitter, though this is something we continue to work on. They are curious and are showing growth every day. We share articles and videos that inspire us, and a small group from our class recently spent 40 minutes in the library on a Saturday during their spare talking about Wab Kinew and First People’s Identity in Canada. A student shared the Canada Reads debate between Wab Kinew at Stephen Lewis for The Orenda by Joseph Boyden with me and wanted to touch base before our socrative seminar. I have to say that these are always the best moments in my career. I am not the teacher who gatekeeps knowledge, we’re just a group of learners reading, talking & thinking about a shared interest.
Our culture is shifting. it’s not easy and it’s not quick, but when you get a glimpse of what it could be, there’s no doubt we’re moving in the right direction.