We are all learners…and teachers

This year I have the privilege of working with a group of MYP 4 students to usher in our fist media class ever. Up to this point, we have spent the majority of the year setting the table for things to come – generating ideas about what we’d like to learn, building our course outline, inquiring into our assessment objectives and what we might to to reach those objectives and identifying the ATL Skills we will probably need to focus on developing over the course of this year. 

As one of the topics students expressed interest in learning was a bit of film history, we have started our year looking at some of the earliest forms of cinema. This included a one-class filmmaking challenge, where students had to attemp to recreate any scene from Georges Melies’ 1902 classic A Trip to the Moon. Not only was this a fun and humbling project (“I thought old movies didn’t have any effects”, one student said), but it was a great diagnostic tool for my students to see what they knew about using video editing software and what they still needed to learn. As we were showcasing our work, it was clear that two of the students in the class were advanced. Like really advanced. Like using green screen effects to create life-like explosions advanced. Cool.  

After our showcase a student asked me, “Can you teach us how to do that kind of stuff?”. I looked at him, laughed and honestly replied, “No way man. But I bet those guys can.” 

So, while the rest of the class continued to inquire into basic editing skills, two of my students worked to create a lesson on using green screen effects. Yesterday, the first student showed us how to add a smoke effect to our film.

The lesson was amazing! He had: 

  • A game prepared to get the class settled in 
  • An exemplar to show us 
  • Prepared footage for us to download off our Google Classroom page
  • Time to allow us to do some filming and explore our own creativy 
  • The support of our other advanced editor as his TA

I made the choice to join the class as a learner. All control was turned over to the student leading the class. I sat on the floor. I played the game (and won 💪). I felt nervous wondering if anyone would want to be in my group. I joked around with my students on a level I hadn’t found yet this year. And best of all, I learned a skill that I previously didn’t have…check it out: 

Me (as a Dragon) breathing green smoke in the hallways.

Beside the obvious leadership opportunity for the student leading the class and the skill acquisition of the learners, there were some amazing side effects to turning over the teaching to my students. The vibe in the classroom was so relaxed, so communal, so…non school like. Power dynamics between me and the students were gone and, as someone new to the school, it allowed me to really connect with the young men and women in my class on the level of a learner, rather than an “expert”. We were all vulnerable, all making mistakes, all growing our understanding together. 

This has provoked me to turn the teaching over to my students for future classes – but not in the common, inauthentic practice of students teaching each other things that I already know, but the authentic practice of a person who has the expertise leading the entire group of learners. I’m excited see the community that develops during these experiences and I’m especially excited to flatten the dynamics in my class and be one of the learners. 

Have you tapped into your students’ expertise and allowed them to lead the learning? How did it go? 

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Creating a course outline? Don’t go it alone…

As we all look forward to the start of the school year, many of us single-subject teachers’ thoughts drift to what our course will look like. Where do we start? Where do we end? What are the key skills we would like to include in the year and how will we assess our students’ acquisition of these skills? A lot of time and energy goes into creating these outlines and they are designed with best intentions. The only issue? They are often designed for students, rather than with students. This has potential challenges, as it can frame learning as something we do to our students, rather than something they take control of for themselves. 

In this case, I am suggesting an approach by which we work together collaboratively with students to design the course. Here, we often need to take a balanced approach as most schools have external requirements that they need to meet that students might be unaware of. One approach that I used with my MYP 4 Media class was to create a draft course outline – one that contained a range of skills and concepts that I thought might be important for students to inquire into over the course of the year and that took into account external requirements. Then, during our first class together, I presented students with this draft course outline and asked for their feedback, in the form of a Compass Points VTR. 

A simple activity like Compass Points can really empower learners.


In less than 15 minutes, I had valuable data on what students saw in my draft that interested them, what they already knew how to do, what they were not interested in and things that didn’t appear in my draft that they wanted to learn. By providing them with a draft framework, I was able to provoke their thinking and open their minds to possible inquiries that they might not have thought of, while at the same time keeping my own mind open to their interests, experiences and opinions. 

Right off the bat, this helps establish an environment that is based on a collaboration of learners, rather than the typical “teachers knows best” dynamic that we can all fall victim to from time to time. Further to this, the practice of planning with students suggests, “this is your learning” and empowers them to be active participants in the entire process of learning – from planning, to skill acquisition, to assessment, to reflection and celebration. 

How will you work with your students to plan your courses this year? 

Do you have another model of collaborative planning that you have used with students? 

Students should be writing their own report card comments 

Report card comments. I got them. You got them. Your grandparents got them. They are another great example of antiquated educational practices that take the responsibility of learning out of the hands of the learner and place them in the hands of the teacher. Do I know how the students in my class are doing? Yes. So do you. But are we providing students with authentic opportunities to reflect on and plan for future learning? Or are we doing that for them instead? 

Let’s take a look at the why, how and what behind student written report cards: 

Why should students write their own report card comments? 

  • At the end of the day, it’s their learning and they should be the one’s reflecting on it
  • Data heads (like John Hattie) can agree that the biggest determinate of student success is the student him/herself and reflecting/reporting on their own progress is a key process by which students can tune in to themselves as learners
  • Articulating one’s strengths and areas for growth is an important skill that can and should be transferred beyond the academic realm and into one’s social/emotional/physical wellbeing  
  • Allowing students to engage in the typically teacher-centred act of writing report comments empowers the learner and says to the child “I trust you – you know best about your learning!” 

How can we support students in writing their own report card comments? 

  • Provide students with a structure they can follow (What did you learn this term? What went well? What do you need to improve upon? What’s your plan for improving?
  • Engage in whole class inquiries into ways in which learners can identify their strengths and areas for growth
  • Work with students to generate lists of ways in which they can go about improving in their areas for growth 
  • Leverage spreadsheets and learning portfolios to help students compile data on their learning 
  • Focus students’ comment writing on familiar learning skills, obejctives and character traits to make the task less daunting and more connected to the students’ day-to-day learning
  • Allow for student creativity and freedom in the ways in which they articulate their progress

What can we expect from transitioning this responsibility to students? 

  • Empowered students taking ownership over their own learning
  • A school community that is learner-centred, rather than teacher-centred
  • More engaged conversations at conferences that can (and should) be led by the students 
  • Report card comments that become student-generated plans for how they are going to improve – plans that students, parents and teachers can refer back to on a term-by-terms and year-by-year basis
  • More teacher hours spent supporting student learning in more effective ways than writing comments that students can and should be writing for themselves 

If we must have comments on our report cards (a tool which is meant to be a reflection of learning), should they not come from the learner themselves? 

Have you tried student-written report card comments at your school? Would you? 

A PHE Approach to Teaching and Learning

It’s easy to label PHE as an outsider subject – “Not that important” or it’s euphemistic cousin “non-academic” are two phrases I’ve heard to describe the subject. However, this post is not about the overwhelming importance of PHE*, but rather about a fantastic model for teaching and learning one of our outstanding PHE teachers has been using in her class and why others should follow the same model, regardless of the discipline. 

Start with a goal:

Students are asked to start with a goal – do they want to be able to run faster? Jump higher? Lift more? Lose weight? This is the tuning-in phase where students have the chance to ask themselves, “What would I like to accomplish,  as a result of my learning”? By beginning with a student-generated goal, the learner is naturally placed at the centre of all experiences, as each phase of the learning is a means for the student to accomplish tangible results. 

Identify a method of measurement:

Let’s assume a student’s goal was to be able to increase their cardiovascular endurance. Well, the first thing they would need to do is establish, what their current level of endurance is. In order to do that, the student needs to determine a way to measure not only where they are at currently, but also how they are improving over the course of their program and where they ended up well all was said and done (the infamous Beep Test is the method I saw most students select for this goal…yikes). By identifying their own method of measurement assessment, the student is taking ownership over their own development and ultimately their own sucessess and/or shortcomings. Too often, we as teachers are so concerned with “assessment design” that we rob students of the opportunity to decide for themselves how they would like to track their starting point, progress and ultimate success. 

Build background knowledge, based on student questions:

Here’s where content comes in – not as the impetus for learning, but rather as a means to achieve a tangible goal – and driven, not by teacher demands, but by students’ curiosity. For our example student, they would want to know – what is cardiovascular endurance? How does it work? What body systems are involved in the processes of building endurance? How can nutrition play a part in developing endurance? What type of excercises are most efficacious for building endurance? As students generate these inquiry questions, the teacher is given an opportunity to provoke deep thinking and introduce the student to new knowledge by using their previous understanding (assessed based on the questions students generate on their own) to nudge them towards new understanding (by suggesting new directions for their inquiry). 

Students learning about body systems because it will help them achieve their goal – not because they were told to

Develop skills for learning:

The teacher and student work in partnership to develop the skills necessary to learn what is needed to acheive the ultimate goal. In our PHE example, the student could be supported in developing information literacy, methods for testing hypotheses, synthesis of information, identification of reliable sources and how to document them, developing an action plan, practicing perseverance, reflecting on the process and products of learning etc. As the main driving force for using these approaches to learning skills is goal-driven, student ownership is more present – they are learning and using these skills because it will help them acheive their goal, not because they’ve been told to by an adult who set the learning goals on their behalf. 

Reflect and celebrate on the process and products of learning: 

This is the most important (and most fulfilling) step for both the teacher and the learner. Students are asked to reflect on their goal – how did it go? Did you reach your goals? Why were able to achieve your goal? Why not? What did you learn – about yourself? About your body? About learning? Now that you’ve developed this new understanding, what further action could you take? Here, the opportunity presents itself for students to see learning as an ongoing and valuable process – not just something you do at school because you have to. 

I see this as an extremely authentic way in which to learn: 

Start with a goal. See where you’re at. Learn some new stuff. See where you ended up. Bask in the glory of learning in order to acheive something real. 

Start with a goal. See where you’re at. Learn some new stuff. See where you ended up. Bask in the glory of learning in order to achieve something real. 

While this approach would certainly require a more “academic” subject teacher to let go of the, “everyone needs to be learning the same thing at the same time” stranglehold over the learning in their class (sometimes easier said than done from a management standpoint), the transfer of ownership from teacher-established goals to student-established goals fosters a naturally differentiated environment where learners are empowered by their own hopes and curiosities. 

Using this inspiring model from our PHE team, teachers of any subject can take pride in supporting students to achieve something that actually matters to them. 

How could you apply this model to your subject? What roadblocks would you anticipate? 

*Does that even need to be argued? It’s Physical and Health Education: two aspects of life that could comprise an entire education system. When we look at the issues caused by the rise in obesity, the suffering experienced by those with mental health concerns and the fact that a solid understanding of how to establish and maintain physical and mental wellbeing is the corner stone of preventative health care, one could argue that long exalted subjects like calculus, physics and classical literature are “not that important” in comparison to PHE. 

My day as an MYP Student – The Short Version

Last week, I spent the day going from class to class as an MYP student, experiencing a small taste of what our students experience on a day to day basis. I outlined my reasons for wanting to give being student a try earlier – most importantly to build community with our learners and show them that a school shouldn’t be about top down learning, but a group of people all working to learn together. 

Here is a gimps into what I experienced – if you are interested, check out the full story here! 
Big Takeaways: 

  1. Many students love school, but many students find school to be an uncomfortable place to be. 
  2. There are so many different types of learners – how can we meet them all at their level of interest/understanding? 
  3. Student conversation that sometimes seems like silliness is often provoked by, or is connected to the learning. 
  4. Our teachers are providing a wide range of experiences – hands on, analytical, creative, dialogue-driven etc. – in order to support our students’ growth. 
  5. Having a nice lunch break to play sports is awesome. 
  6. Experiencing students teach me Arabic and seamlessly switch between reading, writing and speaking two very different languages was honestly like watching a magic show – I was in awe. 
  7. There is very little we can do in our classes that will ever be as important to our students as what is going on in their lives, right now. All the more reason to try, as much as possible, to connect the experience of learning to the lives of our students. 
  8. Being a student is hard – you are expected to be “on” all day, completely focused on things you aren’t necessarily choosing to be focused on and expected to be proficient in things that you may not understand, or be interested in. We would rarely hold adults to these types of standards, why do we expect this of children? 
  9. Students appreciate seeing their teachers as learners – the feedback I got from our students was outstanding. 
  10. Simply put, our students are amazing – mad respect. 

I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in trying it – even if it is only for one class! I not only learned so much about our students, I learned a lot about myself as a learner. My next step? Take this experience and spread it out over a week’s time, with each entire day of the week devoted to one MYP year level. Hopefully I get the chance to do this before the year is out! 

What do you think of this experience? Would you try it? If you do, please let me know!  

My day as an MYP student – The Long Version

Last week, I spent the day going from class to class as an MYP student, experiencing a small taste of what our students experience on a day to day basis. I outlined my reasons for wanting to give being student a try earlier – most importantly to build community with our learners and show them that a school shouldn’t be about top down learning, but a group of people all working to learn together. 

Here’s my story: 

Morning Recess

I started my day hanging out on the soccer pitch with my MYP 1 classmates. I’m not much of a soccer player so the boys weren’t really interested in having me play…so I mostly just chatted to people who were hanging out. Many students were curious about why I would want to be a student for the day which gave me my first provoking thought of the experience – many students don’t enjoy the experience of going to school. School can be intimidating, scary, uncomfortable, yet we are obligated to attend. How can we as educators keep this in mind when we are working with our students? How can we honour the fact that, for many students, school is an uncomfortable place? 

Hanging out before school.


Block 1 – MYP 2 Mathematics

My math experience was awesome! I had done the previous night’s homework and was prepared to discuss my solution to an open-ended problem. However, while in the midst of a great discussion about fractions, I noticed that the dialogue was only happening with about 20% of the class. About 50% of the class seemed disinterested, while the other 30% had either not completed the necessary work, or seemed to not understand the task. This was my next provoking thought – differentiation is hard, but vital. My math teacher did a great job of providing an interesting, open-ended problem and even had developed extensions to the problem for those with a thorough level of understanding. Even though only a few of us participated, the conversation was amazing – but how do we provide the same type of stimulating experience for those with a developing understanding? Or those who simply aren’t interested in conversations? I don’t have  the answers to this, but I know it’s something that I’m going to emphasize in my own practice based on this experience. 

I made this all by myself!


Block 2 – MYP 2 Visual Art

Visual art class was always my least favourite subject in school, which is precisely why I built it into my schedule. I found myself debating with my table mates about the drawings we analyzed, despite being instructed to work independently. I said the drawing looked like a peacock, but my group disagreed, so I pulled out my device to Google images of peacocks to prove my point…again, against the rules. This provoked my thinking further about student behaviour. Yes, I was breaking the rules, but I was doing so in order to have quality debate with my classmates. How often do we perceive student talk or student tech use to be an act of defiance, when it is actually an act of learning? 

The infamous peacock drawing


Block 3 – MYP 5 Language and Literature

Summative time! My only summative assessment expereince of the day had me and my classmates creating a piece of social protest (I chose to create an infographic protesting traditional schooling), which I hope we get a chance to share in some forum or another. Students were highly engaged in the opportunity to share their voice; reaffirming that action is a crucial component in engaging learners. One sad takeaway was the number of students who were protesting the pressures they feel are placed upon them at school. Extreme pressure to perform in school is something very real for our students and something that, I must admit, I never really had placed on me as a child. Hearing my classmates’ experience with this type of pressure made me wonder – how do we strike a balance between having high standards for our students, while at the same time ensuring that we aren’t putting too much stress upon them? 

Lunch

Played basketball the entire time – amazing. 

Getting ready to ball!


Block 4 – Phase 2 Lanaguage Acquisition – Arabic

Mind blown! My two biggest takeaways from this experience were: 1) our students are amazing! The ability to speak and write, interchangeably in both English and Arabic – two languages that don’t share the same characters or even the same direction in which you write – is nothing short of amazing. 2) The small amount of Arabic I know after four years in Kuwait is sad. That being said, I was invited into a group where we wrote a skit about going to the dentist. I learned many new phrases and have even been invited back to perform for the class! 

Language Acquisition class had me in awe


Block 5 – MYP 3 Individuals and Societies

We were working on a reserach project in I & S, so I was given independent time to continue my inquiry, which I did, but with an ear out for what our students were discussing as they inquired. The big topics of discussion? Plans for how groups of friends were going to meet up at the Under 14 Girls’ Soccer Championships and what everyone was doing afterwards. Unless the teacher passed by, virtually 100% of the conversation was dominated by whom was driving whom, whom was sitting with whom and where the victory party would be afterwards. This lead me to perhaps my biggest takeaway of the day – students have lives. They have hopes, fears, friends, family, relationships, developing identities and developing minds and bodies that all create their fair share of drama, confusion and excitement. Virtually nothing we can do as educators can come close to being as important to our students as their own unfolding lives – as it should be. We, as educators, are so passionate about our work that we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that our students are real human beings with real lives.  Our students will probably never care about our classes as much as we do, so instead of emphasizing our class why not put the emphasis on caring for and about our students as human beings? 

Big Takeaways: 

  1. Many students love school, but many students find school to be an uncomfortable place to be. 
  2. There are so many different types of learners – how can we meet them all at their level of interest/understanding? 
  3. Student conversation that sometimes seems like silliness is often provoked by, or is connected to the learning. 
  4. Our teachers are providing a wide range of experiences – hands on, analytical, creative, dialogue-driven etc. – in order to support our students’ growth. 
  5. Having a nice lunch break to play sports is awesome. 
  6. Experiencing students teach me Arabic and seamlessly switch between reading, writing and speaking two very different languages was honestly like watching a magic show – I was in awe. 
  7. There is very little we can do in our classes that will ever be as important to our students as what is going on in their lives, right now. All the more reason to try, as much as possible, to connect the experience of learning to the lives of our students. 
  8. Being a student is hard – you are expected to be “on” all day, completely focused on things you aren’t necessarily choosing to be focused on and expected to be proficient in things that you may not understand, or be interested in. We would rarely hold adults to these types of standards, why do we expect this of children? 
  9. Students appreciate seeing their teachers as learners – the feedback I got from our students was outstanding. 
  10. Simply put, our students are amazing – mad respect. 

I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested in trying it – even if it is only for one class! I not only learned so much about our students, I learned a lot about myself as a learner. My next step? Take this experience and spread it out over a week’s time, with each entire day of the week devoted to one MYP year level. Hopefully I get the chance to do this before the year is out! 

What do you think of this experience? Would you try it? If you do, please let me know!  

My day as an MYP Student…the day before

I am very excited about tomorrow. Why? Because I’m spending the day as an MYP student! I will be live tweeting my experience all day via @bondclegg

To understand my reasoning behind this day of learning, I’ll go with a why, how what model: 

Why? 

How?

  • First, I made sure to inform my administrators to ensure I had support for this day 
  • I contacted teachers to see who might be interested in having an extra student in their class
  • I then built my schedule to allow me to experience at least one class from each MYP year
  • Teachers were kind enough to provide me with any preparatory learning that I had to complete prior to attending their class
  • I made sure I had my device, writing materials, calculator, PE clothes and a lunch! (Thanks goodness it’s dress down day…no uniform needed!) 

What: 

My schedule for the day: 

Block 1 – MYP 2 Mathematics

Block 2 – MYP 2 Arts (Visual Art) 

Block 3 – MYP 5 Language and Literature

Block 4 – MYP Phase 2 Langauge Acquisition (Arabic) 

Block 5 – MYP 4 PHE

Block 6 – MYP 3 Individuals and Societies 

I wanted to ensure I saw the full spectrum of the MYP years, while at the same time scaffolding myself as a learner (hence MYP 2 math, art and phase 2 Arabic!). 

This is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time and I’m very curious to see what I learn, what the students think about having me in the classroom and what my colleagues think. 

To be continued after my day of learning…