Ready to Choose?
Are your students ready to choose?
For students, choice once meant bologna sandwiches or grilled cheese. Choice now means choosing from an educational menu. Sheena Iyengar drummed out the importance of choice in all of our lives, but to make choice that drives our learning, that drives their learning, is quite another matter. Much of the readiness for choice comes from those who teach before us whether they be parents or teachers. Elementary teachers have long understood the importance of small groups and stations. Now many of them are driving the initiative to prepare our students to become self-actualizing citizens. This can only mean that the pressure is on, because readiness does not just mean students accessing the correct programs and directing their own learning online, it means that teachers must be prepared for this changing environment and be able to change their roles, too.
Is Dreaming part of Readiness? Here's Adora Svitak in 2010:
On Readiness to Choose
As we rolled out our laptops for the first year of one-to-one learning, students had a lot to learn. First and foremost: how to manage this busy new device as an educational tool. Many students developed off-task habits that needed correction, but mainly, students needed to learn that they were in charge of their habits and that this was their education, not just in the generic everybody-on-the-right-site-so-get-busy sense, but that this was their own very personal opportunity to explore and learn.
As I explained in the story of Don Wettrick and the Dairy Case, (sorry, Don), I attempted to introduce group projects to one of my morning classes. They, as a unit, refused to choose their groups, their inspiration, the direction of their work--they wanted the usual spoon feeding and the usual option to do what was necessary and no more. These were 7th and 8th graders and their attitudes seemed pretty well hardened.
So, my mentor and eLearning guru, Kevin Schamel, and I decided to try the project with another 7th and 8th grade class. This class, incidentally meeting after lunch, responded wonderfully, splendidly! They embraced the choice of a group. Their groups chose their inspiration (one of several twentieth century sculptors), and they shared team jobs and responsibilities. This class was obviously more 'ready' than the other and they succeeded and presented their final work to a group of judges. The winner of the sculpture project won a pizza party, but every team was a winner. The work was inspired.
The first class also completed the project, but it was teacher-driven and, though they worked in groups, there was little cohesion. Still. . . when they heard the announcement of the winners from the after-lunch class, they said it wasn't fair. "We did the work, too." I explained to them that they had not functioned as groups and they had not produced the necessary presentation. I displayed their work proudly and prominently, but clearly the work of the after lunch class was more inspired and more imaginatively executed.
The morning class seemed to understand that maybe this choice thing had some value. Maybe they didn't want the teacher spoon feeding them forever. I sensed that their response was as important to creating a culture of choice as the success of the
When the next cycle of 12-week classes appeared in my classroom a few days later, they understood that something had changed. What was this choice thing? Do we really get to decide stuff?
I'm not suggesting that everything went smoothly after that, but a seed had been planted. My new 7th and 8th grade classes quickly accepted the culture of choice, but in the third project of that 12-week cycle, I decided we should all work from the same inspiration. Their response? "Hey, Mr. Green, what happened to choice?" Indeed.
Students are often more ready than we think. They just need an opportunity.
Are you ready to change?
This video offers some pretty basic information on blended learning, but it drives the point that teachers' roles are changing.
The video you just watched focuses on the Flipped classroom model, but there are many more options. Check out the Richmond Community Schools NextGen site for more info. These are the patient people who helped me.
The IDC Group
The 7/8 grade class entered a new project cycle which meant it was time once again to choose which project would carry them through the roughly two weeks of production. Students GOT NIMBLE looking over the current Art Bazaar on their Canvas class site. There ensued a general moving of chairs and tables into groups and organizational chatter which was to be expected.
When the dust settled, five new groups had arranged themselves in new group work areas. Five new groups for only four new projects. Hmmm. One of the groups was a splinter group or a duplicate group, or? I scanned the classroom and noticed that one group was made up of students who typically refused to choose and were often oppositional as individuals. Now they had neatly arranged themselves in a single group. Were they now ready to move forward with choice?
I moved, nimbly, of course, around the class, checking to see that students were with the project group they had chosen and if the group understood from the project module how to get started. I carried my laptop with me and used a smiling tableside manner to update and make any necessary changes. The class hummed to life. (I'm making that up. It stirred and growled. Breaking inertia is unpleasant for 7th and 8th graders.)
When I finally arrived at the fifth group, I asked them what we were going to call this group. Three students said on cue, "I don't care!" Aha. The IDC group! I quickly created the group in the people link in Canvas for this class. Creating the group is a quick, tableside activity once you've gone through the process a few times. After a minute, I looked up at the group and told them that the IDC group was now official and they could go in and join the group . . . and two of the students actually did! I was already in the bonus round with these folks. To the others, I asked if it was OK for me to put their names in the group for them. No one opposed. When the group roster was complete, I smiled and asked them to chat about their new group and left them to ruminate on what being a part of a group meant.
What it meant to me was that I now had an opportunity to move these individuals forward in a small group setting. Issues like trust, confidence, the issues of student-teacher relationships, what happened this morning, and other non-content matters were on the table. I had a chance to grow a relationship with each of these students and--it took a few days of quiet persuasion--I was finally allowed to sit with them and talk. Meanwhile, I gave them scratchboard to play with. At first, they created unspeakable images to which I became temporarily blind, but eventually I introduced Albrecht Durer and Kathe Kollwitz to them and was able to draw some surprisingly well-executed artwork from them. In the process, I created a specially modified module for the assignment. The main thing here: I was able to inch them forward as a small group, develop a working relationship with each of them and provide a path to readiness that had not existed prior to this. I certainly could not have done this in a whole group process, not with them freelancing and, likely, disrupting.
Readiness for teachers and students means--should I mention it? It means being NIMBLE enough to take a given and move forward with it.