Category Archives: Collaboration

What Happened When We Asked Students to Think: Part II

After we took the leap of faith into the two-week inquiry unit, there were certainly moments of uncertainty (mine and theirs), frustration (same, though I think theirs might have surpassed mine at some moments), and lots of encouragement. There was also one distinctive moment where I turned to my co-teacher and said something along the lines of “Oh my goodness. This is a disaster.” Said moment of perceived disaster came after we had students think of what they thought our current school needed. Their ideas ranged from later school start times, to longer passing times, to daily nap times, to all-school snack machines. Right?! These are the issues that matter to them. I’m here for it.

Then, though, they had to spend some time finding research to help situate their issue within a larger milieu. That was the day I wanted to poke my eyes out because my kids were overwhelmed. And, since I was one step ahead of them, I wasn’t proficient in all the ways to help them, hadn’t trouble shot the issue enough. I kept telling myself: be a model. Grow with them. I told them why they had to do the research, and we guided them through, but it was difficult to help them see the why of the project. Oh, and they had to find out who in the school was an expert and draft a letter with some questions to that person. What I now understand is that hesitation, that annoyance, was really growth mindset in action. That step in the process was hard, and they could either get frustrated and give up, or attempt to work through that frustration to get to the other side.

The next step beyond the research was to design a solution. If I were charting their energy on a graph, this moment would correspond with a trend upward. In the meantime, students also had to interview their peers for insight as they continued to create their solution. We had two design days. During that time, students created a prototype of some aspect of their solution in preparation for presenting their idea to members of the administration.

All it takes is one: one student or group of students to create something that is beyond what his/her peers think is possible, to set them all off, and that’s exactly what happened. For students who wanted to change the schedule, they created an entirely new schedule, basing their decisions off interviews with peers, the principal and their research about adolescent needs. For another group, they went on a scavenger hunt and found cardboard boxes, which they used to create their idea of a classroom snack dispenser. From that moment, the other students took the project much more seriously. Also true to fashion, the kids who won’t work until they’re up against a hard deadline began to pull together their projects, too.

The presentations were definitely works in progress. Some groups didn’t even get around to explaining their solutions, while others had time to spare, while still others were somewhere in between. It was messy, messy, messy, but the panelists who gave their time to watch the presentations asked probing, thoughtful questions. The students responded equally as thoughtfully. They took it seriously, indicating their in-depth knowledge of their ideas. They owned it, demonstrating that the inquiry process is powerful and vital.

Finally, in the next post, I’ll offer some reflections on this process, what I learned, what the kids learned and why students in ELA classes need the opportunity to become makers (while we are also opening the conversation to diversify #makered).

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What Happened That Time We Asked Students to Think: Part I

The greatest reason I’m having an intellectually stimulating year is because of my colleague, Ms. L. We tend to have similar big picture ways of thinking: we like to dwell in the so what, I’d say. What makes this collaboration work, most importantly, is that Ms. L is concerned with the details. I love big ideas but tend to be less interested in the day-to-day, which is why sometimes, for me, planning on the daily can be draining. Ms. L, though, LOVES the details. I mean, loves them so much that when she says she’ll spend some time working on a project, I know that when she’s done, it will include so many aspects of that plan that she’ll have accounted for contingencies B-Z, and they’ll all be amazing.

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How lucky am I? Her desire to work together and her endless ability to step out of the present moment to remember the WHY of what we’re doing has made a year that I was dreading actually into one that excites me to work with kids and with teachers who want to do hard things. I also appreciate her honesty to tell me when I’m way off base, or her willingness to make suggestions. I’ve found that in the best working relationships I have, my collaborators speak honestly and are less concerned with hurting my feelings. I’m tough. I can take it. And oftentimes I’m so caught up in my own ideas that I need someone to give me different ways of thinking and doing something.

We launched two successful projects. The first was from this incredible website, Moving Writers¬†that used a photo book of essays called It’s Complicated: The American Teenager. Daily, we shared what was happening in her Honors classroom and my College Prep one. We modified the Moving Writers’ work and kept everything in a folder on Google Drive. To say that the final portraits exceeded our expectations was an understatement.

Buoyed by that success, we then decided that we’d revise my earlier work I’ve done in years past based on Carol Dweck’s work with growth and fixed mindsets. This is where Ms. L is even more amazing: she suggested we have students experience learning through principles of design theory. Design theory was all new to me. What I realized, though, was what better way was there to learn and model the processes of learning than to do something that might, indeed, not be as successful as I’d hoped? Wasn’t that the beauty of a growth mindset? If it bombed (and it didn’t, but you’ll have to read the next post for the nitty gritty–you should, too; spoiler: it’s amazing!), that would be okay, because I would have learned something about practice during the process. And while I was most concerned that I’d be failing the kids, what I’ve come to realize is that the failure would be in if I just kept teaching the GM unit like I’d done in the past. If I wasn’t willing to challenge myself and to grow, then, seriously, how could I expect my students to do the same?

Coming next: what happened when we asked students to get comfortable with failure…

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