I really should be photocopying outlines or completing some other equally riveting task, but I can’t quite drag myself away from an idea that has been festering inside all summer.
Last year my students (Grade 12 students who are deeply entrenched in the protocols of playing school) and I transitioned our teacher centered classroom to a student focused and driven dynamic (which I call a Flipped Classroom, but some have issues with this name, but that is another post). This progression provided me new insights about my students and their learning. Some observations were heartening, inspiring and reassuring; I interacted with students who cared deeply about their learning, the world around them and were full of curiosity and creativity.
I also saw aspects of school, student behaviour and learning that made me feel that I was not meeting the needs of my students. This bothered me, got under my skin, and burrowed in, driving me to look for clues and search out solutions.
What were the initial observations that troubled me?
I saw students who were:
- Shut down and disconnected from school and learning.
- Immobilized with fear of failure and had in some cases, had extreme anxiety pertaining to expectations around academic performance.
- Texting, Facebooking, and/or Tweeting out of boredom in most of their classes (and during most of the class, no joke here) and still meeting ALL expectations (in fact these were some of the top students).
- Texting, Facebooking, etc. but unable to regulate their attention and were struggling in school as a consequence. This was true both in my class where technology was welcome and when I observed them in other classes where tech was strictly forbidden. Many of these students were able to identify the problem, but did not have the means to self regulate their tech use.
- Looking to be externally regulated (micromanaged) all the time and did not know how to direct themselves, their time, and their energies.
During the school year I did not have the opportunity to go beyond this initial observation phase. As a consequence, I felt that the biology curriculum alone was not meeting students’ most pressing and challenging needs. In fact the roadblocks many were facing were preventing them from engaging with the biology curriculum in the first place. Whereas in the past I have would ranted in frustration about cell phones, I saw the problem not as the cell phone. That was not the problem. The problem was students lacked skills needed to self regulate their tech use, their learning and control their attention.
I did not know exactly how, nor did I have a full picture of the implications. I needed time and information.
So what did I come up with?
From reading and Twitter trolling:
- Self control and self-regulation are highly related to success in school (life?). Many students struggle with these basic skills at some point. In fact Dr. Stuart Shanker says: “self-control is as important and possibly more important than IQ for how well a child does in school” He explains further:“Self-regulation serves as a lens for understanding a child, his (her) individual strengths and the areas that need work, and thus as a lens for understanding what we hope to accomplish in our teaching practices.“
- Attention is a tool. I need to work with my students (and myself) to identify, develop, and strengthen this tool, especially in this era of supreme distraction. Harold Rheingold explains it perfectly when he says in his book Net Smart:
“the most important filter is a function of (the) brain, not my PC. ONLY you can know your goals and only you can determine which stimuli are relevant at any moment.”
- Regular and authentic practice. I need to work with students on a daily basis to become self regulators and monitor their attentions in relation to their goals. Harold Rhienhold calls this attention “infotention”and explains further:
“you can experience immediate benefits in small ways to exercise mindfulness regarding your attention online. In this realm taking some control, even if it is a baby step, is far better than passively letting your attention be grabbed without reflection. Growing evidence indicates consistent exercise can strengthen self-control of attention.”
- Provide students with tools (attention, mindfulness, self-control), spaces (a classroom with various seating options and microenvironments) and opportunities, so they can develop ways to cope. Instead of suppressing and smothering behaviors (such as obsessive texting) work with students to understand and identify these behaviors so they are able act accordingly. Develop their skills so they do not rely on me to tell them how to behave, when to sit, stand, walk, talk etc., like automated robots. They need to “own it”. I need to help them own it.
- Foster, develop and grow an authentic thriving, self-sustaining community of learners. A community where they feel “safe” so they can be honest (I am bored, I am not learning, I don’t get it, I am having a hard time focussing today). A community in which they feel safe to try new activities and trust that they will not be punished.
As I head back into the classroom, I am not 100% sure on how we will become a self-sustaining community of self-regulating learners, and I still have more to figure out…but I am sure that is where we are headed.
NOW you can have your marshmallows!!