How might we co-create a lexicon of learning to empower our students?

Do students use the same words you use to talk about their learning? Are the words you use as an educator reserved for conversations about students or are the words you use for conversations with students?

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How might we create a lexicon for learning that invites our students in? How might we find words to include students implicitly in the process of learning rather than as something done to them and for them but not always of them? How might we move to words that explore learning as something not just done at school for 5 hours a day but a stance to take for life? How might we co-create a language that explores the emotions, depths, and connections of learning? How might we find words to use not about students but for students? What words might we use not only to describe students but to be used by students in the service of their learning?

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I am wondering if we might consider….

  • the design of learning spaces, pathways and experiences in place of linear and one time only lessons and lesson plans.
  • talking about learning pathways (with multiple entry points) instead of one time activities or worksheets to complete.
  • creating environments of agency rather than policies of accountability.
  • using the words “invite you” and “you could do” with students instead of “you must do” and “you have to.”
  • talking about being inspired rather than about being on task.
  • imagining and exploring what students need instead of listing what work is required.
  • asking students what they see, feel, hear, imagine and dream rather than only asking what they think.
  • starting from empathy for our students rather than exclusively from the learning outcomes.
  • creating opportunities for students to celebrate their learning rather than only creating summative assessments to be given (tests and quizzes).
  • inviting students to collect artifacts of their learning instead of doing formative assessments to students.
  • nurturing creativity instead of always pushing productivity.
  • inviting students to share their learning journeys rather than describing learning with a spreadsheet.
  • asking students to create stories to tell rather than give them notes to copy.
  • inviting students to do work that matters instead of work for marks.
  • referring to ourselves as “learners in chief” or “lead learners” instead of exclusively “teachers.”
  • asking students what they do well already before telling students what they must do.

***

What words or phrases might you consider changing? What stance do the words you currently use represent? What words work well and hold meaning for both for you and for your students? What words do your students use that you don’t when talking about their learning?

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How might we co-create a lexicon of learning to empower our students?

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Can you be held accountable for something you own?

“Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
Pasi Salberg

 

Last year my daughter told us she wanted a new iPhone. “Ok” we said “you will just have to pay for it yourself.” So off she went to get a part-time job, saved over several months and finally had the funds to purchase her iPhone.
Fast forward to this fall when she was getting out of my husband’s truck with the beloved in hand. You can probably guess what happened!  As she was exiting the truck the phone slipped out of her hand and clattered onto the driveway. Before you could say “I love iPhones,” crack and shatter…the screen was toast. She was devastated, her beloved ruined. She felt bad, so badly, that she had in a 2 second window let her iPhone slick out of her grasp. Back to saving she went to get the screen repaired. I am not going to claim this event totally changed her phone carrying behavior, but she did get a different case and she did assume complete responsibility.  But the thing of it was she owned the phone. We couldn’t be “mad at her” or disappointed with her for dropping it, as she was mad and disappointed with herself. We didn’t jump need to assume responsibility for the phone, it was hers, 100%.

***

While I get that phones and learning and very different this story helps to make a point.

We say we want students to own their learning, right? We say we want students to become independent learners, right? Can anyone own something when held accountable externally for it? When we, with our best intentions, say we need to hold our students accountable for their learning, is this is not an oxymoron? Can someone be held accountable for something that is theirs? And the very second we do hold students accountable do we not extinguish, in that very moment, all hope that students will in fact ever own their learning, because in that very well-meaning moment, haven’t we owned the learning for them?

Do we think we have to hold students accountable as they not capable? If learning is to be authentic to them and for them are they not capable of that?  Is it that they don’t care? Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the learning was never theirs in the first place. It is hard to be forced to care about something that is not and will never be yours.

***
How do you feel when you are held accountable? Do you feel empowered or dis-empowered?
When you are engaged fully in a project you love and are passionate about do you need to be held accountable for it? At all?

 

Infidelity and intentional vagueness

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

                                                                                                                Antoine de Saint-Exupery

                                                                                                                                 

I have to confess I have never been faithful. Ever. Over 25 years and I never adopted one planning, teaching schema or framework with 100% fidelity. Moreover I have never taught a course or unit again, in the same order, in the same way. Lastly, I am vague with instructions. Intentionally.

It didn’t start this way. As I began teaching, I saw senior teachers with course binders which they would open and say: “here is today’s lesson.”  I thought: when I have binders like that I will be a great teacher! I also saw examples of elaborately detailed unit plans (many prepared by teachers I never met in person). I thought: when I get going, I am going to make units plans like those and then I will be the teacher I need to be! Lastly, I made sure I knew how to give clear and detailed instructions. I knew exactly when to say “Get your microscopes out!” to avoid confusion. I knew how to organize the bodies of 30 teenage bodies with military precision.

The closer I got to each of these goals, the more uncertain I became they would get me where I wanted to go with my teaching practice. For a long while, I felt guilty about all of this! I thought I was somehow deficient as a teacher in my unwillingness to give in to one planning model or teaching philosophy, in being “unable” to follow the same plan twice and in choosing to give ambiguous instructions.

Making Something My Own is the Making Sense Part

UBD? POGIL? Inquiry? PBL? UDL? So many frameworks and so little time. I wish I could say I had a form to end all others, I wish I could say I had THE recipe. Over time, I realized it wasn’t the form I did or did not use or the framework, I did or did not use.
What mattered was the schema I built, in my brain. And please don’t get me wrong, I thinking planning frameworks and teaching paradigms are both valuable and useful. Planning frameworks (such as UBD) and paradigms have informed me. The act of following someone else’s instructions to the letter on how to design a unit or course did inform and me; it was in the time and effort of churning through to make sense of it in my own brain in conjunction with observations and reflections. The work, the thoughts, the mental lifting which happened within the neurons helped to guide my teaching practice. Over time I have become comfortable with my “always hybrid” approach and the continuous development of my practice.

Planning is Important but Adapting the Plan is More Important

I used to think plans were a script to create in advance to ensure my lessons would be perfect. Now I know plans are not as important as what they become and what they allow for. The act of planning was not to create a script to follow, like actors do on a stage, but to create conditions in which students could write their own lines. The plan is important and valuable but how the plan is liberated and given a life of its own is more meaningful than the plan itself. Lastly, I came to understand that plans would look different each and every time they came to life. I came to understand that responding and adapting to students at a particular time was about teaching students instead of a teaching a course.

Vague Instructions Leave Something to the Imagination: Ambiguity is Good

I used to think good instructions were those when students did exactly what my words said. Now I know good instructions are those enabling students to figure out what they need to do to address their learning.  When I got good at giving detailed instructions, students became really good at following the details but this did not necessarily impact what was going on in their brains. Just because I could get students to do what I instructed them to do did not mean learning was going on.
When I was filling in all the details, students were unused to ambiguity and reading between the lines for themselves. My so called “good instructions” made students rely on me more and propagated the “let’s play school” mindset. Instructions are not about getting kids to do what I say (compliance), instructions are about inviting, invoking and awakening.  I would much rather a student sit an activity out and then later decide for themselves to take part. I realized I wanted structures and strategies to help students move to the deep end of their learning (and did not want strategies that relied on highly prescriptive instructions) rather than strategies and structures that kept them in the shallow end where it was easy for me to “watch them.”

***

How about you? What are you faithful to? How do your plans come to life? How do you see and use instructions?

How do you talk assessment?

“The most important assessment that goes on in a school isn’t done to a student but goes on inside students…
Changing assessment at this level should be the most important assessment goal of every school.
How do we get inside students’ heads and turn up the knob that regulates quality and effort.”

Ron Berger

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Trying to change assessment practices in your classroom? Where do you start? How to begin?

Part of changing my assessment practice was driven by altering the words I used with students. When I first embarked on this change, I was intentional and purposeful with “assessment talk.” Like learning a new language, I had to stop and think rather than reflexively rely on words I had used in the past. I found the intentional and consistent use of these words over several months helped to shift both my mind-set and students’.

Previously, my “assessment talk” had consisted of numbers on a spreadsheet, printed up, neatly tacked on the classroom wall and emailed to students and parents. I saw numbers as unemotional, objective and transparent. I believed sharing numbers frequently made me an effective teacher. Over time I realized I had blurred together assessment (which comes from the Latin assessus meaning to sit besideand evaluation. Regretfully, the predominant use of numbers to talk assessment, did not help students learn at all. Numbers signaled the learning as done and the numeric calculation was my evaluation of it. Numbers indicated a finality which made the focus of class culture centered around how to collect of points…rather than on understanding, exploring and unpacking the cognitive processes occurring for and inside each student. To explore learning with students, numbers had to be removed from the everyday conversations and I had to find simple direct words to signal this shift.

I now realize my practice of using numbers to talk assessment prevented, rather than encouraged, meaningful dialogue about student learning. Evaluation of the student learning had to happen later in the learning journey (when students were ready) after a significant amount assessment. But how to talk assessment? What words could replace the numbers I had grown dependent on? I had to find them. I had to practice them. I had to learn a new language to talk assessment with students

***

Below are some of my favorite catch phrases and convo snippets:

1. This is not for marks…it is for learning.
Student’s query to any activity is “Is it for marks?” Students use this question to decide on where to focus their efforts. To shift their focus to learning strategies rather than on point accumulation strategies, activities need to be about learning and in the service of student learning … choose to do these activities in the service of your learning not in the name compliance and playing school.

2. YET…
When a student says: “I am not good at writing, reading, graphing.” Offer the simple word, yet, to the end of their fixed mindset sentence to change it to a growth mindset one (Watch Carol Dweck’s short video on yet here).

3. Explain to me how you think your learning is going in this unit, topic, or semester.
If I had a dollar for every “What is my mark?” question I have heard I would be a rich woman! Every time a student asked me this question I had to clearly put it back on them. They had to be able to talk about and describe how the course was going for them and if they couldn’t explain this, then we had to spend more time talking about their learning (this is not to say I withheld marks, it is to say evaluation has to come when it is relevant and useful to do so).

4. Are you ready to show me what you know/understand? When do you think you can be ready to demonstrate your understanding? How can I help you get there?
Many struggling students are not willing to engage; it is too risky to try only to fail yet again. Allowing students decide when they are ready to be evaluated removes the stress and game playing that goes along with avoiding it.

5. What does quality…writing, presentation, conclusion, lab design, questioning…look like, sound like, and feel like?
Students need to recognize what quality looks like, feels like and sounds out.  Understanding quality comes from experiencing the process without fear of  being penalized for not being at quality yet. Students need to know they will get another chance or opportunity, they need to know they have time to grow and develop towards quality.

6. Show me your evidence for/of your learning.
I recognize my learning  when I develop a mental picture or story about of a concept or idea. When I can explain or map out this picture, I feel like I have done some learning. The mental picture is my evidence, the tracks of my thinking. Students need to make tracks of their thinking in their own way and have a chance to talk about this process. Learning is not a set copied teacher notes, or a set of worksheets they mechanically and thoughtlessly filled in.

7. Show me how you figured it out.
Asking students to unpack their thinking, makes learning about what is going on in their brains, not something a teacher does or does not do. 

8. What is your plan to get there?
Many students are uncertain how to navigate to quality. Providing them opportunities to make and talk about specific actions portrays learning not as accidental (or just for gifted people) but requires strategies, habits, and specific situations. Many variables contribute to learning. Students need to know and decide what variables they need to support their learning.

9.  Let me know when you are ready for feedback.
Having the opportunity and time to do quality work is intrinsically satisfying. Quality work is not work done by gifted students but by students who have the gift of time with useful and specific feedback.

10. What do you notice about your brain when….you get confused, you feel confident, you are engaged, you are make sense of the problem.
Talking about what goes on inside our brains, invites students to connect with the mental process they are experiencing.  Learning is a process going on actively inside of them rather than something passively happening to them.

What are your fav words or phrases to use with students? What words have shifted your mindset and invited students to explore their learning as a journey rather than a destination?

The truth does not make it so.

I like to speak the truth. I bet you do too.

But I realize even I speak the truth that this act alone does not make what I say perpetually true.

For example when I say: “excellence is really important to model for students,” I really do believe that modelling excellence is vital and foundational for creating a culture of excellence. But…the statement alone does not make it true; it is through thoughtful, consistent and purposeful actions that I make the statement true. The truth lies in the actions that bring life to my sentiment.
I often reflect and wonder if sometimes if we as adults say true statements, such as work ethic is important or digital citizenship is a crucial topic for students, but do not always ourselves make it true with our own actions. Do we act these statements out everyday in front of our students? Do they intuitively know what we say and what we do align? Can they verbalize specific and numerous examples of where and when they see these truths acted out live and in front of them (as opposed to only talked about).

While our words and the specific words we use matter and help to create our school cultures and communities, it is our collective micro-actions that add up to create a congruent reality…

or one that is disjointed and inauthentic.

What truths do you say? What do you do to make them true?

Who creates the learning story in the classroom?

We all have story to tell. But sometimes we forget that others have stories too…

In her Ted Talk (featured below) “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adichie describes how her narrative was influenced as she grew up reading exclusively Western literature (by the way this would be a great Ted Talk to watch in History or English class to discuss perspective or point of view). It struck me that this danger could also exist in our classroom spaces.
Whose learning stories get told, is it always from the adult’s perspective? (Learning is easy, learning is fun, don’t you get it yet?)
Is there space, trust, and a regular invitation for student’s to craft and tell their learning in their own way?

Crafting narrative builds context and richness for students that is often missing with new content. The creation of even a small story invites the learner to make sense in their own words and in their own way. Creation invites students to pull the content and their background knowledge out from the chaos and embed it in a meaningful way.

Below are some activities that invite students to create and own the learning narrative. Any of these could stand alone or could be done in a sequence to build larger collective narrative. I have used a Biology example but could easily be altered to fit any topic!

Offered in order of time commitment:

1. #sixwordstory
At the start of a unit or topic show students a related image. For example in Biology class I shared the image below to our Facebook group page. Students were asked to create a #sixwordstory about the image and then are given the choice to either Tweet, post to our Facebook group, or write story on a sticky note. If they write on a sticky note, I post their story for them. In the example below, 16 students selected to post here and the rest Tweeted. My favorite #sixwordstory related to this picture was “Man’s feats can demonstrate nature’s marvels.”

This activity can be used anywhere you want students to synthesize or reflect. It is fast, fun and students can choose how they would like to participate.

6 word story

2. Found Poem
If you want to take #sixwordstory’s up a notch, students can turn their stories into “Found Poems”. The simplest and easiest way to create a found poem is to ask students to read their #sixwordstory aloud one after another as quickly as possible to add some tempo to the poem.

Found poems can also be created from readings. Student select their favorite sentence or phrase from the passage or chapter and then read these aloud. It is always amazing to hear how many will select the same phrase or sentence and this supplies a refrain like quality to their collective poem.

Found poems could easily be extended into a larger project or simply end with the reading.

3. Phonto
Phonto is a free app that allows you to easily add text to a photo. This is a great way for students to use their phones and leverage their love of taking photos. There is a phonto app for both Apple and Android. The example below is one I created. You could combine #sixwordstory and Phonto for more story telling fun!

phonto (3)

5. Animoto – Want to turn the found poem, or the phonto photos into something more?  Take them and throw into an Animoto video (open an educator account to start) for a collective, professional looking Found Poem.

I share below an Animoto I show to my classes at the start of the school year to make my “we all have stories to tell” point.

6. Using Whiteboards to tell stories – Low tech and multi-purpose, whiteboards are a fun way to invite student to tell stories.  It might look messy to you, but it is amazing to hear the narratives that students share when presenting their stores to the class. Everyone loves a good story! Students can archive these by taking photos of the whiteboards and adding to their digital portfolios or to our Facebook page.

Robot Unicorn Attack.
Robot Unicorn Attack.

The question remains, who tells the learning story in the classroom?
How will your students tell theirs?
Do you have any ideas to add to the ones here? I would love to here about them!

Invest in me.

investinme

cc licensed (BY) flickr photo  shared by h. koppdelaney

Invest in my dreams.
Listen to my ideas, no matter how big or bold. Tell me you believe me with your eyes.
Invest with your time to listen and follow-up.

Invest in my sense of fun.
Laugh deeply with me. Infuse play into our day.
Invest by letting yourself be whimsical and zany.

Invest in my ability to fix mistakes.
Leave space for me to figure out a solution to my problems.
Invest with your trust.

Invest in my self-worth.
Notice when I walk in and greet me by name.
Invest with a smile just for me.

Invest in me as a person.
Interact with me as a whole and complete human being.
Invest by looking beyond today’s agenda.

Invest in my growth.
Be ready for me to change. When I am ready to.
Invest with celebrations of my successes, separate and unique from others.

Invest in my curiosity.
Be excited. Be passionate. Share what you love.
Invest with the belief that I have passions too. Even if I don’t share them.

Invest in my sense of adventure.
Make it challenging, make it clever, make it mysterious.
Invest with the cultivation of your curiosity and sense of wonder.

Invest in my talents.
Notice my uniqueness, no matter how small or quirky.
Invest with your attention to the details of me.

Invest in my heart.
Show me that you are human too.
Invest with your vulnerability.

Invest in my health.
Notice when I look under the weather.
Invest with taking time to ask how I am feeling.

Invest in my independence.
Leave space for me to ask for help when I need it. Notice when I might need a hand.
Invest with watching and knowing exactly what I need.

Invest in my passion.
Offer choice and variety. Notice when my eyes light up.
Invest with the belief that I want to learn.

Invest in my confidence.
Take my questions and suggestions seriously.
Invest with valuing my point of view.

Invest in my identity.
Celebrate and provide examples of diverse ideas and people.
Invest with your awareness and acceptance of diversity.

Invest in my voice.
Ask me what I think. Listen with intent when I tell you.
Invest with honoring my opinion and valuing it.

Invest in the person I can become.
Know that the person I am today does not dictate who I might be tomorrow.
Invest by starting fresh each day.

Invest in the secret me.
Know that I have ideas and dreams that I cherish.
Invest by giving me time to explore.

Invest in my ability to change.
See the potential me, the future me, the me I want to become
Invest with seeing those me’s before I do.

Will you invest in me?

______________________________________

Dedicated to my grandmother, Gang, who invested in everyone she met.