Monday, February 27, 2012

Surviving or Thriving?

Consider the profile of a student who is 'surviving' school.

  • appears disinterested, disengaged and bored in class. 
  • seems lazy and unmotivated     
  • requires the push from the teacher in order to get going on anything in class. 
  • appears to be going through the motions and just 'doing school', seemingly without purpose.         
  • is content with simply 'passing' each course.

Why are some of our students just 'surviving'?

Unlike life outside of school, much of the learning in schools (high schools in particular) is organized in a manner that lends itself to learning in silos. Students attend separate classes for Math, Science, Social Studies, English, etc. Students are asked to learn course-specific concepts and skills independent of what they are being asked to learn in other courses. Of course, there are interdisciplinary connections between the different courses but we too often force students to create the connections on their own. As a teacher it is easy to focus on the course curriculum at the expense of pointing out to students how their learning connects across disciplines. Because we often fail to help students see how their learning fits into a bigger picture, students can feel as though they are being asked to learn decontextualized nuggets of information. And since the lives they live demand the application of interconnected skills and knowledge from various disciplines, they struggle to see the relevance of what they are learning at school.

Compare this to the profile of a student who is 'thriving' at school.

  • is highly motivated and passionate about learning new things and ask questions beyond the scope of the class.
  • regularly talks about what is happening at school.
  • takes initiative and explores new ideas. 
  • has high expectations and works hard to achieve his/her goals.
  • sees how his/her learning will lead to future plans

What can lead to more of our students 'thriving'?

Daniel Pink (@danielpink), author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us argues that three factors (autonomy, mastery & purpose) contribute to enduring motivation. The following are some quotes from one of his recent webinars.

  • Autonomy: "the technology for engagement is self-direction"
  • Mastery: "the single biggest motivator is when people are making progress in meaningful work"
  • Purpose: "how & why are they doing the work?"

I believe we need to create more opportunities for 'big-picture' learning, where students explore big, important questions from a range of angles. Through self-driven inquiries, challenges and initiatives students should engage in authentic interdisciplinary learning opportunities that they are passionate about and can see are relevant to their present and future lives.

Consider how much different school might look and feel if we allowed greater opportunity for students to have input into and self-direct their own learning. What if, under the guidance of a teacher, students could...
  • propose problems and challenges they wished to solve?
  • propose initiatives they wished to accomplish in their school and community?
  • share their learning and progress towards self-directed inquiries and initiatives with the school, community and the world using a variety of technologies?
An example of what this might look like is the Pathways program at Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School where students, through a personalized program, develop their own curriculum and become invested in inquiry.

My guess is that if we allow students greater opportunity to personalize their learning, they will be more motivated to learn and experience more fulfillment from their learning. I would hope this would contribute to fewer of our students surviving and greater number of them thriving!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What are students saying about Edcamp?

This is my third reflective post about Edcamp Delta. This time it's about the value of student voice and recognizing student input and perspectives when it comes to improving teaching and learning.

15 students from Delta Secondary, 2 students from other Lower Mainland high schools and a few recent high school graduates participated at Edcamp Delta. Although they comprised just under 15% of the participants, they had powerful voices and their contributions enriched the dialogue.

Alex (@alex_gaio) led a discussion about the use of Google Apps in Education. He and a group of other Delta Secondary students also facilitated a conversation about Focus Groups and Student Engagement. Antony (@AntonyTsui) facilitated a session called Are you assessing my REAL learning? Meanwhile, Mackenzie and Gloria (@gloriakhj) shared their perspectives in a panel discussion about successes and challenges in education.

Following Edcamp Delta, I was fortunate to speak with many of the student participants about their experience. Here are some of the comments they volunteered.

"The teachers listened to us. I feel like they cared about what I had to say."
"The adults made sure they included us in the conversations."
"We all felt like equals at Edcamp. The only time I felt like I was a student was when the adults specifically wanted to hear the perspective of a current student."
"I think the teachers learned a little bit about where we're coming from as kids. I also learned about some of the pressures that teachers are facing."
"At school we get taught. At Edcamp we got to participate."

As I reflect on these comments, I think about how different an Edcamp is compared to a traditional classroom.  In a traditional classroom, a hierarchy exists between the teacher and the student. The teacher is the 'expert' and the student is the 'learner'. The culture is such that the student is expected to learn from the teacher but not the other way around.

At an Edcamp, there is no hierarchy. People aren't cast in the role of 'teacher' or 'student', 'expert' or 'learner'. The expectation is that educators can learn from students equally as much as students can learn from the educators. In most instances, students and teachers learn together at an Edcamp.

The key difference at an Edcamp is that each participant approaches the event with a curiosity and desire to learn. Rather than asking students questions that the teacher already knows the answer to, at an Edcamp teachers are asking questions that they don't know all the answers to. So instead of the teacher quizzing students and dispensing information, at an Edcamp teachers are learners who seek the input, opinions and ideas of students.

Imagine how different the culture and tone of a typical classroom would be if teachers were regularly posing questions that they didn't already know the answers to. Imagine if students viewed their teachers as 'learners' rather than 'experts'. Imagine if students and teachers regularly learned together.

When it comes to education, adults tend to make most of the decisions for students. We do have more life experience, and yes, we have all gone through school. This cannot be ignored. But what also can't be ignored is that the world is changing and our students are living a different experience than we did.

If we truly hope to prepare our students for their current reality and their lives in the future, we MUST create opportunities for student voice. BC Student Voicethe BC Education Plan and Edcamp Delta  are a great start!