When is the last time you did something for the first time? Why did you initially engage in doing that thing?! What motivated you to persist in trying it on for size… getting to a new level of "accomplishment" in doing that thing? How did you know when you were at a "good place" in figuring out how to do it… or possibly… when did you decide you'd had enough?
As many of you have engaged in conversations over the last month about daily student inquiry and really using student voices and THEIR need to knows (NTKs) to drive research and project development, I couldn't help but think of these questions. We ask our students to engage in NEW learning all of the time. To do something for the first time. So I have to wonder… how do you support them in maintaining the excitement they started with when that process first began? For seeking out their own adventures in learning while guiding them (vs. telling them everything YOU think they need to know) along the way?
If you ask students what they KNOW and NEED TO KNOW about a project/problem as soon as they are introduced to that problem solving adventure, and then check it off your mental list of "doing PBL"… Never to be revisited throughout the project/problem again… You've missed the point! The reason we ask questions (either to ourselves, Google, or other people) when tackling a new learning experience for the first time is to build that sense of empowerment for taking on a new challenge! We don't want to start engaging in questioning as a learning experience only to have someone step in to tell us EXACTLY what pathway THEY think we need to follow. So how do you balance those worlds for your students?! The world of allowing their voices/ need to knows to drive DAILY learning while still serving as a guide through the process? Here are a few strategies I've seen on visits and in being used in some of your echo courses that seem to fit the bill:
- Help students map their NTKs to the creation of Next Steps – for every NTK students offer up, ask them specifically what next step they anticipate taking to find the answer to that question.
- I saw a teacher who charted it like this:
What do I Know from the Entry Event?
What I do Need to Know to begin finding a solution?
What Next Step will I take to figure out what I need to know?
(Ask for workshop? Class Discussion? Outside Expert? Investigation using textbooks? Online research using THIS particular search _______. Etc.)
- Disguise your NTKs - that's right… mix it up! Don't call them "Need to knows"! When you pick up a guitar for the first time, you probably don't say, "I need to know ___ and I need to know_ and I need to know____…." NO! You probably think, "I've got to figure out where to place my fingers to really rock out this rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And what do I do with this pick? Why do the strings make different noises? …" and then you figure out which questions can be answered through You Tube, or calling the local music store, or taking some classes…. BUT NOT ONCE did you call them "need to knows." Instead, you thought of general topics to be addressed and naturally started to figure out which you could do on your own, what things you'd need help with, and general logistics that needed to be sorted out. CLEARLY that all sparked interest for you of what ELSE you could after you mastered your new jam! I LOVE this document that Disguises NTKs and was used with students to help them sort through THAT EXACT METHOD OF THINKING and finding a way for them to use their own NTKs to guide daily class activities/research/problem solving!
- Identify Action Steps – that's right… It's a chicken and egg scenario. Some of us are actually better problem solvers by figuring out the questions we need answers to THEN identifying next steps. Others jump straight into problem solving mode, but sometimes need to be reeled back in to make sure the actions/next steps we're taking are for a purpose aligned to the general goal/problem we're trying to solve. This particular resource seems to be a great way for doing just that, while still supporting students in that thought process as well (so their thinking is guided by your careful planning/scaffolding and they aren't just creating "pretty products" but are on the path to meaningful problem solving and product development to showcase their new learning)
This will help me know or learn…
Which will help me complete which part of the project?
(Who is doing this?)
This will be done by….
Read the section in the textbook about introductions
…how to introduce myself in Spanish
Being able to tell Maria’s family my name
Note: The “Action Step” is effectively a “next step”. “This will help me know or learn…” roughly translates to the Need to Know. “Which will help me complete which part of the project?” identifies the task trying to be done, which is like something that the student KNOWS about the task.
I know this time of year, everything starts to feel like a "time crunch" but PLEASE… Don't fall victim to crushing your students first learning experiences by prescribing everything they need to know or how they need to figure it out. Instead, support them in finding solutions by scaffolding the thought process and work organization for them. Maintain control of your calendar and project deadlines in THAT way… not by being the keeper of all learning opportunities when they enter your class each day.
Peace, love, and GUIDE ON THE SIDE,