Sunday, April 30, 2017

So many options...

It's Springtime here in Indiana... so every time I leave the house, I make sure to have a winter coat, umbrella, and pair of flip flops with me as I leave in shorts and a t-shirt. (Thank you, Mother Nature...) I thought I was "safe" as I left for church this morning, but I neglected the fact that the air conditioning unit would be turned on this week. You see, I sing at our 9:15am mass almost every Sunday and mid-hymn last week, one of the parishioners turned the AC on, sending my hair on a "choke-Sarah-while-she-sings" rampage. This morning? Same story. There am I getting ready to lead the congregation into our next prayerful song and all I could find myself doing was weighing every option for winning this hair blasting battle:

  • Tuck your hair behind your ears
  • Quick! Find a hair tie! A rubber band...anything!
  • Toss a book over the register on the floor
  • Turn your music stand & mic to face South so you're facing the gush of air
  • Move down one step and take the mic with you
I'm telling you, friends... my solution finding efforts were on par this morning! Of course there was a downfall to each option... I despise the discomfort of a chunk of hair behind my ear, I was lucky to remember my son's Pooh bear this think I remembered a hair tie!? Covering the register is selfish...what if it's hotter "out there" than it was "up here"? If I face South, the sound doesn't reach the back of the church as well and moving the mic is going to create a lot of shuffling noises....   But I had to choose one because not only was I eating hair instead of hitting the high notes, but now I missing out on the service too!!! 

I wonder how often your students become distracted in class from trying to make "the right choice" also? Or maybe they're only given time to think of one option so they just roll with it. There's a fine balance in the way we create opportunities for and facilitate a student's agency in "tackling and monitoring their learning." 

Before sending students off to complete a task or begin research on a project, be sure to scaffold their ability to identify the problem/task at hand and create space for them to figure out what they might need to know to complete the task (like if there's enough space on the step in front of you for yourself AND a mic stand!! oyi!) 
  • In a PBL/PrBL curriculum, we do this by having students articulate the goal of a project (often using a Problem Statement template to organize this thinking). Using Know/Need to Know lists, or asking "What's Clear?" and "What's not clear?" also supports this skill.
  • With a daily task, you might conduct a mini-K/NTK list, spend time highlighting/underlying key words in the directions of the task, have a student repeat the directions, ...
Some students are intimidated by the difficulty of completing a task, and therefore struggle to identify strategies and options for tackling the task! That's our job as educators to scaffold this for them (or they will forever be tasting a mouth full of blowing hair during the next hymn)!!  Here are some suggestions to support your students in strengthening that skill set this week:
  • Have them choose (or hone in on) one question... just one problem that they're going to tackle. Then have them state what action step they think will help them answer this question. Examples:
    •  Read _____ section of the textbook about ____.  
    • Do an online search for _____ using the keyword search, "_______". 
    • Ask our team's peer tutor this question, _____, so that I can then ____. 
    • Request a workshop on the topic of _____ from the teacher.
  • Have students respond to a quick discussion post or daily warm-up using a prompt such as, "What would I like to spend time talking to my classmates about to help me understand this problem/question/task? Why... what will this help me to understand about my work?"
  • Ask students, teams of students, or the whole class, to identify the Topic they're uncertain of, a resource where they might find information about that topic, and take it one step further by having them outline characteristics that will determine the validity of the resource. Here's an example:

Resource (must be specific)
Validity of Resource
Causes for bees to be on the endangered species list
World Animal Protection
Contact number, person.
Summary of website.

The bottom line is this.... problem solving is difficult!!! If we are doing our job as educators... as architects of learning for our students... then we are not only designing problems and tasks for them to learn content, but we're creating opportunities for them to wonder! Wonder which option is best. Wonder which resource will provide the best response to the problem. Wonder if they are making informed decisions.  We're also designing support for our students along the way so it's not so scary. So they can tackle and monitor their own learning in a way that is strategic, weighs multiple options for finding a solution, and allows them to articulate what avenues they took to engage in their own learning. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go shave my head so I'm ready for next Sunday while you figure out how to support your student's ownership over their learning this week.

Peace, love, and chew on this...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

With Love, Your student....

Dear Teacher,

I know you're tired and a little bit stressed. I am too. We've been problem solving our way through class for the last seven and a half months...that's a lot of thinking and trying to hold people accountable for their work. Oh, and I saw your to-do list on the sticky notes on your desk the other day. No wonder you seem as excited for summer break as most of us are! 

I guess that's why it seems like a good time of year to say "thanks." Thank you for taking the time to build a relationship with me this year. I know it wasn't always easy, but the fact you believed in me and have guided me since August is pretty awesome. I hope you don't give up on me now either....especially because we're all so tired. Truth is, I need you now more than ever. I need your calmness, your ability to shrug off the small things, your redirection to the purpose behind our daily activities and conversations. I need to know your daily support for my learning and well being is intentional... that you still show up every day to make a difference in my life. Because you are. I promise you are. 

I know you're the one designing learning experiences for me, but if you're feeling overwhelmed, don't forget... you've taught me what responsibility looks like. With my own learning, with my classmates, with my technology, and with the role I play in our class. I love when you structure learning for us, but I love knowing you let me choose the method of learning that helps me accomplish tasks too. Maybe that causes more stress for you, not knowing what each of us would like to dive into, but I hope it brings you a sense of calm to know you've helped us realize how we learn best...and we can take some of those matters into our own hands now! What I do look forward to is knowing you're going to make every day count this last month of school...all the way up to our last day together before summer break. 

Speaking of summer break.... I know you built strong relationships with all the students in our class this year, so "thank you" for reaching out to my friends that AREN'T so excited about summer with some encouraging words and opportunities to participate in community activities. Some of my friends don't have a lot of food to eat at home or feel like anyone cares that they're home for a few months. I really appreciate you encouraging them with places to stay connected with others so they can enjoy their summer too. 

Anyway, I hope you know I think of you each day and hope you're taking time for yourself to breathe, find your inner strength, and rely on the strong relationships you've built with me and my classmates. It's been a great year so far, and I'm glad I can count on you to not give up on me and make sure that each day counts. 

With love,
Your student