I have so much trouble blogging. It’s never about making the time, or not having anything to say. I’ve said in this space before that it’s so difficult to frame the day to day reality of my inner city school, in this incredibly positive blogosphere. But over Winter Break, Bo Adams, on his thoughtful blog “It’s about Learning” wrote on December 30, 2013, a process post about homework. Bo asked for my feedback on his post, which I gladly offered and I’ve been reading the responses and thinking about the post ever since.
What got me thinking the most was and is that Bo uses his blog to think aloud, wonder, and ask questions. It’s clear to me that a blog ought to be used for just that purpose. But I’ve never done that. I’ve shared and wondered for sure, but I haven’t opened the doors to my practice, the struggles I face daily and the challenges I face in trying to move teaching and learning forward at our school.
So here goes; I’m giving it a shot. I’m hoping some of Bo's commenters will choose to respond to this post and continue the conversation we started over on It's About Learning, but this time for my context.
Bo framed an “Option 2” Homework assignment in his post. (Reprinted here with permission from Bo)
- EQ: What is beauty?
- Observe: As you go through the next 10 days, record in your observation journal instances of your thinking related to our current priority essential question. If appropriate and responsible, take pictures of things you find beautiful and make some notes about why. Ask others what they think, too. Because we are near the beginning of this experience together, I can suggest that the VTR (visible thinking routine) “See, Think, Wonder” might be one way to frame your ethnography notes. Of course, you can devise your own strategy (and you’ll be asked to do this more and more as you practice your Innovators DNA skills); if I, or some other mentor/peer, can help with your observation-strategy plan, let me/them know. Ask questions. We’ll share and review our “Game Plans” and “Gantt Charts” in two days, so we can see various strategies and plans.
- Record the questions that arise for you as you detail your observations. I don’t want to overly constrain your thinking by suggesting specifics now, but let someone know if you feel yourself in some unresolved struggle about “What kinds of questions should be arising for me?”
- In relation to your subject-organized classes, tag at least some of your questions by the department name(s) for which those questions seem particularly connected. For example, “What percentage of the population finds this painting beautiful?” might suggest a “Math” tag for a statistics portion of your emerging project.
- Of course, you’ll be experimenting with your observation-strategy plan.
- Also, use your observation notes to scan for trends and patterns. What hypotheses on beauty seem to emerge for you? Begin to outline – in big-picture terms – the experimental methods you might use to test your hypotheses. If it helps, pretend you are on staff with Myth Busters, like we’ve talked about during our f2f time together.
- Network & Associate:
- Suggestion 1 (if needed) – read and comment on the observation-journal entries posted by some of the others in this learning cohort.
- Suggestion 2 (if needed) – find connections in your independent reading and link to nodes in your learning web on this EQ.
- What are your suggestions regarding networking and associating with this EQ?
I love the assignment, and agree wholeheartedly that this is the type of meaningful, thoughtful, and purposeful work I’d like our Design Lab students to be doing.
Our Current Reality:
Here’s a worksheet that one of our teachers assigned before break. It’s not an example of every assignment we give; there are certainly instances of dynamic teaching and learning. But it isn’t an outlier assignment either. We give this assignment, and others like it to 16 year olds at our school all the time. This is both an example of class work and an example of homework.
We need to move our instructional practices from the lessons that lead to this worksheet to the lessons that result in Bo's assignment. Some of my teachers are willing to take the necessary steps. Others are unsure if instructional changes need to occur, and if they must occur, what those changes ought to be. I’m not sure how many steps there are between where we are and where we need to be; but it’s a lot. I have a great staff. They care about kids, they want students to learn. Where we are pedagogically is simply our starting point.
Many of the conversations I see and experience on twitter are about who should be leading learning in a school. Should teachers lead learning? Should the principal? I see conversations about trusting adults and students and conversations about everyone’s potential. Here’s our reality; We don’t have a team of people to support our efforts to improve teaching and learning at our school. We don't have a Curriculum Leader, a Chief Innovation Officer, or even Lead Teachers. I drive the instructional agenda because I have the most experience with what instructional can and should look like in school to support meaningful student learning. We need change to occur. But that's hard to do when my team doesn't always know what change should look and feel like. It’s hard to get to “Option 2” when my teachers have never been in a school, where “Option 2” is considered.
I’d love some suggestions about what you would do first, and then next, and again after that. So blogosphere...please help me to think this through. Help me set the professional learning agenda. The goal is the consistent implementation of homework assignments like Bo’s exemplar. The starting point is the worksheet above.
What are Steps 1,2, and 3, and 17? How do you build instructional practices, culture and belief towards wanting to give assignments like Bo’s Option 2?
What would you do to support both teacher and student learning if you were headed to our school on Monday?