More Questions than Answers

Our semester is  a week away from ending, and I have more questions than answers.  Personally, I don’t  think this is a bad place to be.  I love a mystery and a challenge.  In fact, the kind of learning I’m currently experiencing, is the kind of learning I’m hoping to inspire and create for my students.

In many areas, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth in my students. When we started this new way of “doing” school, my students struggled with working as a collaborative team.  Even when placed in a team, it didn’t occur to them to work as one.  Now when we begin a unit, they automatically collect as a team, confer, divide tasks, provide feedback, and occasionally help one another.

My students have taken a number of the technology tools they’ve learned in this class, and are using them for other classes.  They use Google Docs for assignments in other classes, without being told to do so.  Some even use it to organize areas of their lives outside of school.  To me, this is learning.

However, in some areas, there is still a long way to go.

For our last unit, on evolution, my students did their research in subject-alike groups, and are now teaching it to the class as a whole.  Some students have done a great job teaching the class; many have been painful.  For me, it has been a real eye-opener.

I’m left wondering how do my students learn to teach each other?  What’s the best way to facilitate this process? Of course, I’m assuming this is a skill that everyone can learn, at least somewhat proficiently.  And to be honest, I think it’s a skill everyone should have.  Consequently, I’m planning to take an independent study course this summer, as part of my masters degree, based around collaborative learning.

It would be easier, of course, if  students started learning it much earlier, such as Kindergarten or grade one.  Imagine what our pre-service teachers would be like after having spent 12 years honing this skill during their schooling.

But in addition to this, my students struggle with taking a paragraph or two of information and condensing it to the essential point.  This is an important skill, not only for science.  The thing is, I know we teach this skill to them in English, in a slightly different variation.  Often they summarize a chapter into a paragraph.  But this must not be quite the same skill, or a variation that requires more sharpness.

Consequently, my students, more than once over the past two days, have looked at me, after one of their peers has given multiple paragraphs of information, and said, “so what is it we need to know?”  And because of lack of time, I give them the one or two sentences they need.  But here is where I’ve noticed a change in myself.  Instead of assuming that this is simply what a teacher does, I see it as being necessary, at this point in time, but not learning at its finest.  One day, I hope to never hear this sentence again from my students.

This semester I’ve become deeply aware of the abilities of my students.  When content isn’t the sole basis for your class anymore, the skills that your students are lacking become evident.   But the number of skills my students have strengthened and have begun to acquire over the past three months are a cause for celebration.  I’ve been surprised at how much they want to learn, and how often they know what they need. Yesterday, when I watched the video that Dean Shareski created of our classroom, I felt incredible pride for how hard they have worked and all they’ve learned.

And while the learning curve has been steep, I wouldn’t change a minute of it.  It has been the most important semester I’ve ever had as a teacher.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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9 Responses to More Questions than Answers

  1. Truly inspirational Shelley
    Thank you for sharing your learning journey with a wider educational audience. I’ll be sharing this with the teachers in our grad cohorts and encouraging them to join the conversation.
    Yours,
    Tom

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  3. Nicola Kuhn says:

    Shelley,
    Just watched your video as it was brought to my attention through the Innovative Educator’s blog (congratulations!). You are providing your students with the skills that will serve them well in their futures. Learning how to learn is key and you have used technology to enhance learning and not simply as a tool. Our biology teacher works along similar lines and you may want to check out her blog: http://www.rssbiology12.blogspot.com/
    Looking forward to hearing more through your posts.
    Nicola Kuhn
    http://www.rosslandsecondarylibrary.blogspot.com

  4. Pingback: Thoughts on Learning to Learn - Edu Tech Geek

  5. Ron Houtman says:

    Shelley – I appreciate you inviting Dean Shareski to share your thoughts and create the video. I too have some of the same questions and struggles about turning the classroom into a inquiry-based laboratory versus the direct-lecture fact and figure transmission model, and posted some thoughts on my blog about the video as well.

    At the end of the day, we have to demonstrate that our kids are meeting grade level content expectations and growing as they progress. I wonder if you can say a few words about what you have observed regarding achievement in your kids? If you could compare how the kids using the inquiry model you use now are doing better (subjective word-I know) than kids from past years when you did more direct instruction?

    • Actually, it was Dean’s idea to make it! It didn’t occur to me that we were doing anything that spectacular.

      I’ve found, using this model, that my students learn more. I see it not only in their marks, but also in how competent and confident they’ve become discussing the material they’ve learned. They’re able to help one another, and they love the opportunity to apply the knowledge they’ve learned.

      After our second unit that involved my students learning this way, the class average for our exam was 92%. I was shocked. Usually the class average for exams is high 50′s, low 60′s.

  6. Ms. Wright, I saw Dean’s video yesterday and it was very encouraging. I work in the tech department of a boarding school and have been trying to market our local install of WordPress multisite as a learning tool (http://kua.press.kua.org). It feels like an uphill battle most of the time. So good to know some teachers get it.

    • That’s a great looking site. I’d like to have something like that for my classes next year. I think many of us have the experience of it being an uphill battle. I’m just thankful that there are more and more of us joining the ranks all the time.

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