A new way

Yesterday I did something crazy.  Instead of teaching the lesson I had planned for CE 10, I ditched it.  Yep, ditched it.  Highly unusual for me.  I do not fly by the seat of my pants; I always know where I’m going.  Always. But instead, I asked them, “If you could create your own CE course, what would it look like content-wise, in practice, even in spatial lay-out?”

They wrote.  And wrote. And wrote.  I have never seen students write as furiously as my students wrote during those 20 minutes.  Then they got into groups of 3 or 4 and discussed and bounced their ideas off of one another.  They laughed.  They were animated.  One girl looked at her friend and said, “This is so exciting!” 

Then we shared as a class.  And I wasn’t exceptionally shocked by what they had to say. They know.  They know what they want to learn, how they want to learn, and in some ways, what they need to learn.  And to the degree that I can, this is what our classroom is going to become.

Spatially, they’re tired of tables and chairs.  What about pillows and bean bag chairs?

Notes they don’t mind.  But they’d prefer fewer of them and more discussion. “Can we sit on the floor in a circle and discuss.  We want to hear each other’s ideas and opinions.”  They find this much more meaningful. Guest speakers would be great as well.  And maybe instead of me being so much of a teacher, I could be a wise guide they look up to, who helps them along the way.

And my students want to make a difference.  They want to research companies that pay fair wages and boycott those who do not.  They want to give up stuff like coffee and chocolate and buy only sustainable products.  One of my students spent 3 hours  researching last night. 

This morning we talked about spending weeks researching this stuff and then creating a wiki with it, so that others can learn from them.  We also talked about challenging other schools to join our boycott and become part of the six items or less campaign.  And about blogging all of this, so that others around the world can enter into and learn from their experience.  They’re excited; so am I.

All of this happened during the past 24 hours, then this evening I watched the Networked Student.   I was shocked because over the next two weeks my classroom is going to become like this.

We have no textbook.  And my students, to a certain degree will determine their own learning.  Obviously we have certain curricular standards that have to be met, but I honestly believe this way we’ll easily exceed the expectations.

 I will take on the role of teaching my students how to assess the credibility of resources, how to use Google Scholar, and then bookmark their findings to Delicious.  And they will begin to blog.  None of my students have blogged before.  But through these blogs they will not only be able to teach others what they are learning, they will also be able to reflect deeply.  They will also learn how to comment on each others blogs, as well as find blogs from around the world to interact with.

And i tunes U — Amazing!  I can’t wait to show my students the wealth of knowledge waiting at their fingertips.

Their final learning projects will likely include a class wiki, voice threads or photostories of what they’ve learned, blog pages, and possibly YouTube videos. With today’s technology, the possibilities are almost endless.

Yesterday when school began, my CE class was a normal classroom. Sometimes interesting, not completely ineffective, but not what I wanted it to be. Now it’s not. I don’t know where the path is going to lead us, but I would never go back.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Photograph courtesy of Creative Commons -Yellow Snow Photography

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. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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25 Responses to A new way

  1. steptul says:

    Great job, I have used some of your students’ ideas in my class. But it was used as short-time alternative to more typical routine. It works pretty well. May be it is time to adapt this style as a main dish ?
    Interesting video, although I think more attention should be paid to credibility of obtained information and knowledge testing.
    (I am thinking about my future doctor being trained this way…)

  2. Rod Murray says:

    “Spontaneity is the spice of organization” my camp co-director once said one summer when we changed plans at the last minute to suit the weather. You saw the need to change your lesson to meet the needs of your learners and went with it. That IS organization. And the results were powerful. Awesome!
    You touched on the need for a change in the physical space of your 21st century learners and Stepehen Heppel (http://www.heppell.net/), from the UK has been doing research on that. You may want to look around his site. Clearly, rows of desks are no longer going to meet the needs of students either.
    Keeping up with the ways our present students learning has changed over the last few years is important. Making the changes in our classrooms is even more important.

  3. wdrexler says:

    I was so excited for you and your students when I read this post, and not because you shared the Networked Student video. Your enthusiasm for your students’ learning comes through so clearly. In giving them more control over the learning process, you have greatly enhanced their experience and your own as a teacher. Isn’t it amazing what a powerful difference can take place with one small classroom experiment? I can’t wait to hear more. Welcome to the road less traveled!!! Enjoy the journey.

  4. Congratulations on being flexible!!!
    I look forward to reading more as your classroom is transformed this year, as your students talk with each other, as you share what they share, and as we all learn together.
    Your willingness to step away, to listen, to react, and to allow change is grand.
    Cannot wait to hear more.

  5. Susan Young says:

    Sounds so exciting! Way to go and wish I was there.

  6. I was very interested in hearing how your class progressed. Making the shift from a position of control and direction to one of relinquishing control and taking direction is a hard one. From your post I heard that your students were engaged in their learning, concerned about their learning environment and respected you as the facilitator of all that it can be. That is the best thing about making that shift! You will be allowing your learners to provide you with insights you may never have known and at the same time guiding them to the ultimate destination/outcomes of our your course. Congratulations on taking that risk, just imagine the impact you will have on future learners by making that change….

  7. Great post, and thanks for sharing this experience, Shelley.

    Most teachers are amazed when students show ability to define their own learning goals but, unfortunately, my own feeling is that not enough of them take the risk to allow this to happen.

    If we accept that an educator’s highest goal is to make themselves unnecessary, to wean their students away from the need to be ‘taught’, you have made major steps in fulfilling your role.


  8. courosa says:

    I echo these other comments, Shelley – great job, and I am so happy that you shared this experience with us! And, it makes me so happy to hear the positive reactions from your students.

    Great post, and thanks again!

  9. It takes courage to step away from the safety of our own plans and our control of the agenda. You’re an inspiration, Shelley. Thanks for sharing this. I could see last summer that you were an adventurer and a dedicated professional, and it’s great to see you growing like this.

  10. Wow – Great post! Congratulations on taking the risk and having it pay off with such great results. Imagine if we allowed our students this type of freedom on a regular basis. I love seeing and hearing about this type of student engagement.

    Thanks for sharing I look forward to seeing what they create.

  11. Stephen Rahn says:

    I love this: ”Can we sit on the floor in a circle and discuss. We want to hear each other’s ideas and opinions.”

    I work with teachers in north Georgia. I wish more of them would listen to the students when they ask for this type of learning.

  12. Chris Hale says:

    Your blog posting shows how teachers need to recognize the need to be flexible. Your plans for the class validate the students’ feelings about shcool and learning. I suspect that your plans for next few weeks will have greater impact because you have worked together to think about learning. I am especially interested in the use of Delicious and Google Scholar to to teach academic rigour and source integrity. I have started using Noodle Tools with my students in a cross-curricular project so that they can learn to be better students and learners.


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  14. Congratulations on inspiring your students to be so excited about their learning! I love when that happens. Asking your students what they would like to differently in their classes and with their learning is the first step to opening their minds to changing education. I wish that I would have approached my students from that perspective last year rather than springing my drastic changes on them, maybe the response would have been more enthusiastic, I will have to remind myself to approach change with that perspective from now on. Can’t wait to see how things go!

  15. Theresa Murray (@tamurray) says:

    I have also taken an idea and a plan and tossed it aside in order to run with a topic that had engaged my students. It can lead to a much deeper understanding of a topic and create interest. I have regularly asked my students for feedback during the year. I take their comments seriously and try to improve the class based upon this information. I like your idea and how much enthusiasm you have gained from this one experience.

    The sitting on the floor comment caught my attention. As a parent of a young man with a serious case of ADHD, I don’t expect my students to always be seating in their chair. I have an exercise ball in the room that gets used daily by my students, I also allow them to sit on the desks in the back of my room (gasp! my administration is not always thrilled with this) and I had a young lady ask to sit on the floor to take notes the other day (and yes, I just smiled and said if you really want to). I realize that not everyone can sit still.

    Thanks for sharing.

  16. byrnesa says:

    These are the types of things that need to be happening in our classrooms. Teaching to standardized tests obviously isn’t working for students or teachers. Education does have to change, but we need to move forward, not backward. With tools such as Skype, guest speakers from around the world are easily accessible. Imagine what students could learn from a guest speaker half-way around the world… a lot more than taking notes on the same subject!

    Students succeed when they know their teachers believe in them and care about them. It’s obvious from your blog post that you are an amazing, enthusiastic teacher that your students look up to and trust. I can’t wait to hear more about this project and may even try some of your strategies with my own middle years’ students tomorrow!

  17. Debbie S. says:

    I think you’ve stepped off of a cliff – and found wings to soar. Bravo!

  18. itjil says:

    Let me tell you, after the the discussions I’ve had with educators this week, I needed to know that there were still people who have a passion for educating their students in diverse ways. I grinned the whole time that I read your post because it reminded me of the one teacher I will never forget when I was a youngster. You are the teacher they will remember. We need more people like you to break down the classroom walls…if kids don’t want to sit in a desk, why do they have to?? I work better and learn better when I am comfortable, I imagine other people (including kids) are the same way. I just wrote a blog post about the unfortunate conversations I had this week. Please take a peek if you have a chance. http://itjil.blogspot.com

    • Thanks for the comment! I read your blog and agree with you on so many of your points. It’s really difficult when you’re surrounded by educators who do not see things the way you do. I think sometimes we can get so focused on content, rather than on kids and their needs. I love your statement, “kids should have input and they should have rights. We don’t give kids enough credit” Your absolutely right. My class last week really proved that!

  19. dianna831 says:

    Kudos to you for taking a risk and following your passion – making education interesting and challenging. Your students are very lucky.

  20. Pingback: Teachers Inspiring Teachers… « Angela's Blog

  21. Deirdre says:

    If learning is about developing skills for living in a future world, then teaching your students to research, explain, share, collaborate are much more valuable than learning fact X that could be outmoded in two years. Check out this view of curriculum http://www.engines4ed.org/

  22. Bill Gaskins says:

    This is awesome! I want to be in your class. You are a real teacher because you are willing to take a risk and go with your vision for teaching and learning. And thank you for sharing here so we can read and learn from you and inspire us.


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