The Difference

Martin GommelI think for as long as teaching has existed, there’s likely always been “that” teacher. You know the one. The one riding out the last couple of years until retirement arrives.  None of his students are really receiving the education they deserve, but nobody says much.

Except, this year, my 12 year daughter has “that” teacher. The teacher who yells. And intimidates. And does little.  Then throw in all of the middle school drama, and you get a horrible first 4 months of school. The difference now, however, is that riding out ones’ time can be veiled with the guise of “collaborative, student-directedlearning”, which is what the curriculum advocates. Right?

Not so much. Inquiry, student-driven learning, personalized learning, whatever you’d like to call it doesn’t leave kids in the dark. It doesn’t let kids flounder and flail in an immense sea of confusion and lack of instruction. Instead, it guides and supports students so they can become strong, self-directed learners.

I’m often asked how this is accomplished. How does a teacher start? Start with one subject, and keep in mind that you’re using content to teach skills. I start with new learners in a tightly designed and defined learning environment.

When we start learning about a topic, I provide my student with a number of curated resources of different media: a video, a podcast, and an article or two, and tell my students they can learn in any way they want. By doing this my students begin to get a feel for how they learn, while learning some of the background information they may need. Do they need to hear it or see it? Do they need to read it? Do they need to take hand written notes or can they type? I also talk about my own learning. I prefer to read things, but I also learn well if I hear something and write it down. I have to physically write it. Typing doesn’t work. No idea why.

I then begin to give my students tools to research and to bookmark.  If there’s one essential question they’re answering they can choose their area of interest. For example, if the question is how has the Roman Empire impacted today’s world?, they can choose any one of a large number of things based on their interest.  I provide tools to allow them to curate their research, my favourite being OneNote, but I’ll write a whole post on that.

Finally, the first time we do this, I give them 3 options in how they can show their learning. That’s it. If they have a different way, that’s great, they can come talk to me and we’ll discuss their choice. But limiting choice in the beginning is important for students, so they don’t become overwhelmed, which is easy depending on the student and their age. Even high school students can become easily overwhelmed, if they’ve been spoon-fed everything.

Personalized learning is never a free-for-all. Ever.  Over the next couple of weeks I’ll write a number of posts talking about how I’ve personally designed learning environments so that students are equipped with the skills they need to take on more and more responsibility for their learning — allowing them to passionately pursue their interests, while meeting curricular requirements. It takes a lot of thought to create this type of environment, but our students are better off for it.



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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7 Responses to The Difference

  1. Thanks for another great post, Shelley. I completely agree. The phrase that I always keep in mind is that “A river needs banks to flow.” The banks are well-designed experiences and guidance and the flow is student inquiry.

  2. Rosalind Witcher says:

    What ideas do you have for classrooms lacking technology in urban areas? Any suggestions? Most students have little prior knowledge so I must provide ways for them to obtain information. Our district currently uses the GRR Model for classroom instruction.

  3. howard zugman says:

    Another excellent post. Happy New Year.

    BTW, How did your experience with work out?

  4. howard zugman says:

    Glad to hear about Kiva. Are you on a Kiva team other than “Wrightsroom”? If so I may want to join it (or them). I meet with the Kiva HQ team in SF several times a year. If you have any questions or comments for them I’d be glad to pass them on. My next planned visit to Kiva will be on FRI JAN 27th.

  5. Matthew says:

    This was much more practical than most posts (or books, or other materials) I’ve seen on PBL – very helpful. I look forward to seeing more of this series! Thank you.

  6. Margaret Simkin says:

    It always concerns me when teachers who are not functioning well are labelled – in this case you refer to those nearing retirement. Yes, I am older. I have been teaching for along time. I am not stuck in a rut, nor am I waiting for it all to end. By all means talk about teachers who are not active and do not maintain currency – but don’t put it down to nearing retirement. I can name some graduates who have not been focussed on education.
    I am currently listening to your TED talk on the power of student driven learning and I could not agree more heartily!

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