As I teach my class, The Raven Innovation Lab (ROHS iTeam), I find many similarities that overlap with my own day-to-day activities on the job. I am tasking these students to be collaborative and team together in productive ways. What does that look like? How do we do that in order to get a result that meets their goals? How do we know we were successful? What are the success indicators? Then, of course, students have to practice effective communication skills- giving everyone a space to voice their perspective and making sure each member is heard. Practicing Empathy. Mindfulness. Understanding that 'failing forward' is ok, there may not be a "right" answer (there rarely is) and there aren't many careers in which you aren't managing multiple projects at once. We are working on many of the Approaches to Learning Skills. Honestly, by the act of just teaching, we are utilizing the Approaches to Learning Skills (at least some of them). However, I have to constantly remind myself to explicitly teach them to students and essentially tell myself to 'slow down.' It may be silly, but since I'm visual, I need visual reminders. I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example. The things I ask of my students are the things I am constantly working on as well. Some of them will come naturally, but others I know I need to work on.
I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example.
The Raven Innovation Lab is built on the foundation of Design Thinking. It's actually a big connector to design, engineering, science, and quite honestly I can make a case for its connection into every course that targets project based learning (PBL) in some way. It's a process, and in part, it's really a thinking process. I'm not educating students on memorizing the steps. I am educating them on intuitively navigating through problems and finding solutions. Would you say that all teachers do this? I totally would! As an instructional coach that moves around the PLC circuit, I am finding that we all have a different language. Why is that? This may be my own naivete, but why is 'thinking like a scientist' different than 'thinking like a writer,' or engineer, designer, artist, mathematician? The piece of the ATLs that I love is that it gets us to develop a common language. I started with the basis of Design Thinking because it's a cycle that I personally go through with all of the projects and problems I encounter, either at work or in my personal life.
So for example, when sitting down with a teacher I use empathy. I am trying to see what their needs are. Look at things from their perspective. Then we have to define the problem and set goals. Ideate and come up with a plan. The two of us may have to prototype items (this can look so many different ways if you are not linear about your definition of prototyping.) Then you test it out and fully implement to affect change and reach the goals. What happens if it doesn't work? Do we pack up and go home? Or continue doing something that doesn't work? Nope. :) It's back to the drawing boards! To me, this is the exciting part about teaching. It's not about perfection or the 'right way.' There are so many ways...
It's not about perfection or the 'right way'. There are so many ways...
I said previously in this post that I need to slow down and explicitly teach some of the ATL skills. I would like for the big area of focus for the iTeam to be reflection. I think reflection is a huge part of learning and it's something I do every single day. I would like to think that I do a decent job about leading by example with regards to reflection. As I'm writing this blog post, I am hoping that my students are also reflecting on their week and their learning. I can't ask students to be reflective learners without being one myself.
Now with that said, as I continue reading my students' blog posts, I am realizing they are giving me a recap of what happened in class. A rather surface level response to 'get points' or fulfill the requirement. That to me says, I didn't do a great job modeling and teaching what reflection is. I should preface, there isn't a right or wrong way to reflect. However, I do want them to go deeper and think deeper on their process. So maybe I should rephrase: I didn't do a great job at modeling and teaching the depth of reflection I was looking for. As I look at the list of ATL skill indicators under reflection skills I can't help but think- 'Man, why didn't I start off using some visible thinking routines?!?' This would have helped us develop a routine and also an understanding of the level of reflection I would be looking for on the blog. I think I may just slow down... be flexible... and change it up... possibly tomorrow. :)
The design process I am asking students to go through is challenging for them. Mostly it's because they have to team and direct their own learning in some way. When asked to select a problem and address it with the given resources I was met with, "This is hard! If you give me the problem I could solve it." Yes, they totally could. We have students who are excellent writers, readers, designers, etc. In public education we give them many things and sometimes I think we forget that frustration and failure is not bad. They have to work through it. My philosophy professor would always tell me, "Alyssa, frustration means you're learning. You're stretching your mind." I can tell you that every time I left his class, my brain was entirely stretched and I didn't always feel awesome about it. Thanks Chris Bocklage!
As we move into the marking period, the students are working on multiple projects at one time. Again, they are having a tough time because they aren't sure how to navigate and balance these projects even though we have gone through multiple smaller scale projects which modeled the various steps and approaches. The format for the course is structured, but not in the way that I give them a task in which I already know the end result. The hard part for them is honestly the scary part for me... I have no clue how it will turn out. But what I do know is there is going to be a lot of learning forward and failing forward.
Beyond the Design Thinking approach, I want the students to start working on skills they will be able to use in the real world. Being balanced (LP characteristic) and managing workload (ATLs) is a real life skill. I am not asking students to do something that I am not doing myself. Students see that I am constantly juggling several projects at once. From being someone who addresses inquiries to working on building goals with teachers. It's a lot of work. Good work. I'm passionate about building relationships and helping to provide rich experiences for students. As I am leading by example in my efforts to try to be balanced and project manage... I am hoping that they see something more important than being efficient at balancing and managing tasks. I hope that they are developing an understanding that the work becomes more meaningful when you are passionate about it. Because when you love what you do and are doing real meaningful work it gives you a different perspective. The job becomes less of a 9-5 and more of a piece of who you are.
I know I only highlighted some of the skills in which I am either indirectly or directly modeling for students that come naturally to me. There are many that don't come naturally for me. I am deeply aware that there are many things I need to work on. I know I will have to dedicate extra space and time to work through those. Maybe I'll talk about those in another post. :)
I will leave you with a few questions to reflect on:
It has been so long since I've blogged. I'm trying to make it a goal of mine to blog regularly because I think it's good to reflect on practices, update everyone on what's happening in the building and hopefully promote an online community.
I really can't even believe we are back to school already. Summer just flew by! We started off on our first day by setting the stage for the rest of the year. The IB Team decided that our focus would be on the IB Approaches to Learning or ATLs. The plan is to thread this theme throughout the late start PDs. This will help with consistency and it will give groups a focus for the year.
One thing to remember about the Approaches to Learning is that there are 5 skill categories, 10 skill clusters, and over a 100 skill indicators. These DO NOT have to be covered all by one teacher or department. We will collectively be covering these as a building. I'm confident that these are all skills that we are promoting and teaching every single day. The only change is that we collectively and collaboratively need to work on teaching these skills more explicitly.
"They are not an add on to the curriculum, but are an integral part of assisting student achievement in each subject." - Diane Mckenzie
It's hard to do things differently. Especially if you're in the teacher groove. Some of you may know that I have taught at all levels in this district. I'm not a stranger to switching roles and taking on new challenges.
When I first started at the high school, I just came from the elementary. I was laid off from my Response to Intervention role at Keller and Oakland and was fortunate enough to be called back to teach Visual Arts at Northwood and Addams. In late August, there was a last minute change and I was moved to ROHS. To be honest, that was the BEST move for me. I always wanted to teach at the high school level and now I finally was getting the chance. I learned a lot in the first three years teaching Graphic Comm, Visual Imaging, and Web Design. But if I could go back and change one thing about how I taught those first three years at ROHS... I would change my assumption that students come 'knowing' certain things and they automatically come with certain skills.
I found myself assuming many things. I assumed that since they were 16, 17, and 18 and that they knew how to save files. They knew how to self-manage. They knew how to submit work. They knew how to team. They knew.... Why did I think that? Well, of course, because I told them to do it. Duh. :) Now being in my 10th year of teaching (Yeah, IKR? Crazy) and my 7th different teaching assignment, I realize that telling and teaching are very different. We all know this, but it's really easy to get into the 'telling slump.' Teachers provide opportunities for learning. They create experiences where students can problem-solve, ask questions, and think deeper. Sometimes this is a good reminder. I'm actually reminded again, now that I'm writing this.
It's really easy to get into the 'telling slump'
It wasn't until I was given a Web Design class that I fully realized that I had to change my instruction. I had never taught Web Design. I'm not going to lie... I was scared. Coding is not one of those things that you can just teach off the cuff. Well, at least I can't. Those who know me, know that I'm a perfectionist. I have a plan. I'm organized. I wasn't a stranger to writing curriculum. Creating something from nothing is my specialty, but... teaching another language to students? Rut Roh! I realized that I was in a 'telling slump'. I mean, don't get me wrong, I had great moments of awesome teaching. The moments in which you leave at the end of the day and think, "Man. That went sooooo good!" I had to take what I learned from my elementary colleagues and differentiate like crazy. Technology classes are difficult because there isn't a large group that has the same ability level or even close to the same with some outliers. They are allllllll over the place. This combined with constant student absences... (It's really the same story for all classes) what do you do? Well, I know what I had to do. Change.
I had to model like mad, create video tutorials, create different leveled projects and assignments, and have student teams. While one group was working on one task and the other group working on another task, I was able to pull students that needed more one-on-one instruction. Organized Chaos. This. Was. Not. Easy. BUT it felt soooo good. I walked out of work more days thinking, "Man. Today was soooo good!" And whenever that happens... I feel like it's a win.
My own story hopefully highlights the idea that sometimes we have to slow down. Be cognizant of the telling slump and find ways to explicitly teach the skills that students will no doubt use the rest of their lives. As we move into our Approaches to Learning journey this year, take a moment to reflect. Are there times in which you could take a couple extra minutes to explicitly teach skills? Are there things you assume students know already? Do you need help? If so, reach out. We are all in this together. :)