5 Tools for Student-Driven Learning

So, you’ve heard about student agency or student-driven learning, and possibly the same thing under some other awesome buzzword :-).  The idea of learners taking charge of, and feeling responsible for their learning is yet to challenge any teacher I’ve spoken to. But there are issues. The problem lies in three common questions:

  1. Are all children capable of driving their own learning?
  2. What’s the role of the teacher?
  3. How do I start?

So we need to consider what this looks like in all contexts. I can confirm that it does apply in all situations but is only successful if the teachers know their role and they equip students with the tools to, and practice in driving their own learning. So I thought I’d produce a simple template for teachers to use to develop their student-driven learning. I’ve written before about the most difficult part in this process being the shifting of both teacher and student mindsets. It requires an open mind in regards to the purpose of school and the idea that maybe existing education approaches have failed to ready most teenagers for what the “real-world” has in-store … as if they don’t already exist as citizens in the real world already!

Learning to drive

7207654634_f50c6446bf_zWhen people seem pessimistic towards student-driven learning, I often find myself making the ironic conversational segue to “learning to drive.” Even the most conservative teacher or parent accepts that to learn to drive a car, people have to drive a car! Even one’s first driving lesson includes making the car go forward yourself. Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we do in life and yet we still don’t hesitate to place 16-year-olds immediately behind the wheel if we expect them to cope on the road after lessons. It’s the role of the driving instructor we need to consider. The instructor’s role (sometimes carried out less than successfully by parents) is to ensure the learner will be able to drive without them. This seems like an obvious and sensible approach, so why do most schools still take the opposite approach to learning other things? After 13 years of education, most 18-year-olds are still being coached by their teacher, point-by-point in preparing for assessments. The classroom might be the primary vehicle for learning but teachers must start letting students drive the vehicle if they expect them to cope without their direct instruction.

Tools for learning

The first thing needed is learners equiped to learn. To learn anything, one needs to be immersed in an authentic situation as possible, be making decisions and learning from them, aware of all options available, including time and collaborators, and measuring success and planning next steps. For example, this is exactly how I learnt to both blog at the age of 35 and skateboard at the age of 12. In a world that prioritises one’s ability to adapt and relearn, the new role for teachers is equipping students with the tools, experience, and thus confidence to take charge of their own learning.

This includes tools that allow the learners to:

  1. Think deeply (time – discussion)
  2. Set goals/purpose and choose/locate resources (people/info)
  3. Organise workflow (What to do 1st/2nd/3rd)
  4. Measure current success (Designing assessment matrix)
  5. Plan next steps (What to develop / move on from)

Here’s my infographic for learning tools:
learning-tools-eduwells

 

 

Teachers need to equip students to quickly point to the tools they use to:

  • Know what to tighten / do next (What’s my adjustable spanner?)
    • Design thinking is a good example of this.
  • measure current success (What’s my tape measure?)
    • co-constructed assessment matrix are good for this
  • Decide from a range of outcome / output options (What’s my paintbrush?)
    • Presented in class, published to the world, connected to community?
  • manage time and resources (What’s my stopwatch?)
    • Project management apps and negotiated timetables can help students feel responsible for time and resources.
  • communicate and connect with people inside and outside the classroom. (Where’s the conversation?)
    • The professional use of social media is still alien to most classrooms.

A teacher’s new script

The primary tool in developing student-driven learning, while also helping to change the mindset towards learning for all involved is a new script for teachers. This is the part that I personally found difficult. Despite discussing it for decades, thousands of teachers still struggle with switching from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” To be a successful guide or mentor, you have to use a different script from that of a teacher. How teachers communicate with students can define who feels responsible for the learning, so choose your words carefully. Any questions to students need to emphasise their responsibility for progressing further. The conversations need to be learning focused rather than topic focused and expect further thinking. Here are just some examples:

  • move from “What are you doing?” to “Why are you doing this?” or “Why is this the priority at the moment?”
  • move from “how’s it going?” to “What do you need to improve so far?” or “How do you know you’re on track?”
  • move from “Are you finished?” to “What might this lead to next?” or “Who could this project or information have an impact on?”
  • move from “Do you understand that topic X is ABC?” to “How do you know you understand that topic X is?”

Questions must demand specific, quantifiable answers from learners who show an obvious sense of responsibility for the activity. This can’t be achieved if the ground work isn’t done by teachers to equip the students with the learning tools, skills and most importantly, the expectations that they can drive their own learning.

 

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The “WHY” Guide to #Edchat topics

Although many educational models and pedagogies can seem like a conveyer belt of fads sometimes, many of them at least focus on one or two key educational concerns. Regardless of whether you think it a passing fad, many of them have an aim that you should know about and be considering as a teacher in the 21st Century. I must admit though, as busy teachers, it is understandable that to fully implement a number of them is unrealistic. So here’s my summary of the key take-aways from each model that you should aim to implement in your teaching. (Click for larger version)

EduWells WHY Guide to edChat

WHY FLIPPED TEACHING?

OLD FLIPPEDIt’s not about lessons becoming homework. Flipped teaching solves all of the traditional complaints teachers have when teaching traditionally (Chalk & talk), such as:

  • I don’t have enough face-to-face and/or practical time in the classroom
  • I struggle to get through all the content
  • Students just don’t listen or are distracted by others or are away too often.
  • I wish I had time to stretch my more gifted students
    Here’s my post on Flipped Teaching.

WHY BLENDED LEARNING?

You might be against all this staring at screens but learning must involve digital if it is to prepare young people to be productive in the 21st Century. But digital does not allow students to practice all skills. Real-world collaboration and debate are also survival skills in a successful future. Don’t do the work for them! The students must practice balancing and selecting the appropriate tools, digital or not for a task. At the end of the day though, a good balance is the way of the world.

WHY SAMR?

i4S SAMR MindsetThere is some confusion over SAMR but it does make teachers reflect on the impact tech is having in their classroom. It encourages good conversations about pedagogy rather than being focused on tech for tech’s sake. My advice is allow the students to experiment and introduce you to new approaches. SAMR challenges teachers to push tech to do more for students. It also encourages tech use towards connecting and collaborating rather than just regurgitation and helps teachers to move forward with pedagogy.
Here’s my post on SAMR.

WHY UDL?

I am happy to raise my hand and admit my guilt about not planning well enough to consider individuals in my class who have specific extra learning challenges and obstacles. Anything from a sever disability to simple a lack of social confidence. Too many teachers plan whole units and lessons just for the “average” student Universal Design for learning asks you to start your planning with those with the greatest needs on the basis the others will cope. ensure your room has multiple options for accessing the learning and that you become aware of the extra aides available inside various technologies you have. Offer the required variety of media so all can access the learning.
Here’s more info on UDL.

WHY PROJECT-BASED LEARNING?

i4S PBL AppsThe world operates in teams whilst most students don’t. Project-based learning prepares students more for productive social interaction and team skills. An emphasis for presenting to external clients or experts adds a real edge and accountability to learning. PBL improves the scope for genuine community connections and authentic learning. It can also add a much needed purpose to schooling, often missing in the normal abstract content teacher delivery.
Here’s my post on PBL.

WHY CONNECTED LEARNING?

i4S-The Connected Class ChallengeThe internet and improved access through BYOD means that learning that encourages wider connections Inspires young people to make a real contribution to the world. They are not learning to be citizens, they are citizens NOW! Offers new perspectives & live learning, not available in an isolated classroom. Encourages peer-to-peer support & independence, creating more definite life-long learners. Oh, and Skype Classroom is free !
Here’s my post on a connected classroom structure for the students to practice with.

WHY DESIGN THINKING? (My new Favourite)

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsDesign thinking can present a little like PBL but offers specific structure that has:

  • a bias towards action (How might we …)
  • a easy structured process for the classroom
  • a Focus on thinking, empathy and prototyping ideas immediately.
  • it also encourages input from all, on the basis that any suggestion might form part of the solution.
    Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

WHY SOLO TAXONOMY?

In New Zealand, our national high school assessment is based around SOLO. We grade our students on their depth of thinking more that their ability to regurgitate the ‘right’ answer. Solo helps student consider their depth of understanding on any topic. It has a focus on the relationships between topics and themes to enhance learning rather than just the isolated topics themselves. Solo aims for students to show understandings by moving content into other contexts or from other perspectives.

Here’s my Star Wars Solo taxonomy Poster:

 

HAN SOLO Taxonomy vs RON-Eduwells

Redesign your teaching year with just the key take-aways

I do hope this has helped some busy teachers, who haven’t had the time to look into these models. I also hope it might have some teachers reconsider elements in their teaching that require a little more attention.

Design Thinking in the Classroom

Design thinking is a powerful tool to really get your students thinking about and tackling a problem or topic at a much deeper level. It is a structured task that focuses on giving considerable time to thinking about and empathising with the people within the situation (Target audience or client), designing and prototyping a possible solution that is immediately challenged in order to improve it. It is used much in business and the design industry but can be used as a general classroom task within any subject area. It also gets students to work quickly without much introduction.

Design thinking promotes creative thinking, team work, and student responsibility for learning.

Design Thinking - EduWells

It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking; starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. This keeps minds open to multiple solutions.

The core rules behind Design Thinking:

  1. The Human Rule: All Design Activity Is Ultimately Social in Nature
  2. The Ambiguity Rule: Design Thinkers Must Preserve Ambiguity
  3. The Re-design Rule: All Design Is Re-design
  4. The Tangibility Rule: Making Ideas Tangible Always Facilitates Communication

The infographic / poster above is a guide to a simplified version you can use in your classroom. This version can be carried out in an hour, over a week, or even longer.

This versions splits the task into 5 key stages. It’s good to set fixed time frames for each of these stages and for their sub stages.

1. Goal Setting (Whole Class)

How Might WeHOW MIGHT WE DESIGN / ACTION WHAT AND FOR WHOM IN ORDER TO CHANGE SOMETHING?

The first stage is to devise an atoll goal to improve something. This is best started with 3 key words: “How might we …” Starting this way can have a powerful effect on successful classroom engagement. “How” is a word that has a bias towards action. It implied the something is to be done. “Might” acts as a safety blanket as it offers the students the freedom to fail. This ensures tham more are likely to give it a go. “We” pushes the collective responsibility and collaborative aspect meaning nobody will be alone. It also removes the classroom hierarchy, bringing the teacher onto the same level as learner alongside the students.

During this goal setting stage it is important to select as a class:

  • WHAT” = An object – E.g. App, Gadget, Speech, Toy, Campaign, Website etc.
  • WHOM” = A Specific Client/target – E.g playground users, garbage droppers etc.
  • CHANGE” = A better world – E.g. Target result, Improved situation,

Examples:

As an extra idea, I have considered it even as a fun theoretical teaching task such as:

  • How might an iPad app have helped George Washington win the War of independence in half the time?

There’s nothing to stop posting up a number of big ideas or challenges for teams to pick from but ensure the students have been part of formulating them.

2. Thinking – Individual then Group

Think DTDecide on an amount of time that students will individually think around the topic. This personal thinking space is important for letting quiet, reflective and deeper thinking take place to start the process off. This might only be 5 or 10 minutes but means more will come to the table when the group starts discussions.

The individual thoughts are then brought to the group. I recommend groups of 3 or 4 as bigger than this can become less manageable for the students.
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3. Empathise

a) Facts  b) Opinions  c) Interactions

EmpathiseThis is the crucial stage where considering the people and situation that the solution will be dealing with is broken down into 3 stages to help the students allow for as fuller picture as possible. These 3 stages might take anything from 10 to 30 minutes.

  • First the Profile the target as a list of facts. What do they do? What do they have? What are we dealing with physically?
  • Second they imagine or research all the typical opinions and feelings that the solution will have to allow for.
  • Thirdly they consider all the connections within the situation. Who talks to who? Who shares things with who? Who or what competing with what or who?

By the end of this stage, the students will have done far more genuine thinking about the situation than they might have done if asked to just “research the situation.”

4. Solution Design – “Ideate”

ideateA minimum of 20 minutes is now needed for the group to dream up a solution. The important emphasis here is that no idea should be squashed too quickly. Let the students dream up ideas that may or may not be possible and allow the discussion and challenge evolve. The point of this whole process is for all possibilities to surface and be challenged. Sometimes the craziest idea can lead to successful divergent solutions.

App and gadget design can be applied to most situations and the fact that the students may or may not be able to make the final product should’t matter and allows them to focus on the needs that the product meets.
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5. Prototype Critique – Feedback & Improve

PrototypeThis stage simultaneously develops multiple skills whilst also encouraging a more optimistic growth-mindset as teams present and challenge each other. The emphasis here must be on growing ideas and not judgements. One thing I would highlight to students is that designers and problem solvers always seek advice and feedback and so can use and appreciate anything that gets fed back to them.

Even after good thinking and empathising stages, there’s always a number of “what ifs” that any team will not have thought of. This also highlights to all students that there’s always another view and this feedback loop is key to any significant success that will last. Just keep asking why? why? why?

 

Which apps help with Design Thinking?

Essentially, the apps that help design thinking are those that allow students to collaborate around their ideas and  creative output. Here’s a few to help.

post-itSecrative can be used to canvas the class for foreseen problems to be solved and once target problems are chosen, it can then ask students to submit How might we… questions to frame the task around.

Nearpod can also be used to collate the class ideas for problems.

Post-It Plus amazingly allows an individual’s real Post-its be captured by camera and shared as digital post-its with the group. You can even edit the digital copies!
Here’s a review.

Drawp is another great collaborative system and app for class activities.

Talkboard is an instant and free collaborative drawing board for the group to scribble down ideas on. Might need a stylus to get the best from this.

Prezzi can be used to present a plan.

 

Design Think Links and Info

NoTosh are a key organisation pushing Design Thinking in education. Great info and resources.

Stanford Uni have produced a whole crash course in Design Thinking!