I continue to rework the structure of my English 12 course. It’s been quite the transformation over the years and I am proud of how courageous and inspired my students have been throughout the process. I’ve adopted an entirely different pedagogical approach, become more proficient in using a myriad of web tools and technological devices, and revamped my assessment practice. I continue to look for ways to flip my classroom so students are empowered in their educational experience, are genuinely curious, and are well prepared for their future learning paths. I’ve made some tremendous strides and I’m excited with what the future has in store.
Never before have I been better able to meet the needs of the students in my classroom. In my eyes this is the largest factor in what keeps teachers doing what they’ve always done. Unable to see how they can meet the needs of one as they simultaneously meet the needs of all, personalized learning ends up as the “one off”, a single assignment within a semester rather than the fabric of the institution itself.
I have been increasingly curious as to how I can better support student led inquiry outside of the classroom. At times in their course work many of my students have no need to attend class other than to check in with me and show evidence of their learning (which, of course, doesn’t even require face to face contact). Let me provide some context. Recently my current English 12s completed their inquiry-based learning authentic project. Many of the driving questions that they formed took them outside of the school seeking out learning paths that couldn’t be achieved on campus. Ethan, great with his hands, a lover of the outdoors, and an automotive nut, states in his reflection of his IBL work:
“my driving question was ‘Has mechanical technology significantly changed in the past 40 years?’ I chose this question because I am quite interested in mechanical technology, and I also just happened to have a machine from 1971 that needed rebuilding, so I took on the task of rebuilding this machine with modern tools and parts to answer the question.”
Ethan spent hours upon hours researching and working on his Bazoo, an amphibious vehicle from the 1970s, that he hoped to rebuild and drive to school for his authentic piece.
Now I’m not the auto teacher at EHS and I have very little experience locating information on this incredibly unique topic. In fact my traditional “go to” databases EBSCO and World Book Online came up with zero hits. However Ethan knew exactly where to go. He knew precisely what forum he could post his queries in and sure enough within a few days he was communicating with other passionate mechanics, some professionals and some avid hobbyists, who had undertaken similar projects. Not only that, but there was no reason why Ethan needed to come to school when his project, his Bazoo, his tools, and his shop, were all at home. Sadly attending class became somewhat tortuous for Ethan because he just wanted to be at home learning.
Another student, ironically another Ethan, is an avid film maker and tech savvy wiz kid. For his driving question he asked “What is the definition of happiness?” His DQ took him outside of our school for two particular reasons. One, he needed to film at several different locations within the city. The vision he had for his authentic piece could not be achieved at EHS. Two, he wanted to access an expert to help support him in answering his DQ. We have no psychology teachers on staff and he saw this as a neat challenge. Ethan’s research led him to Royal Roads University and professor Dr. John Radford. Ethan contact Dr. Radford and set up a Skype session to hopefully get the support he needed. Have a look at the final video, Skype interview included, below.
These are just two examples of many that illustrate how at times the traditional school structure is not necessary and can hinder student learning.
And now for the excitement of the coming months: I am in the midst of structuring a multi-access English 12 course. Having spent a little bit of time researching and evaluating various models (Royce K Kimmons, John Buckley Hamilton and Richard E West, Trey Martindale and Michael Dowdy) I have to admit I am bit dizzy. My quest to open up the process in order to personalize the learner’s experience has me feeling like I’m forcing a square peg in to a round hole. I’m realizing that to truly provide authentic learning paths I need to present as many access points to the classroom as I can and allow my students to make informed decisions on which access point they wish to use.
Empowered in their educational experience?
Well prepared for their future learning paths?
We will soon find out.