Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Creating Empowered Learners in 2018

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  So many things are happening in education and it's an amazing time to be a part of it all.  Even though there are great things happening, there is still work to be done to continue moving forward.

As educators, it's so easy to become focused on test prep and data when we return from Christmas.  For many, it's a time of trying to get through the curriculum and grading worksheet after worksheet to determine who needs intervention and who is lucky enough to get enrichment time while those students receive that intervention.

What if there was another way?  What if we focused on real learning in 2018 and made the standards something that students were empowered to apply instead of just expected to regurgitate on a worksheet?  Here are five ways that I think we can empower students as we start the new year...

Student-Driven Conferences - Take time to talk with the learners in your classroom.  Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses.  Thrively is a great tool that was created to help students learn about their own passions and strengths.  Allowing your students to take the Thrively assessment when you return from the holidays will give you a fresh perspective and an opportunity to see them as individuals with unique strengths.  Let them share what works for them and what doesn't.  Ask questions that will lead them to think about their own thinking and encourage them to know themselves well as a learner.  In doing so, you will create a culture of learning that isn't one size fits all but values every individual.

Focus on Feedback - Grades don't help students understand why.  It's just a number that many students could absolutely care less about.  And can we blame them?  They complete an assignment on Monday, we grade the assignment and give it back a few days later.  The reality is that most students have seen a ton of media between completing the assignment and having it returned.  They don't even remember what it was about or what they were supposed to learn from it.

Feedback is different.  Gen Z values feedback and almost expects it in order to reflect or become better at something.  Focus on giving your learners more feedback in 2018 and less grades.  Flipgrid is a wonderful tool that allows students to share their learning through video and receive feedback from others after posting...definitely a gamechanger in the classroom! Allow conversations to be the priority and find ways to give them feedback as quickly and often as possible.

Let Them Struggle - As teachers, we help our students all year long.  We answer questions, guide them toward the correct answers or solutions...and then test day comes.  When they ask a question on test day, we respond with "I'm sorry, I can't answer that for you, just do the best you can" or a similar statement depending on the script.  All of a sudden they are being left to struggle on their own with no help.  If that hasn't happened all year long, it can be super scary and almost paralyzing.

So, let's allow them to struggle all year long in our classrooms.  Give them opportunities to problem solve and figure things out without any guidance or help.  Design experiences that can be solved many different ways but make it a point not to figure it out yourself before doing it in class so that when they ask, you can genuinely say, "I have no guys are going to have to figure it out."

Connect Your Classroom - Connected classrooms give students an opportunity to learn from others and help them make connections to what is being learned.  Ask an outside expert to Skype into your classroom to share how they use the standard that is being learned in the real world.  Allow your students to ask questions and collaborate with the expert to make those connections so that they see the value of why they are learning that particular concept.  Use tools like Nepris or a Help Wanted Wall to make connecting with outside experts a reality in your classroom.

Mystery Skype connects classrooms from all over the world and encourages them to use critical thinking, collaboration, and communication to learn about new places and each other.  To learn more, check out #mysteryskype on Twitter and jump right in!

Passion-Based Learning - Last, but certainly not least, Genius Hour is a great way for students to learn by doing.  Unfortunately, Genius Hour is often used as enrichment or an activity for gifted students that already know what was being taught in the general education classroom.  I believe that every single student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.  In doing so, they begin to see how the learning can be applied and not just regurgitated on a worksheet.  Genius Hour is meaningful learning through application and has the potential to change the way this generation learns and prepares for their future.

To learn more about Genius Hour, please visit my website.

So, 2018 is here and it's up to us as educators to make it all that it can be for our students.  Let's work together to make sure that it's a great year that brings the changes in education that our students deserve.  It's an exciting time to be an's just a matter of being brave, doing what we know is right, and believing enough in today's learners to get out of their way and let them learn by doing.


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