What’s the goal of education?

As many of you know, I love to listen to podcasts. I probably spend more time listening to podcasts than listening to music. I see them as an awesome learning tool. In past posts, I’ve shared tidbits that I gained from some of those various podcasts. Recently I’ve become a big fan of Reimagine Schools hosted by Dr. Greg Goins. Goins is currently the Director of the Educational Leadership Program at Georgetown College in Kentucky, and previously has worked in many different roles in schools, including time as a district superintendent in Illinois. The podcast is a way to share some of his ideas on transforming our schools.

He’s had several great guests on the podcast, but a recent episode really struck a chord with me. That episode was an interview of Alfie Kohn. Kohn is a writer and speaker on topics such as human behavior, education, and parenting. He has written 14 books, as well as numerous articles over the years. I must be honest, some of Kohn’s ideas really push me to the brink of being a little uncomfortable, but they cause me to pause and reflect on his thinking. I’ve said it before, no growth takes place when we are entirely comfortable, so I’m hoping these ideas will help me grow in my thinking. I’ll include a link to the podcast episode at the bottom of this post.

There were several things about the conversation that really made me pause and think. While the conversation meandered between topics, I’m going to break up my thoughts into what I saw as the 3 primary topics: what’s the goal of education; measuring student growth without traditional assessment; and the role of homework in education.

What’s the goal of education

During the conversation, Kohn shared that “Traditionalism has ill-served the students of today.” Much of the current American system of education is based in economic and competitive ways. Things like standardized assessments were often instituted and created by people who look at education from a purely economic perspective – we put in this amount per student, and based on that, this percentage of students can pass a test at the end of the school year. For those of us in education, we understand that this economic perspective is not where learning happens. Kohn pushes that we need to move beyond stuffing kids with facts, and instead get to understanding ideas from the inside out.

Many schools are still focused on grades, rubrics, tests, quizzes, homework, and worksheets. Kohn calls this “intellectually unengaging” and shares that based on research, learning shouldn’t be this way. Instead, true learning should grow from kids questions. Our role as educators is to empower our students and create welcoming communities that encourage student learning. We as the teachers have to start by minimizing our own power, and providing students with the opportunities to make decisions because the only way to learn to make good decisions is by making decisions.

Student growth without traditional assessment

Most of the timeIn his conversation with Goins, Kohn challenges us that there is no way to measure or quantify true learning. The moment we try to put a numerical or letter-based score onto a learning task, we take away much of the motivation that students have to learn, and instead we create a system that trains our students for compliance. The things that can be easily measured in an assessment are not the things that truly matter. The example that Kohn used here was that on an assessment of a writing task, we may spend more time and effort in measuring the number of times that a student used punctuation correctly, however we don’t spend nearly as much time on whether the student expressed meaningful ideas in their writing. If we are developing learners in our world, what’s more important? I think most would agree that the ideas are the most important part, but ideas are hard to quantify, so we struggle to factor that into our assessments. As Kohn puts it “More focus on data in teaching means that we teach the trivial stuff more than the important stuff.”

This was an area that I really struggled. Currently we live in a system that we are judged based on our data. For better or worse, that is the system that we live in. If I as a teacher, or we as a school, decided to shy away from that data and focus on the so called “more important stuff,” there may be stakeholders who question our choices because the data is important to them. It’s a struggle between what we feel is best for students, and what our community and society expect for students. What to do?

Kohn did have some awesome suggestions for ways to assess students in more authentic ways. He talked a little about performance tasks, which I know there are teachers in my current building who do this at times. He talked about exhibitions of mastery – imagine a gallery walk at the end of a unit, or grading period, or school year at least, where students are able to share something that they learned with an audience of more than just their teachers and peers. Another suggestion that I know that I’ve mentioned below is a portfolio with a place for reflections by students. I see this blog as my own personal learning portfolio – by scrolling through past posts you can see what I’ve learned about, what I’m passionate about, and you can see my own reflections on those topics. You may even notice that opinions on some of the topics have evolved in the time I’ve been posting. A final suggestion from Kohn is something that a teacher, or even school as a whole could do to assess overall learning – that’s a random sample of students achievements (notice that both are plural, that’s important). By looking at the achievements of various students, you can see a little about the types of learning that have happened within your classroom / school over a given period of time.

The role of homework in education

For those of you who know of Alfie Kohn, you may know what to expect here. Kohn is not a fan of homework. As a short precursor, Kohn sees homework, especially before high school, as educational malpractice, and he has a few reasons for his opinions. First a foremost, he doesn’t feel that a kid should have a “second shift” of school at home. Most people, when they leave work, are done with work, but in education we send students home with more to do.

Now I know, some of you are saying “not my homework, it’s meaningful,” but let’s keep in mind what we are asking when we send work home with a student. First, homework can be tough on families and kids. By assigning homework we are imposing our demands on their family time, and Kohn feels that families should be able to determine how to use their family time. Second, according to Kohn, no study has found any benefit of any kind to any student before high school. And finally, Kohn says that homework leads to several potential negative outcomes for our students: frustration; exhaustion; family conflict; less interest in learning; and less time for kids to develop in other ways (socially, artistically, etc.).

I’m not saying that we should never assign homework ever again, but Kohn’s thoughts fit with some of the opinions that I have as a father. Our family time is precious, and I don’t want to spend it fighting with my kids about whether they have their assignments done from school. We’ve got much better ways to spend our time. Kohn’s definition of appropriate homework is “on those rare occasions when we can say that this will help kids think more deeply about questions that matter, and when it will make kids more excited about learning, then and only then will we infringe upon family time.”

So what are your thoughts? Are you going to listen to the conversation (the link is just below)? Do any of the ideas shared above cause you to reflect on your own practice? Do they make you uncomfortable? I can say for sure that there are things from this post that make me a little uncomfortable, but I’m trying to live on the growing edge! Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Progressive Education with Alfie Kohn

Lines of permission

How many times have you heard about some cool project that a teacher you know is trying, and had the thought “Man, I wish I could do something like that with my class!”

I know that there were times that I would have those exact thoughts – sometimes the thing holding me back had to do with resources, sometimes it was fear that I couldn’t pull something like that off with my class, and sometimes it was that I wasn’t sure if it was something that I would actually be allowed to do with my students.

At the beginning of the school year, our Superintendent shared with all the teachers in the district a catchphrase that he wanted to become a phrase we all used to describe learning: “Incubating Awesome!” If we believe that it is our job to create an amazing learning space that leads to awesome opportunities for students to learn and grow, we cannot allow any doubt to get in the way! We have to move forward and do amazing things for our students because it’s what we know is best for kids!

In his book Creative Schools, Ken Robinson shares that “People everywhere have ideas they would like to develop, but they need permission to try them out and see if they work. If they fear failure or humiliation or disapproval, they usually hold back. If they’re encouraged to try their hand, they usually will.” I want this post to be that encouragement for you! Don’t let any of those fears or that thought of needing permission, be the thing that prevents you from incubating awesome in your own classroom!

It is my goal to create a culture where all the people in our school feel empowered to do what they think is necessary to create awesome learning opportunities for the students they work with! Robinson reminds us that culture is about permission. Not so long ago, the NFL was kind of a no holds barred world. True, there were personal fouls and calls for unnecessary roughness, but this year the NFL put into place new rules regarding leading with the helmet. This rule was put into place as an effort to keep players safe, but in the NFL Preseason there was an uproar over some of the penalties that were called. As a former football coach and player, this one is an example of some of the struggles with the new rule:

To me, this looks like a perfectly clean tackle. However, the referees in the game saw it as a player leading with the helmet, and called a penalty. The reality is that the lines of permission in society have been redrawn. We can see this in sports, or in the real world. The things that once were impermissible become common place, while other things that were once the norm become impermissible. Schools are changing too, and that affects our own lines of permission.

The next time you have an idea to try something new and innovative with your class, you may have something that pulls you back and tells you not to do it. Don’t listen! When we take risks as educators, we encourage our students to take their own risks. When we show our students that we’re willing to try something new, we show them that it’s ok to try something new. We teach in so many ways, and sometimes what students learn from us is not as much about the lessons we have planned as it is about the skills we help them develop through our own efforts to model what it means to be a lifelong learner.

And here’s the reality, if you are trying out new and innovative things, there are going to be times that you fail! We have begun to celebrate failure in our society. One thing that I’ve been thinking about though: it’s not the failure that we need to celebrate. It’s the willingness to reflect on that failure and figure out what we can learn and how we can get better that we should be celebrating.

So, knowing that you have permission to go out there and do something new and innovative, what ideas do you have? What ways are you going to incubate awesome in your classroom this year? Share your thoughts in the comments below! I can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

Essential skills

I’ve recently been spending some time looking at the Innovation Playlist, a series of links, ideas, and videos all about ideas for how schools need to innovate in order to prepare our students for the future. That future is one that is ever changing and hard to imagine. It’s a dynamic and uncertain place, and we need to help our students be better prepared for that.

In a recent post, I mentioned that the smartphone debuted in 2007 (see that post here). Think about all the changes that have happened since then… Off the top of my head here are a few things that are commonplace today because of the existence of the smartphone: bluetooth, podcasts, wifi, iPads, the Apple watch, turn-by-turn gps navigation, the permeation of streaming video, in-app purchases, order ahead (via an app) carryout at numerous restaurants. Honestly, this whole post could be a list of the technologies that exist because of how commonplace the smartphone has become. That’s not the main point.

Exponential CurveThink for a moment about the exponential changes that have happened since the roll out of the smartphone in 2007. Then think for a moment about how exponential curves work (you can see an example to the right)… If there has been that much change since 2007, think how quickly our world is going to continue to change!

Looking back at the history of my posts, one of the running themes has been about the fact that the factory model of education has become obsolete. In the past, content knowledge was something that had to be given to you by a teacher. But today, content knowledge is ubiquitous. It’s free, it’s readily available, and it’s ever changing. No longer is what you know important, now it’s what can you do with what you know. That’s a totally different way of seeing education!

BewareThomas Friedman says that our students need to be capable of innovative thinking – critical thinking and problem solving should be a given for all in this day and age. He wrote about the importance of those skills in The World is Flat which was originally published in 2005. Now he’s thinking more about that idea of innovative thinking, which to him means not only are you able to do the job you are given, but you are also able to invent, reinvent, and re-engineer the skills necessary to accomplish that job.

And what’s difficult about that is that our education system is not ideally set up for innovative thinking. You can’t create a test that is going to easily measure someone’s ability to think in an innovative way. Those skills are not easily assessed, and yet they are the skills that employers are seeking (See what the National Association of Colleges and Employers say they are looking for in job candidates here).

Add to this, much of what we do in the traditional model of schools actually discourages creativity. As educators we often discourage creativity when we expect students to:

  • Answer with what others think is right.
  • Find answers rather than ask deep questions.
  • Shoot for efficient answers in our classrooms rather than allowing deeper exploration.

So… If our system isn’t set up to train students for innovative thinking, what are the things that we can do to better encourage innovative thinking in our students? What are the ways that we can disrupt the system from the inside? Here are a few ideas that I picked up as I explored the Innovation Playlist (linked above):

  • Have your students invent a science experiment – what is it that they want to test? How do they want to share their learning?
  • Ask students to write a creative essay – by encouraging creative thinking in the context of the classroom, you give them permission to think about the things that provide them wonder and curiosity.
  • Give your students the opportunity to come up with an interesting historical perspective on an event that they care about.

These types of activities push our students real world thinking that integrates what they know from multiple perspectives and fields of knowledge. These also create more opportunities for student voice and choice. While they may be harder to assess, they push the students to a culture of learning, which is very different than a culture of being taught.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you found ways to provide your students opportunities to be innovative thinkers and learners? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Teaching in the technology age

Out of curiosity, how many of you remember when the first iPhone came out? Did any of you have one? In case you have forgotten, that first iPhone looked like this:

iPhone 10th anniversary

In case you have also forgotten, that beauty of a phone was released to the public in 2007. Now I must admit, I did not have the original iPhone. If you recall, when the iPhone first came out it was only available on AT&T, and I still had a contract with Verizon – that meant I had to wait. But I remember friends who rushed out to get that first iPhone. And they were blown away by how amazing it was.

So why am I bringing up the release of the iPhone? If you haven’t been paying attention to the birthdates of your students, you may not have noticed it, but most of our 5th and 6th graders here at RSI were born in 2007 or later. Think about that. Most of our students have never lived in a world that didn’t have an iPhone! The kids we are teaching truly are digital natives. They have had the entire world at their fingertips their entire lifetime.

We are born without knowledgeLet’s contrast that just a bit with human history. I’ve recently been reading Walter Isaacson’s fascinating biography Benjamin Franklin. There were a lot of things that I knew about Franklin, his role as an inventor/scientist, his time as a member of the Continental Congress, and that he’s a writer and printer. I don’t know that I fully realized what a world traveler he was. I also did not quite realize just how curious he was – throughout his life he found wonder in the world around him, and spent time trying to learn more.

One of the things that being alive in the 1700s allowed Franklin, and his contemporaries, was time alone with their thoughts. There weren’t distractions like television, radio, podcasts, phones. I mean, when he wanted guidance from back home while working on the treaty for the Revolutionary War, he had to hand write a letter, sometimes multiple drafts, send it on a ship back to America, and wait, typically for several months, for a response. Think about how much time he had to just wait and think!

Now, when do your best ideas strike you? If you’re anything like me (and brain research says that most humans probably are), it happens in your moments of rest and solitude. I can’t tell you how many times a great idea comes to me in the shower, only to be lost by the time I get out and have a way to write it down. The truth is, there is constant thinking happening in our minds. Sometimes it’s self-talk, sometimes it’s planning, but other times it’s when we get our best ideas. How often do you spend hours laboring over something, not quite sure how to make it perfect, only to become frustrated and walk away? Then, in a free moment, it suddenly clicks and the solution you’ve been looking for is right there.

Our students don’t have enough opportunities to just wonder, to think, to get bored and then allow creativity to get them out of their boredom. Most digital natives are not used to that feeling. They are used to getting what they want when they want it. And as such, they need to be better trained to find their creativity and curiosity.

What does that mean for us in the classrooms? Sometimes we as educators get caught up in the idea of “I have to cover…” so we rush in, we swoop them up when they might get a little stuck, we solve the problem for them instead of allowing them the time and space to solve the problem on their own.

Our students, in their long term though, need to be able to work through problems and solve them. The reality is that there are a lot of things that the devices they have grown up with can do for them, but there are also things that those devices can’t do. In his book What School Could Be, Ted Dintersmith spends time in the first chapter talking about the digital revolution and the rapid growth in computing power. While computers are getting exponentially faster every year, and at some point, computers most likely will surpass the average speed of the human brain, they haven’t yet been able to do the creative problem solving that humans can do. Computers can only solve problems that they have the information and programming for. Dintersmith shares that “Children need to learn how to leverage machine intelligence, not replicate its capacity to perform low-level tasks!” The ideas that allow them to learn this skill only comes from time spent wondering or practicing creativity.

When you try to think about ways to integrate curiosity and wonder, take the topics you are learning about in your classroom. Create provocations for students to wonder about that tie to what you are learning about. Allow the learning in your classroom go sideways just a little bit because of the “What if…” questions that students ask. When we feed into their wonder, we tell them it’s ok to be curious.

Then, provide them with opportunities to be creative! On Wednesdays, our media center has become the hub of creative activity with makerspace activities going on. This feeds the creative mind and soul! It helps our kids to understand that technology is not always the answer! Allow every child to see themselves as creative in some way! Not only does it turn on that part of the brain, it’s a lot of fun for you too!

 

What are your thoughts? How have you integrated creativity and curiosity in your classroom? What have you learned from your students when you take that time to dive into their wonders? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Running through the sprinkler

As I sit writing this, it’s Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s in my family are often about getting work done – chores around the house, prepping for school, groceries, etc. To fit with that norm for our family, today was no different. This morning my wife Diane, an amazing kindergarten teacher, needed to go over to school to do some prep for her week. I needed to mow the lawn and then get to the grocery store. The kids had no real responsibilities, so they were going to stay home with me. I knew that if I left them inside, even though they said they were going to read, it would turn into a Netflix binge of Dinotrux, or Glitter Force, or something of that nature. I wanted them to be active, so I convinced them to come outside and play while I was mowing.

As I did the front yard, they had out their big wheels, their stilts, and their pogo stick. They were working on creating an obstacle course in the driveway when I finished the front lawn and grabbed the sprinkler to try to deal with a couple of brown spots. As I starting working on the side yard, Lainey came running up to me and asked “Can we run through the sprinkler?”

I started to say no, I mean they had just gotten dressed, we had to run to the grocery store after I mowed, and Lainey was going to a birthday party for the afternoon. But then I looked at the excitement in her face – how could I say no?

IMG_5242.JPGFor the next thirty minutes, while I mowed the rest of the lawn, Lainey and Brody were in heaven with that childhood joy that goes with running through a sprinkler. I may have even let myself get sprayed because I was jealous of the obvious fun they were having.

Seeing the joy on their faces as they played in the sprinkler got me thinking about classroom conditions. How often, when you scan your room, do you see the look of joy that would accompany a kid running through the sprinkler? When I reflect on my own teaching practices, it probably happened far less than I would have wanted it to.

Last week I participated in an online, free, open to anyone PD called Hive Summit. It was put on by Michael Matera, the author of Explore Like a Pirate, and the front man for the #XPlap community. The gist of the Hive Summit was to bring together amazing educators to share little tidbits of knowledge in short, easily digestible conversations between Michael and various guests to provide ideas to help us start the school year off with a bang!

The last session of the Hive Summit brought in Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, and easily one of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. Towards the end of the conversation, Michael asked Dave for some practical things that we can do right away. Dave started talking about the beginning of the school year. He suggested that we should “Invest time in the front end to build a community, to build rapport, and to create a place that kids are desperate to come back to the next day.” We don’t accomplish what Dave is suggesting by spending lots of time on procedures. Those can come later. We need to hook them, get them excited, get them wanting to be in your classroom, get them banging down the doors to come to school!

Dave went on to share a couple of his favorite activities to accomplish those goals. The first is the Play-Doh lesson. Students walk in to a container of Play-Doh on a paper plate in the center of their desk, and when ready, they are asked to create something out of the Play-Doh. The goal is to create something that is in some way representative of them. Let them know up front that when time is up, you are going to come around, show the class their object, ask a couple of questions about it, and then have them share their name. Let them know in advance that they will not have to stand up or come to the front of the room, and the process will take less than 30 seconds. Letting kids know what to expect will alleviate some stress that comes with any type of getting to know you activity. Give students 10 minutes of work time, and while they are working, walk around and chat with them in an informal way.

This is great because it gets your students creating right away. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, and knowing things doesn’t make you successful. In today’s world, it’s about what people can do or make. When we show kids that’s what we value right off the bat, they will be more likely to continue to do and make things when asked.

Another activity that Dave loves is the plane crash on a deserted island lesson. 10 people are stranded on an island, and when a rescue helicopter shows up, it only has room for 5 people. Students are given a list of the different people, split into small groups, and asked to work together to come to a consensus on who should be rescued, and who has to be left behind (click here for a shared google doc with the instructions and list of people). Again, this activity immediately gets kids to collaborate, connect, and create to solve the problem.

Activities like this allow kids to engage right away, and think about how much more excited your kids will be about tasks like this instead of a more traditional lesson. All of us bring our own special skill set to the classroom, and we all have the ability to create learning environments that kids will be excited to return to day after day. You get to decide if the lights are on or off when students enter. You get to decide what shows up on your screen or board. You get to decide what is sitting on your students’ desks when they come in. When we pause in our lesson planning to think about those hooks at the start of our lesson, we’re able to create more of those “Running Through Sprinkler” kind of moments for our kids.

If you are looking for more ideas for amazing engagement strategies, check out Teach Like a Pirate (I linked to it on Amazon above), or if you’d like, I’ll loan you my copy (as long as you don’t mind my highlights and notes in the margins). If you feel overwhelmed by a book, look for Dave Burgess on YouTube or Twitter, or check out the #tlap Twitter chat on Mondays at 9:00 pm eastern. There are lots of small resources that will help you create lessons that engage students on the sprinkler level!

Let me know if you’re planning to try something new to create a sprinkler moment in your class! I’d love to see it, or talk to your students about it. I think we all want joyful classrooms! How will you bring that joy to your room?

IMG_1266

Innovation Exchange 2018

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in an awesome professional development experience put on by 2 amazing school districts – Hamilton Southeastern Schools (my home district) and Noblesville Schools. Each day was filled with a morning keynote, followed by tons of choices in concurrent sessions. Anytime I attend something of this nature, I feel it’s successful if I can take at least one idea from each session that I can implement into my practices. As I look at my own notes today, I have so many more ideas than that, but I want to share a few of my key takeaways.

Our opening keynote came from Mark Wagner, President & CEO of EdTech Team. During his keynote he asked us the question “What do you want to learn?” and then challenged us to think about whether or not we were spending time asking our kids this same question. While we have standards to meet, that doesn’t have to be done always based on our expert decisions as the teacher. Wagner argued quite convincingly that learning will be more meaningful for our students if we share with them our goals, what we need them to learn, and then ask them how they want to learn those skills. Wagner encouraged us to think of the changing role of educators, and rather than seeing ourselves as the keepers of knowledge, who then dispense that knowledge to our students, we should start thinking of our role as that of a connector.

Within our own community, there are people who have skills and experiences that are much greater than any of us could ever hope to be able to share with our students. Our job, in part, is to connect our students to the experts they need in order to learn the skills they want to learn.

more than I should

During the second day I had the privilege to listen to Luke Reks, a recent graduate of Noblesville High School. Luke shared with us his experiences in the Innovations class he participated in during his sophomore through senior years of high school. In that time, Luke connected with filmmakers, CEOs, and philanthropists. As part of his learning, he interned on the set of a low budget film starring James Franco and was able to network with Hollywood producers and directors. In a partnership with one of his classmates, Luke is now working to build a school in Africa that will serve youth, bringing them access to learning, and including the Innovations model of learning within its curriculum. Luke reminded me that opportunities are everywhere for our students. As teachers, sometimes we just have to get out of the way of the passions of our learners, and they will take their learning much further than anywhere we can hope to take them.

Also on the second day of the conference, Kerry Gallagher was the keynote speaker. After listening to her keynote, I made it a point to attend one of her concurrent sessions as well. Her keynote was on the effects of technology on our brain, while her concurrent session talked about best practices related to screen time. The information shared in both was based on research from sources that I know and trust – Common Sense Media and the American Association of Pediatrics to name just a couple. There are many people who spend time talking about the bad aspects of screens, and there’s plenty of research and opinion that support the drawbacks of screen time, but as educators, we have to also remember a couple of important things about technology. First, technology is an opportunity that provides our students access to resources, tools, and experts that would never be available to them without the use of technology.  Along with that, Gallagher reminded us that increasingly our students will need to be able to interact with people through the screens in front of them.  Google, Airbnb, Uber, and other transformative companies require their employees to be able to interact with customers through screens.  How are we teaching our students to interact appropriately?

If a student’s first time to interact with a screen is as a preteen using an iPhone with unlimited access to the rest of the world, they won’t have the tools to be able to use that power responsibly. This has me thinking about the importance of digital citizenship lessons for even our earliest learners. As a district that is 1:1 in all grades, kindergarten – 12th grade, we can’t wait until kids are in the middle grades to begin talking about appropriate ways to interact through screens. We can use developmentally appropriate apps to help our students learn those skills beginning at the earliest levels.

Overall, there were so many great takeaways from the 2 days, these are just a few of the highlights for me. Did you attend? What were your main takeaways? Do the thoughts above have you reflecting on your own practices? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Compliance diminishes creativity

In last week’s post I was thinking about the idea of student apathy, and how sometimes what you or I might identify as an unwillingness to work might actually be a sign of fear that the student is moving out of his/her comfort zone. One of the suggestions I made for how to handle that issue was to prepare for those students by providing scaffolding for our students to support them as needed.

Have you ever watched a building being built? Living in a neighborhood that is still growing, I get to watch houses being put up constantly. My 6-year-old son loves seeing the excavator or bulldozers doing their things. Around our downtown area, there’s lots of construction going on. A couple days ago I noticed a new building going in right behind our favorite pizza place (Greek’s Pizzeria – possibly the best breadsticks in the whole world!). As they have added to the height of the building, the scaffolding is added for the next level. Builders don’t put up all the scaffolding they need at the beginning, and then begin building – instead they add the scaffolding they need at the “just right” moment.

When is the just right moment in education to provide that scaffolding? If you provide too much scaffolding too early, and you give it to all your students, you may take away some of the opportunities for choice. In one of the first years I was at Riverside, I decided that I wanted my students to do a project at the end of our unit on Ancient Greece. I had them research a Greek God or Greek Hero, then create a poster. At the beginning of the project, I gave them a list of resources that I suggested, I gave them a detailed rubric, we talked about what the final project might look like, and I shared an example that I created. Then I set them free reminding them throughout that they had freedom to use additional sources that they might find in the library, and that they were free to switch up the design however they wanted. On the day the project was due, I had everyone share their work with the class. I must admit, I was a little disappointed that everyone’s poster was almost identical.

I didn’t make the connection in the moment, but as I reflect on it now, I provided too much scaffolding too early in the process. Instead of being there to support the learners as they needed it, I created boundaries that they chose to stay inside of. Instead the resources I gave them acted as a recipe to what success looked like, and compliant kids are going to take the path of least resistance to success.

As we continue down a path of creating learning experiences that allow student choice and voice, we have to remember that true authentic learning doesn’t happen when we have prescribed experiences. It doesn’t happen when we hand out recipes to success.

Control leads to compliance;autonomy leads to engagement.

Reflecting further and thinking back on what I would do differently with that project, I’d probably remove a lot of the stuff that I provided in advance. I’d still prepare a list of potential resources, but I’d hold it back and only share with students who were struggling to find a good resource. I wouldn’t hand out a highly descriptive rubric to all the students, instead I’d create one that left lots of freedom. I definitely wouldn’t create an example of the poster that all the kids could copy! If students weren’t meeting my expectations I’d give them specific feedback on where they were lacking and how they could improve. We’d start with the standards, I’d share with the students our goal and purpose, and then I’d set them free. As I observed their work, I’d add scaffolding to those who needed it, but a lot of kids are probably going to come up with something way better than you imagined when you started the project. Don’t believe me? Try it. What’s the worst that happens? You already have the scaffolding ready, so you share it with all who need it.

What have been your experiences with scaffolding? Have there been times you added too much at the beginning and it was like a recipe? Reflect on that experience and share what you might do to make it better! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!