After a bit of reflection and professional reading over the holidays, here is what I want each and every lesson / experience / sequence of learning I facilitate to include. They are my Rules of Thumb for Designing Good Learning Experiences, circa early 2015.

  • Rich, deep, meaningful, original tasks: PUZZLE, PROBLEM, PROVOCATION, EXPLORE, PLAY, CHALLENGE – students will “work the hard parts”
  • Integrate reading, writing and inquiry – all ‘modules’ pre-planned and available so
    • A) students have the responsibility of choosing their own pathway through the learning and
    • B) so they can see “the whole game” of learning – see how each piece helps them develop new understandings, skills, and knowledge and
    • C) So I know I have coverage of all the things I know are important: content knowledge + web/visual literacy + disposition exercising (The Magnificent 8) + knowledge skills + creativity
  • Designed to be tight enough to be focused (creative constraints), but flexible enough to be self-negotiated
  • Be designed for M.V.T.A (Minimum Viable Teacher Assistance)
  • A catchy title and an interesting, original task + an introduction video (ie, a Generative Topic)
  • A WALT (We are learning to…) and a TIB (This is because…)
  • Linked reading / audio / video resources + official reading objectives
  • Linked knowledge building workshops / Snappers + official writing objectives
  • Scaffold appropriately with examples / models / exemplars (for practice, play, imitation, imagination, and simulations)
  • Online / offline component with a bias towards leveraging the opportunities provided by digital tech
  • Each will have a S.T.A.R moment (Something They’ll Always Remember)
  • Offer autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • Have “checkpoints” for feedback (self, peer, teacher)
  • Have a “want to know more?” or further curiosity prompts
  • Each will be aware of what the assessment is that term and contain elements of practice (you gotta do what you gotta do!)
  • Outcomes will be defined across understandings, skills, abilities and dispositions (within the process and final product) and digital badges provided based on these outcomes
  • Each will contain a reflection piece based upon the overall understandings of the inquiry + reflecting on the learning muscles being exercised + the inquiry process

My role then changes to:

  • “a stream of highly contingent, situation, problem and person-specific interventions and provocations – not nuggets of truth” – Claxton
  • Pushing, prodding, tilting towards understanding
  • Providing the knowledge or guidance needed at that time
  • Questioning, facilitating discussions
  • Providing EXCELLENT feedback based on content, understandings, AND dispositions
  • Tracking quality learning, ensuring engagement. Following up / chasing up.
  • Modelling good thinking and learning dispositions

Designing these kinds of learning experiences takes time, but that’s the bread and butter of teaching; it’s the stuff we should be spending our time on, wading through these complexities to facilitate challenging, interesting learning for our students.

Now….to actually sit down and get to it!

[Friday Takeaways is a new series in which I sit through (and summarise) P.D sessions – so you don’t have to! What a brave and noble sacrifice…]
A couple of us attended a P.D session on Wednesday evening run by Jill Eggleton, author of the Key Links series by Scholastic. The brief was: “implementing small, simple steps, towards creating lifetime writers, keeping in mind the keys to a child’s progress.” She wrapped up with this quote, which summed up her key point nicely –  a point which we as teachers need to always keep in mind, and one which we would do well to pass on to our students:

“Write drunk; edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Woah, let me re-check my notes! Ahah! Here is the right one:

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” – Truman Capote

Writing shouldn’t be a mundane task, out-of-context, and painful to get through. It should be a passionate, thoughtful experience; a playful and rich process. This starts from you. Be wide-eyed and enthusiastic when reading children’s work. Model the joy in reading and writing.

How do you inspire a love of writing? (Also: see, look! We DO use pens and pencils …sometimes)

Here are a couple of takeaways from the course, tl:dr (“too long, didn’t read”) style:

  • The key to writing is oral language – if they can’t talk about something, they probably can’t write about it.
  • For teachers – be writers yourselves. Know what it means to get from the head to the page. Start a journal, record interesting personal experiences and characters. You don’t have to always read stories to children – tell stories too!
  • Provide opportunities to write daily. Practise is the best ‘instruction’ of all.
  • For youngins: write from personal, common experiences. Don’t introduce text-types too early. When you do though, make it purposeful: “I want to tell you a personal story, so we’re going to use personal narrative.”
  • Emphasise “putting a magnifying glass” over certain experiences (don’t waffle on about the whole holiday for example, stick to your most memorable moment).
  • Great writers don’t tell the whole story – encourage the children to “show don’t tell”.
  • Read poetry every day. It encourages children to be more playful and descriptive with their own writing.
  • When giving feedback / reading a child’s piece for the first time: make sure they know their message has been communicated (use a statement, not a question and do so using their own language). Then strengths, then next steps.
  • Don’t have them write too much! They can’t be bothered going back and re-crafting / editing. Quality over quantity. They can write long meandering rambles at home if they want to.
So these were the meaty chunks I was able to extract from the casserole of information at the session. Some of them may be common sense, but to a newb like me, I need to make a concious effort to keep these in mind.
Thanks Jill.
P.S:
Maybe I’m spoilt by attending Ignition 2012 and a few Ignite evenings, but jeepers creepers, we really need to change traditional teacher P.D. Sitting for 3 hours passively listening to a tumult of information in a hot fidgety theatre can be draining and just plain hard work. Mix things up, get us talking, be creative… practise what you preach!