I stumbled on this paper Rich environments for active learning (CLICK HERE) by R. Scott Grabinger & Joanna C. Dunlap. It’s really sort of amazing. (Association for Learning Technology Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1995, pp. 5-34). Now more than ever, it’s relevance is palpable. This piece spoke to me on a deep and profound level. In this piece the authors challenge the existing assumptions underlying education. I’ve created a top ten list that this article inspired, and have replied with instructional moves that can make these ideals come to life in all of our classrooms:
1. “Learning occurs when students have personal responsibility” – charge students with a sense of agency right from the start of the school year. Make an anchor chart and make this part of the lexicon.
2. “Decision making, intentional learning , and collaboration” – goal setting conferences, and partnerships children working with teachers and each other to become autodidacts as they create genuine contexts for learning that are meaningful.
3. “Reflective, active engagements, pluralism” – Book Club – provide a shared experience that builds rich and complex knowledge structures that reflect a child’s world.
4. “Students must learn to solve problems and think independently utilizing strategies that teach content in ways that also help to develop thinking, problem-solving, metacognitive, and life-long learning skills.” – When teaching strategies stress relevance – it’s not just some arcane ritual that is done in isolation – without connected text. Teachers cannot really do this work without first knowing themselves as readers. Think marks is a powerful strategy (Think Marks) but only when it’s purposeful – otherwise it’s just a fun distraction that will not transfer to real growth.
5. “Research shows that knowledge learned but not explicitly related to relevant problem-solving remains inert. Inert knowledge is not readily available for application or transfer to novel situations.” – The power of the minilesson! The beautiful construct of to/with/by. I teach to you, I learn with you, and you transfer this new learning to something new – your own independent book.
6. “…rarely giving them (students) the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning.” – The gradual release of the responsibility we do this work together and bit by bit you do it on your own. I will empower you by giving you choices – books, projects, partnerships, technology.
7. “We have created an evaluation, testing & grading sub-structure that helps perpetuate the view that education is a game that has few winners and many losers. This game teaches students to focus on tests and grades rather than on problem-solving.” – Project based learning, portfolios, using continua that measure real growth. (Guided Reading/Units of Study for Reading & Writing). This is the heart of the a teacher’s soul – it’s the very necessary part of us that makes us work late into the evenings and rise early in the morning. That keeps us busy well into the summer- to create classrooms where these sparks of illuminated growth can flourish. Without these moments the world would be dark, and senseless – full of rote meaningless dreck.
8. “…but also on well-organized and indexed content knowledge. Learners must have rich knowledge structures with many contextual links to help them address & solve complex problems.” – Text sets – children who read through a variety of texts all connecting to a central idea will generate new linkages to learning. They will be empowered and see themselves as such. This is genuine freedom and autonomy.
9. “Learning is cognitive and involves the processing of information and the constant creation of evolution of knowledge structures. We must focus on and make visible thinking and reasoning processes.” – To which I respond with the power of Close Reading. Real strategies that make cognition grow through a pluralistic lens that enables transfer to content learning and problem solving. Allowing for openings for our shared humanity. This is what is important for children to learn.
10. “Cultivate an atmosphere of knowledge building learning communities that utilize collaborative learning among students and teachers.” – If we want to create these sacred spaces we must do this work too – co-teaching/ peer coaching / open the doors to classrooms and let the specialists in rather than pull the children out. This is the real intention of Response to Intervention (RtI). Let’s practice what we want our students to do – work with one another and create this world where students can thrive.
I wanted to be a voice today. I wanted to tell you that the work you’re doing is very important. Don’t be afraid – there are many voices that are telling teachers that they should doubt themselves – don’t listen. Listen to your inner voice – the one that is reflective, the one that opens your door to collaboration, the one that convinces you to take risks. You are the guardian of rigor. A school is more than a building, a classroom is more than a room, a child is more than a score. We are doing so many things right – and our work is never finished.