What sort of educator am I?
During the course of this academic year, when the pressure was on to mark assessments and finish IAs, I found myself questioning my role as an educator. I had become so programme-centred. Was I inspiring my students, or were we just ticking boxes? A holiday came along which allowed me the time to read and reflect. This reflection led me to think: “It’s time to make my lessons more self-directed”. I’ve grown weary of the lesson by lesson, let’s get through the content format.
I have attempted to engage with self-directed learning in my IB Chemistry class and I will write more about that in a future blog post. This post, however, is more about the road that starting this journey has led me down.
My goal for self-directed learning was clear: I wanted to give students more ownership of their learning. I wanted them to be able to control their pace. My implementation was successful in that sense. I organised the syllabus into checkpoints with resources and tasks that students could complete at their own pace. I even incorporated mastery learning (mastery learning is neatly described here) in the form of short formative assessments for groups of checkpoints, allowing students to peer assess, learn from their mistakes, and then try another formative test. The students liked it. They felt ownership over how fast they completed the syllabus. They could spend more time on concepts that they struggled with and less with those that they felt comfortable with. It felt great. Here it was, self-directed learning. Hmmmmm…not really.
Through cognitive coaching (note: cognitive coaching is some of the most amazing professional learning I have ever come across and you can read more about it here) sessions with a well-respected colleague, I realised that this wasn’t really self-directed learning. It wasn’t really transformational. In the cold light of day, it was simply allowing students to access a prescribed syllabus at their own pace. Sure, it has transformational elements (I like this description of transformational teaching in this blog post from Toddy Finlay at Edutopia), but it falls somewhat short.
This led me to a new fundamental question that I haven’t fully answered yet: How do students learn in my classroom? To answer this question, I have decided to work out a framework for teaching in my classroom, my world, as it were. This is organic and I will attempt to take you through my initial thoughts now.
1. Fostering primary greatness
If you read my philosophy section on my website (here), you will see that I absolutely love the idea of primary greatness from Stephen Covey. This is the notion that greatness comes from your contribution. In my chemistry classroom, I see this as a love for chemistry. I want the reason for students to come to my classroom to be that they love the subject and they want to use it to contribute to the betterment of humanity. Currently, I think I am catering towards secondary greatness. This is the notion that greatness comes from fame and fortune. In the classroom, I see this as achieving high grades. I have arranged my self-directed learning so that students can better achieve higher grades. Indeed, whenever I action plan with students, it seems to always be centred on getting to the next higher grade. Now, don’t get me wrong, I recognise that grades are important. But funnily enough, it is often the case that secondary greatness often follows primary greatness. So, maybe higher grades are a natural progression from having a learner who is aiming for primary greatness in chemistry. I feel I need to reframe these things so that they centre on primary greatness instead. Below is a schematic that helps show this. The big question is: How do I create a classroom environment that develops primary greatness first? I have my ideas, but that belongs in a whole new blog post. I’d love to hear yours.
2. The programme to student centred continuum
I believe that my classroom practice can lie along the continuum shown in the diagram below:
When moving towards more self-directed learning, I was hoping to make my teaching more student-centred. However, in my current implementation, I have merely reframed the programme centred nature of the education my students receive. Granted, I have helped make the programme centred nature of my teaching more student-centred, but this is superficially student centred. The students are still ticking the boxes, rather than becoming inspired by the subject (I think). Ideally, I think my approach should lie somewhere in the middle. The content in the IB diploma programme is important and useful and students should learn it. However, they should be allowed to discover this through a lens of their choice. My initial thoughts on how to do this are varied, but can be summed up in the bullet points below:
- Share my thoughts on this with my students (probably most important!)
- Spend more time at the beginning of a course toward the student centred side of the continuum. The effort spent engaging students here should make delivery of programme centred content easier later on (hopefully counteracting that barb that there isn’t enough time to focus on the individual and deliver the content!).
- Help students frame the course with respect to their interests. For example, I could ask students to begin a concept map for a unit. They might be interested in environmental sustainability. Therefore, for this unit, they should think about how the learning might be applied in the context of environmental sustainability. They should then be encouraged to explore this during the unit (there are many, many tools to help with this and again, this is for another blog post – although ePortfolios could be very useful here).
- Spend more time discussing real-world applications.
The process continues
I am just at the beginning of forming my ideas here. My goal is to be transformational and I’m not there yet. There is also so much more I could have written here, but to do so it to create a self-absorbingly long blog post and further, stifles the creativity in the responses I can get from those that read it. I would love to hear the thoughts of the reader: How do you make your classroom a place where primary greatness is fostered? How do you create a balance between student centred and programme centred approaches? How do you make your classroom transformational?