I have just finished with Oneco Elementary School’s Summer Reading Academy. During our two weeks together, we spent half our day working with students and the other half of our day in professional development (PD). This was the third year Oneco has held The Summer Reading Academy, but this is the first year I have taken part. This year's PD was centered around how to promote deep understanding in our classrooms through inquiry. Since, we have been working with Challenge Based Learning (CBL), an inquiry framework, within our laboratory for the past four years the theme for our PD intrigued me. I believe that CBL serves as a complete framework, but there are some improvements and adjustments that need to be made on how we are utilizing it. My new learning will work to both reinforce and enhance the CBL process within our laboratory.
Much of the new learning revolved around my role as the educator in our laboratory. This quote from John Hattie sums it up well-“ Fundamentally, the most powerful way of thinking about the teacher’s role is for teachers to see themselves as evaluators of their effects on students.” Truth is as individual educators, we are have very little influence on the system as a whole, but we do have influence on what goes on within our classrooms. I truly believe that real learning is in the process and the choices we make, as educators, are the crucial keys to build a learning community that will promote students’ deeper understanding. These choices relate to every aspects of the learning process from planning through reflection and evaluations.
Throughout the two weeks of Oneco's Summer Reading Academy many wonderful teaching strategies were introduced, ideas about conferring were shared and we had some wonderful conversations related to authentic assessment. However, I am a global thinker and I tend to view thing as a whole. As each new idea was discussed I began to synthesis where it would fit into our learning process as a whole. This was ultimately illustrated in my project pictured above. At the start of The Academy, we were told to create an essential question for ourselves, given a blank piece of poster paper and told to forge our own path. If I were honest, I spent two whole inquiry work sessions attempting to figure out what I was going to put on my poster. I had not yet acquired enough learning to be able to form an inquiry question and all I could think about was that blank piece of paper. However, once I realized that I had put the cart before the horse, I was able to get some exploration under my belt and identify my question. Then the ideas for my poster flowed quite readily from there. My poster certainly was not the prettiest, but I stand behind its content. Also, I believe it really is important to share what one has learned. Learning that is not shared seems a bit like the tree that falls in the forest and if there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If learning isn't shared, did it really happen? With that said, the last day of our PD we had a gallery walk, which was great. However, I wish I would have had the time to explain the elements on my poster and why I put things where they I did. Throughout the last couple of years, my students have really taught me that some of the best insights into what someone else is thinking is in their answers to the question why.
This is exactly why I am taking the time to do so here.
"How can the choices I am making help build a community that promotes deep understanding?”is what ended up being my essential question. As you can see on my poster that my path leads to a building, which was left incomplete on purpose. I believe that learning is a lifelong pursuit and completing this structure would have given the impression that I have all the answers to this question. My learning is not complete and right now I am proud to be in the middle of this process. On each one of the bricks I listed one of the areas we discussed. Then on the inside of each brick I reflected on something specific I learned that related to that area. My door was there to represent the content areas, which I believe are the avenues in which our students enter into the learning process. The two windows were made to represented the glimpses others have into our learning community. For instance, the first window represented administration feedback (observations, walk-throughs) and the other window represented data collected on students (Rti, FCAT, benchmark testing...). Next, I put all projects and products (such as podcast, CBL solutions, posters) on the bush next to my building to serve as curb appeal. Yes, students need to share their work in creative ways, but these things have their place. If we want the focus to be on deep understanding then we shouldn't make the final product our focus. This kind of thing happens all the time in educational system, politics..... people just move ahead with a solution or create a product without truly taking the needed time to explore a problem or issue completely first. Isn't it just good problem solving to seek first to understand and then take action? If I want my students to eventually be grown ups that listen, explore and not just rush to get a job done then don't I need to model (and promote) that now. Again, the moves we make are the crucial keys!
Before I close, I really would like to give a HUGE SHOUT OUT to The Summer Reading Academy's team of organizers. You all were wonderful and I thank you for all the hard work. To my partner throughout this process, Susannah Michalson, I enjoyed really getting to know you and I learned a ton through our conversations. Thanks for all the insight and debate. I loved it!
Finally, if you would like to do some exploring on you own here is a list of resources:
-Comprehension and Collaboration: Inquiry Circles by Stephanie Harvey and Harvey Daniels
(I love this book! It has some great strategies to use within an inquiry framework. )
-Talk about Understanding by Ellin Oliver Keene
- Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for all Learners by Ron Ritchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison
-Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson
(This book gives some wonderful insight and ideas for teaching the mechanics of writing. )
-Conferring The Keystone to Reader's Workshop by Patrick Allen and Debbie Miller
-Confer App for the iPad -
(With this application you can customize your list of things you would like to confer with students on. There are some other wonderful features as well.)