Five blog posts had been swirling around in my mind this year as we approached a critical stage in our Unit of Inquiry. I say critical because we had finished ‘Tuning In’ and now was the moment where the road ahead wasn’t fully mapped out and I got mixed feelings. It’s a hangover from earlier times before I learned to trust my students and have them join me up front in the driver’s seat.
I went back to these posts for a confidence boost because they mirror my feelings about co-designing units with students for authentic, meaningful learning; summative assessment; teaching and assessing skills; and empowering students to direct their learning and how to provide and support choice.
Our first stop is at Feeling Backwards About Backwards Design by Cindy Kaardal.
“We need to be monitoring student actions and knowledge … as we go. But if students with agency are choosing their own paths for their learning, should we be contriving a summative assessment for them based on what we think is best? Is this fitting student needs or ours?”
I have a hard time deciding if and when summatives are necessary. You’re looking for understanding and application and either it can be easy to observe and for students to assess themselves or sometimes it can be difficult to assess or require a long period of time. Also, deciding how students will demonstrate their understanding has always niggled at me- surely you’ll be seeing understanding in action, it will be ongoing, flowing into the next moment and mixing and blending with other skills in new contexts, re-emerging when least expected or displaying itself for all to see in student-led workshops.
As Cindy mentions, it’s not like we haven’t started with the ‘Why’ or created big ideas we think the students should develop before embarking on the journey; it’s just that understanding can show up at any time and we don’t need to work for weeks before asking them to prove it. Students can and should be involved in the process, co-designing the unit, criteria and all, to determine how and when they can show understanding.
This leads me to Abe Moore’s In Search of a Co-Design Continuum post. Abe discusses the subtleties of co-design which can be adopted at different levels depending on the needs of the learners and/or the teachers. But it’s the following quote, in particular, that links all of the other posts together and keeps me focused on my goal for student agency:
“The point is unless school affords learners the opportunity to develop and guide what, why, how, where and when they learn, I think claims of developing a love of learning are at best, optimistic, at worst, redundant.”
William Applebaum’s Studio 3 post has created a major shift in the way we plan and assess Units of Inquiry in our school this year, and his opening paragraph got me thinking:
“In order for students to be successful in an environment where they are empowered with their own learning choices, they need to have the skills to be successful. I believe that explicitly teaching and assessing these skills should be the focus of what we do in school.”
We looked at our units and identified skills we could focus on to ensure students were supported in developing mastery, but, again, if something happens and we need to change things up, I think we’re ready for it. I realised that in the long run, the skills/ATLs are a perfect way for students to be prepared for any content and context that comes their way. My only lingering thought at this stage was when would be the moment within the units to teach the skills the students need to be empowered? Time to ensure students know how to determine this too.
Everything from Agency…Empowering students to direct their own learning, had me questioning how I can ensure my students are becoming self-directed and empowered.
This is the catalyst which drives my belief in surrendering the reins and sharing responsibility, but I wasn’t always doing that in the past; I was in constant conflict between providing options for students to share their learning or allowing them to make decisions based on their own needs and criteria. It was clear that students needed guidance to make posters, videos, stories, presentations to professional standards, and having many choices made it harder to manage, so I gave two or three choices which made my life easier. This may seem to be an option of choice, but really, as Cindy said, it was fitting my needs over theirs.
I don’t want things to be a mad free-for-all, far from it and, don’t get me wrong, they’re not abandoned to their own devices without any guidance or support. But providing the kind of support necessary was difficult and unclear until I read Anna Davies’ post: HONORING ARTISTIC VOICE AND CHOICE IN THE ART ROOM – (AND MANAGING THE PRACTICALITIES)
It helped me realise how I could provide support and guidance whilst respecting their choices and decisions. Flipped learning and student-driven workshops have been added to our toolbox which can help provide support when and where necessary.
Two of Anna’s eleven tips for success in giving more ownership and choice which caught my eye are:
- “Responding to the needs in the room, when only one student needs a demonstration, for example how to create a clay slab, I send a call out, an invitation to all that would like to join. Maybe only 2 students come, maybe half the class does, either way they have new ideas to stash away for another day.
- To follow on from responding to the needs in the room I have started my own bank of video tutorials of ‘current art room’ trends based on their interests – at the moment its stencil cutting and screen printing – if you can cope with the kiwi accent they are here. This is helping when I am in the middle of an in-depth discussion and someone wanders over asking how to screen-print – I only need to say these three words ‘remember my tutorials?’ (and of course they always do their own tutorial searches too).”
So, back to our unit in class, after the initial ‘Tuning In’ stage, where the students shared their knowledge and what they were curious about, I asked why they thought we were learning these concepts and what they would like to do next. They found the first question easier than the second, so I used the inquiry cycle to help them focus their next steps in their inquiries. They were divided between Finding Out and Going Further. Some wanted to find answers to their questions, but others wanted to dive into making a video or role-play to share their learning/understanding straight away.
And off they went.
We’re creating success criteria together as they research, write and present, and I’m there to guide them and ask them to explain their choices and thinking so they can demonstrate the knowledge, concepts and ATLs they’re learning and developing. I’m looking for the right time to offer that workshop to ensure they are developing the skills they need to be successful inquirers and empowering them to request support when they need it.
I’m just trying, firstly, not to extinguish the curiosity and enthusiasm they’re demonstrating, which tends to be more prevalent as soon as they get a choice in the matter.
By keeping the ideas and experiences shared on these five blog posts at the forefront of my mind, I hope I can choose the right moment to step in and the right moment to step back.
(Thanks to all of those mentioned for sharing your insight and experience.)