Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Let Go For But A Moment...

I've been thinking for a few days now about how to craft this story that I am about to tell.  The more I talk with other teachers about these lessons the more I am realizing how really very powerful this learning experience has been for the kids... and myself.

I would start by not claiming any mastery in all of this.  To be brutally honest, I had not planned on teaching the lesson this way until literally 10 seconds before I started.  The idea struck me and so I dove in and gave it a whirl.

Here it is in a nutshell:   
"Either on your own or with a partner, read pages 186-191 in your Social Studies text book about the Plymouth settlement.  You will stand in front of the class and teach the rest of us about Plymouth once you are done.  Are there any questions?"

No questions.

The kids hemmed and hawed for a bit on who their partners would be, some wanted to work alone, others wanted groups of 3 or 4.  I allowed all requests.

The kids dove in with enthusiasm and started digging through the text.  As they were reading they were deciding what to write down, who would say what and then they began asking me a few questions.

  • Mr. Howell can we create a play and perform the Plymouth story?
  • Mr. Howell, can I use the Smartboard and take screenshots of Google Maps to show the Mayflower route?
  • Mr. Howell can I watch a few videos on History.com to add to our notes from the text book?
  • Mr. Howell can I create a quiz to give to the class after my presentation?
  • Mr. Howell can I download images and insert them into our presentation?

The questions don't end there but you get the idea. Almost instantaneously this lesson took on a life of its own.  The kids claimed the learning and were deeply engaged and invested in this process like I hadn't really experienced before.

Why?

Here are a few of my thoughts on this:

  • They knew they were going to be in front of their peers
  • They had a choice on how to deliver the Plymouth story
  • It was social.  
  • It was different.

I suppose it's hard to put my finger on any one reason as to why they were so engaged however, they were and I loved being a part of it.

The paradigm shift:
This style of teaching/learning forced me into a different role however.  I was no longer the "sage on stage" delivering an energized, humorous and thoughtful presentation.  I was now the "guide on the side" going from one group to another asking probing questions.

With one group I would review the work they had already done, clear up any misconceptions, ask a few probing questions and then move on.   I would help another group figure out how to insert images into Microsoft Word that they were going to use.  Another group needed help determining the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  Another group needed help figuring out the username and password for Britannica Online so they could find out more information.

I was busy - real busy just in a very different way.

Here's the other dilemma I was faced to deal with.  The noise.

This type of learning is messy.  Kids are moving about, talking with each other, debating on what to say and what not to say.  An onlooker not involved in this process may have thought, "What on Earth is going on in there with all that noise?"  But upon taking a closer look would have seen that every single student was deeply involved in the learning process.

So in the end I realized this:  
I let go for but a moment.  I let go of the control and gave it to the kids and they handled it very well.  For over an hour, at the end of the day mind you, these kids were grinding through a rigorous piece of text right up until the very last second of the day and beyond...and enjoying it.

They owned that learning experience and most definitely took what would have been an otherwise dry and dull activity and turned it into something much much more ~ a personalized learning adventure.