Monday, March 3, 2014

Creating a Culture of Learning. My plan.

There are many articles and chats and whatnots about how to create culture of learning the your classrooms. This article via Edutopia was sent by my teammate @gscholtens. It contains some great tips on gradual release of responsibility and how that can improve the culture of learning.

My need to know was: How do I do this in my room? How do I fundamentally change how we view learning in my classroom?

Well, first lets clearly define what a culture of learning would look like. As it is a culture, this idea is based on beliefs. Webster defines culture as:
  • the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
  • a particular society that has its won beliefs, ways of live, art, etc.
  • a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)
I like the second definition best. A particular society (those students in my room) that has its own beliefs (understanding the way we work in this classroom), ways of life (similar expectations), etc.

So, what do I need in order to create a culture of learning in my classroom? Here are some needed components:

1. Rules.  You can call the guidelines, expectations, whatever. At the heart, they are rules. I wrote these rules my first year of teaching, and have yet to find a situation where they do not apply, amazingly.

This is how I explain the rules:
Listen - When I am talking what do you need to do? (Listen) When you want to talk what do you need to do? (Raise my hand) Now, when you are talking I'm going to make sure that everyone is listening to you. This is not a big bad teacher thing. It's a respect thing (rule number three). I have information I want to make sure that you hear. You need to listen. But, when you raise your hand, you have information that everyone needs to hear. So, we listen to you.
Think - Use your brain. 95% of your problems will be solved if you use your brain. The other 5% are natural disasters and pianos falling off high buildings. Use your brain.
Respect - We must respect each other in this classroom. There is no exception. We also must respect the things we have in this classroom. This is a must.
Do - You must do something in this classroom. You are not allowed to do nothing.

There can be no budging on the rules (these or yours or anyone's). These are the common expectation of behavior that must be present in order for a culture of learning to form.

2. Procedures.  Every kids needs to know what to do when they walk into the room. I think about myself growing up and going to a new school. The sheer terror of not knowing where to put my tray after lunch. What do I do when I come into the classroom? What materials do I need? How is class going to start? How do I ask a question? How do I ask to go to the bathroom? What happens at the end of class? All of these procedural questions need to be asked before a culture of learning can exist. They bring order to the non-learning part of the class.
3. Student Voice. There is a difference between learning and being taught. One is something the student does and the other is something that is done to the student. The way student voice plays into a culture of learning is it transforms the teacher from being the expert on all things to be coming a partner in the learning of your students. There are two parts to the inclusion of student voice. First, teachers should provide lessons that allow the student to prove their learning in a way that best fits the student. This is more than letting your student choose between Power Point and Prezi. It is setting clear learning targets and accepting that some students will be most comfortable with a narrative using a word processing program and another student will want to make a poster and yet another student will want to combine a Haiku Deck presentation accompanied by a duet she and her best friend have prepared. Set your learning targets to allow not only for creativity, but simplicity. The second part of student voice is allowing for the student to make a decision about how involved you, the teacher, are in crafting that proof of learning. I wrote earlier in this post that some students will want to know the targets and take of while others will want some hard edges and a list to check off to ensure they have met all targets. While this creates a minimal amount of work for the teacher, it allows students to feel comfortable with handling the work load. It allows for students not to be swept up in ,"How in the world do I figure this out." You can meet the needs of all your students if you allow for both spectrums of, "Teacher, how do I do this?"
4. An Attitude of Why.  I'm not sure you can teach inquisitiveness, but you can provide a unique opportunity to explore the process of discovery. If you open each lesson or unit or project with, "Here is why we are learning this," The how and the what of learning can come second to the why. If you have not listened to Simon Sinek's TED talk about starting with why, I would encourage you to take the few minutes to listen and apply it to why you set out a curriculum for your students. He says, "People don't buy what your selling, they buy why your selling it." The video is linked here. I took the first step in encouraging the attitude of why by doing away with quantitative assessment. It's not how many things do I need to learn. It's how do I've shown you I've learned.
5. A standard of learning. To create a culture of learning students need to understand to the standard of learning expected. This can be done in many ways. They way I have set a standard is by using the four C's.
  • Critical thinking: Have you thought about this in a way that is clear, rational, open minded and supported by evidence? Have you been your own fact checker and made sure the information is accurate. 
  • Collaboration: Are you students using all of the resources in the room? Do they feel they can ask fellow students? Can they identify the experts in the room? Try creating a "I'm good at this" list. Let the students let you know what they feel comfortable helping others with. Do they automatically see their browser as their first line of defense against, "I don't know." Do your students know that you will ask them how they have tried to solve the problem before coming to the teacher? Let your students use the resources in the room.
The first two C's focus on the inputting of information. The second two deal with the output.
  • Communication: Communication comes in two ways. How do I communicate with my resources either in the classroom or archived online? How do I communicate what I've learned to my audience? We need to make sure that students are doing quality searches and have the knowledge of resources they have at their finger tips. On the flip side, it is so important that we teach our students how to communicate what they have learned. That being said, what happens when they fall short on communicating their proof of learning? Is is one and done or do we provide additional time to improve their communication? Providing additional time early on will set precedent for the level of communication in future projects. Students will know what you expect a quality product.
  • Creativity: Being a music teacher, this is a big one for me. I want to encourage my students to put their own stamp on their learning. This creates two problems. One, they need to take enough ownership of their learning to allow for their personality to be seen. Students have been programmed to fill this out and get these five facts and complete this study guide. Let me be clear in that I realize sometimes that is necessary, but it is at the cost of creativity. Two, I need to be ready for not all of my students end product to look a like. There will be no answer key to this type of learning. I need to think about fair way to evaluate this learning.

By NO means do I call myself an expert on creating a culture of learning. I am trying. I am failing, and I am trying again. My kids are aware of my learning and I am including them in my thinking. I find they enjoy understanding that I am trying to get better. I would encourage you to comment and give me any ideas your have.

Your comments are encouraged and welcome,

Dane Barner

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