Today saw some progress in research on the topics the groups chose: students started answering the focus questions for their topics. What I found most disconcerting about the lesson was that, despite my instructions, groups still didn’t know what to do next. They had textbooks with information in them on their desks, copied sheets with more info, the focus questions written out to answer based on their research…but there was a disconnect between all of that and what THEY had to do. Several groups just did not know what to do next. So I sat down with the groups, even reading the information aloud to them in some cases, and asked the focus questions again to which the students had to answer based on what was said. It was frustrating! I think that either 1) I didn’t explain the process properly, 2) they can’t read or 3) they just don’t know how to research on their own.
I keep telling myself that this is a process and that each successful task and project completed will help them to develop the required skills for effective, student-directed learning. Essentially I feel that they need to be taught HOW to learn, or rather how to “un-learn” the passive learning style that they’ve been engaged in (and I, as one of their teachers, am partially to blame for this) for most of this year (if not back in primary school). I feel a bit sad when I think back to their bright, shining faces at the beginning of the year: they were ready to learn, eager for new experiences, willing to take risks…what happened? Basically they got what every other year 7 student has been given in every year: a quick lesson in compliance and passive learning based on the outdated factory model of schooling. Sit-down-shut-up-and-learn-these-facts-regurgitate-them-and-move-on! I had high hopes for something different for my teaching style this year, so where did I go wrong?
I “chickened out”, to put it bluntly. I didn’t take the time to learn more about project-based learning (which I knew was something that would help me to evolve in my teaching) and put it into practice. In LINCHPIN, Seth Godin terms this reluctance to take risks “The Resistance” and my lizard-brain saw to it that I caved in to the (perceived) pressure to do what everyone else was doing and which has “worked” for so long. Ahhh, the wasted opportunity!
But we can’t mull over past mistakes. The fact of the matter is that I am now purposefully evolving my teaching and trying something different. There will be successes and plenty of failures – but that is okay. If I show my students that it is okay to make mistakes then maybe they will be willing to try new ideas, to think “at the edge of the box” (another Godin term). What’s more, if they see that what is important is not the mistake-making, but the learning that takes place when you reflect on mistakes, then I will be a happy teacher.
Back to the project: To end the lesson, I reiterated the need to show outsiders (HT, principal, etc.) our product before the ship date in Week 10 (it is currently week 7 of term 3) and hopefully that will help to motivate them to put in the hard yards to get it done. Next time we’re in the computer room – let’s see what happens.