Thinking Opportunities

Planning new units and daily lessons for classes is one of my favorite parts of teaching. I appreciate getting the chance to think creatively on a daily basis. I enjoy thinking about how my teaching should reflect the needs and aspirations of my students. I feel comfortable in my ability to plan. Through my individual decision making and through collaboration with my peers, I feel that I can find meaningful ways for my students to engage with the lesson, content, and curriculum.

Lately, I have had a sinking feeling in my gut. I have felt that even if I put together well thought out lesson plans in accordance to topics and standards, I feel that I am falling short on giving students the opportunity to think deeply about the topics that we are covering. My lessons and unit plans are tailored to content…and lots of it. I am planning to have students engage with content while thinking and making their own meaning at a warp speed. So even if my colleagues and I plan out the unit of our lives, if that unit is concentrated on content rather than thinking, creating, and connecting, we are not setting up our students to be adults ready to succeed in the real world. We are only setting them up to be strong memorizers who have only learned to think about issues on a shallow level and keep their knowledge confined to that unit of study.

I am much more interested in working towards an educational future that I think is better for students rather than lamenting where we are now. To help push myself forward — and maybe some other educators — here are some thought provoking ideas and resources that I have come across that can help create an education where students are given the time and focus to critically think, reflect and engage with ideas and processes that they will be able to apply throughout their academic, professional and civic lives.

BIG THINKING

Students need to be given the chance to think. They should be expected to think all of the time. When we focus too heavily on content, we the teachers become the thinkers. We think about how to transfer all we know to them and they sit back and remember facts. So here is my idea: Let’s allow kids to think more about less. Let’s allow student thinking drive our design, not content. We as teachers can ask what will students think and grapple with, not what facts will they learn.

David Perkins outlines in his book Future Wise how we can plan for big understandings. For big understandings (and thus big thinking) we need to plan units that are:

  1. Big in insight: The understanding helps to reveal how our physical, social, artistic, and other worlds work.
  2. Big in action: The understanding empower us to take effective action professionally, socially, politically, or in other ways.
  3. Big in ethics: The understanding urges us toward more ethical, humane, caring mind-sets and conduct.
  4. Big in opportunity: The understanding is likely to come up in significant ways in varied circumstances.

When we plan for big understandings we are planning for students to think, ponder, and explore. The nature of all of Perkin’s “bigs” will push students to think about themselves, their ability to enact change in the world and to solve problems. The four “bigs” take learning from passive to active. By being a thoughtful participant in their learning process students increase their ability to build empathy, understand perspectives, make meaning of abstract ideas, and solve problems.
SUBJECT AREA THINKING SKILLS

In order for students to connect with the “big” understandings shared by David Perkins, students need to develop the skills and complex thinking traits associated with a discipline. When we plan with an intention of not passing along content, but of passing along a set of thinking skills, we give students tools to use as they grapple with ideas. In our planning we need to give students the opportunity to practice and develop the skills that will allow them to unlock their understandings. I teach Social Studies and I think that we can have students work with primary sources or be responsible for interviewing people that have experienced a significant historical event. When a student is taught how they can utilize skills to create and construct their own understanding allows the the richness of thinking and learning process to shine for the students. Organization such as the Stanford History Education Group provide resources that help teachers begin to teach subject area thinking skills to their students. By mastering subject specific thinking skills, once again, students school and learning experience goes from passive to active as now they are taking control and forming their own meaning, connections, and understandings. 

CONNECTING

The world is complex and ever changing. When many of our students leave high school they will be of voting age. They will be able to be active participants in civic society all over the world. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how many schools prepare students to be active, knowledgeable, contributing members of a global society. I would encourage each teacher all of the time to teach with social justice issues at the center of their curriculum. By teaching with Social Justice in mind we can help students make connections between what we teach, the world around them, and how the two connect. Without planning for letting students make connections and build empathy we could set them up for a future of selfishness or complacency. We educators can promote equality, peace, and sustainable development if we plan with the idea in mind that our lessons and units can inspire students to take action regarding a real world issue that is happening right now. By making the explicit connections we can show how potentially abstract ideas in school can make concrete impacts in the real world. Students will see that their knowledge and ideas are powerful. It is through feeling empowered to take action that we can engage students in their learning experience. We can educators can find inspiration not only from other schools but from real students as well. We can help to make connections so as to keep students connected to what is happening in the real world.

How Was That Process For You?

This past summer I attended the Assessment Training Institute in Portland, Oregon. A huge theme and take away for me from this conference was that student assessments should be built as an assessment for learning, not just assessments of learning. According to the Assessment Reform Group, assessment for learning “is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.”

This idea of assessment for learning as a tool to see where students are in their thinking and learning process was thought provoking for me. I was intrigued by this idea that this approach to assessment empowers students by giving them ownership and understanding of where they are in their learning process. According to Rick Stiggins, “in the case of assessment FOR learning, the key question is, what comes next in the learning? The decision makers are teachers and their students.” So in my mind, assessment for learning was another medium to create a true partnership of learning between student and teacher.

However, creating opportunities for authentic and reflective assessment for learning was easier said than done. In my mind I understood how we could use assessment for learning, but I would have to say that I am not sure how well I put it into practice. Most of my assessments reflected a model of checking for understanding of content and skills. Even when I tried to create an assessment that was for learning rather than of learning, I felt that I continued to come up short of my goal. However the other day I think that I had a bit of a breakthrough, and it was not even how I had planned for it to occur.

My DP Econ students were studying linear demand and supply equations. Super Exciting! To assess their understanding of the equations and how they are used, I tasked my students with going out into the school and teaching an adult about the equations. I set up a few parameters for the task such as the time allotted and that students had to take photos of them teaching and then video record the adult summarizing their understanding of what had been taught. With these limited parameters my students went out into the school to share and teach and I waited to see how it went.

Thirty minutes later all students were back. There was a buzz in the classroom as they shared stories with each other of their successes and pitfalls of teaching. My initial thought was to immediately jump into debriefing the content that they had just gone over, but then I changed my mind. The first questions that I asked was, “How was that process for you? What did you learn about your understanding of this concept by teaching linear equations to a novice?”

The responses that I heard from students were far more valuable than any content review. When we focused on the thinking process rather than the content students reflected genuinely on their their thinking, understanding and metacognition. They remarked on how much they were challenged to articulate their understanding to someone that had no previous knowledge. They spoke as to how they were challenged to organize their thinking and ideas. They spoke to how they could identify key ideas and specific gaps in their understanding by going through this process. Most importantly for me, students talked about how they learned by taking part in this assessment.

This was assessment for learning! Through a simple process and thinking orientated reflection question, students were able to use this assessment to learn more about themselves as thinkers and to learn about their overall understanding. They were able to learn about how to formulate and communicate explanations that were clear and fluent. They were able to learn about what areas of the content they needed to speak to me about for extra help. Most importantly, I think that they learned that even though they are just starting out their economic careers, they already know and understand a lot, and that is empowering.

This assessment and their reflection allowed them to engaged in their learning. According to Rick Stiggins, assessment should allow “students become consumers of assessment information too, using evidence of their own progress to understand what comes next for them.” This puts students in the driver’s seat of their education and their learning. The teacher can now be there to act as a support system, coach, and field expert for the student. The student has the evidence to pinpoint their academic gaps and the teacher can focus with accuracy interventions that can help students achieve their desired academic goals.

The simple question of “How was that process for you?” has changed how I approach the creation of my assessments. I now understand that I should be able to ask this question after each and every assessment and hopefully be able to learn just as much about a student’s understanding of the material as I would from marking their actual work. I hope that by using assessment for learning my students will see that process is as valuable as end product. I also believe that helping students develop the skill of reflection through asking, “How was that Process for you?” will be a valuable skill that they can apply across all subject or all future learning.

Maintaining Positive Relationships

Building community and establishing positive relationships with students is a must for all teachers and schools at the start of each year. The September 2016 addition of Educational Leadership is fully devoted to the importance of establishing relationships. In addition to Educational Leadership, I have been heartened to see Twitter and blogs being flooded by great ideas from educators around the world regarding how they establish positive relationships at the start of the school. While it is amazing to see such a focus on relationships and how they can lead to a successful year, I could not help but wonder, would the same focus on relationship building last once the beginning of the year had passed. What do educators do to continue to nourish relationships as the year goes on? What practices are used to ensure that the relationships that we establish at the start of the year can grow and develop so as to always have a student centered approach to education?

I decided to reach out and ask educational professionals how they continue to build relationships over the course of the entire school year. Here are ways that some teachers around the world continue to build and maintain relationships with their students.

Elsa Baptista–Canadian International School, Singapore

Elsa believes that taking an interest in students lives and activities outside of her classroom helps to build and maintain positive relationships over the course of the year. She makes an intentional effort to ask her students what school activities they are involved in. Taking it a step further, Elsa attends as many school events that her students are involved in as possible. These events range from MYP Personal Project exhibitions, to DP art night, to school concerts and sporting events. By making herself visible at these school activities Elsa is showing that she cares about her student as a whole student, and not just as a class member.

Kyle Dueling–International Community School — Addis Ababa

Kyle had two very interesting reflections regarding maintaining strong relationships. First, Kyle says, “I would say the general classroom environment really fosters these [positive] relationships.  Creating a classroom of inquiry where you are the guide, but students are the center of learning really makes them feel valued and lends to positive relationships.” In addition, Kyle uses a daily routine called “good news”. Kyle takes the first 3-4 minutes of each class to give anyone the opportunity to share “good news” in their lives. Kyle says that as the year goes on students tell him how much they feel appreciated and listened to when they are asked to share about themselves.  

Eileen Rueth— International School of Beijing

Eileen has a great strategy and a great insight that allows for relationships to be maintained over the course of a school year. Eileen says “At the beginning of the year I have students fill out cards with all the basic info, extra curricular, favorite sports, etc. and then ask them some random questions about music or movies or stuff I can use later.  I usually don’t even look at them for 4-6 weeks but when I do (which is when I can actually put a face to a name) I make mental notes of them and then comment.  I will say stuff about their favorite football team, or ask about a latest video game, or inquire about try-outs for a team and I do it privately on their way in or out of class.  They know then that I know something personal and remembered that about them.  If some kid is really trying to fly under the radar screen I work doubly hard to find something to say to them.”

In addition, Eileen shared this thoughtful insight. She says, “Kids are people and they want to feel valued – it’s not rocket surgery.   Making that personal connection so that they see you as a person and that you are interested in them as an individual – and not as a grade – it’s easier to relate to them.”

So why are relationships so important?

I believe educators need to show our students that even when we are all working hard and are in the grind of day to day, we still make the time for relationships. Beyond the often mentioned outcomes of increased positive behaviors and educational gains when trust is built, I feel relationship building taps into the humanistic component of education that is often overlooked. By making this effort we, as educators, can show students that yes, we care about class, but we also care about you as human beings. In addition, by continuing to build relationships with students we can model for them a positive behavior. We can show them what it is like to maintain relationships beyond initial meetings and the create positive correlations between maintained relationships and feeling successful.

So as this school year moves on and you move past your “community building” activities, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions: What can you do to push yourself to keep developing authentic relationships with your students?  What are some unique ways to connect with students in an authentic and meaningful manner?  What are the benefits of investing time and resources into positive student relationships?    

What to do with the Question Pt. 1

I am a big fan of Project Zero Visible Thinking routines. Even when working with grade 12 students, I find myself relying on a wide variety of routines to explore ideas, dig deeper, and make our thinking visible. As I have used and tried out the different thinking routines I have come to rely on certain routines more than other. Some of my current favorites are Chalk Talk, Sentence-Phrase-Word, and Color-Symbol-Image.

One of the routines that I have used in the past but is not in my “to go to regularly” tool box is the routine called Claim-Support-Question. I like the basic idea of, creating a strong claim and then supplying evidence that supports that point. As a history teacher this is a skill that I work with my students on all the time. The part of the routine that  I struggled to make sense of for me and in turn communicate the application to my students was the Question portion of this routine.

Step three of the routine reads as follows.

3. Ask a question related to your claim

Question: What’s left hanging? What isn’t explained? What new reasons does your claim raise?

I love questions. I think that questions are what do/should drive our learning. Questions are what feed our curiosity. However, with this routine I continued to have a hard time deciding to most effectively use the Question portion of the routine. In my class of 20 students I could get 20 great questions. Do I answer them immediately? Do I let them just linger? Do I save them to address later? Do I have students try to answer each other’s questions? This is where I would get stuck with this routine.

Next week I am going to try a modification to this thinking routine and see if that will help me with doing something with the Question portion of the routine so as to promote student learning rather than the lingering, unanswered question. What I am planning on doing is adding an “Inquire” step to process. Once students have created a question based on their claim, they will have time to explore that question and seek an answer. I will be doing this at the start of a unit and am hoping that this chance to explore questions of their own I will hook the students and tune them into our studies.

I will post part two once it is completed.

Increase the Creativity

“My creativeness has been maximized. I have nothing left.” I was shocked to hear these words come out of the mouth of one of my students the other day. In my IB History class I push my students to think and share their ideas in a variety of ways. I believe that they expect to be asked to unpack in history in unfamiliar fashions. So, when I thought of creating a Graffiti Wall to reflect the ideologies of Fidel Castro, I believed I had a surefire formative assessment. I was excited because I thought that a graffiti wall would allow students to express their understanding through drawing, words, and be literal or metaphorical. I thought that they would like choice in their creativity. To help them tune in we took a virtual walk down Batman Alley in Sao Paulo for some graffiti inspiration  using Google Streetview. Students were excited and intrigued. I put up a giant butcher paper, rolled out the markers, and got ready for some graffiti magic. It never came.  

Students approached the paper and just started at it. I grabbed a marker and contributed some graffiti in hopes of inspiring my students to create. Slowly tentative contributions began to unfold on the paper. I moved around, asked questions and tried to provoke thinking. Still, not much creation.

As I engaged with my students what was shared in one way or another is that they felt they were not “creative” and “did not know what to put.” My students were afraid that they would create something “lame” or “childish” or “stupid.”  Cue Ken Robinson.

It’s not that I had dismissed Robinson’s idea that schools kill creativity.  However, I was shocked to see it right in front of my face. These particular students are seniors in high school. While on daily basis I am excited about all the good they will bring to the world, I also became saddened thinking of what they might hold back from sharing if they don’t tap into their creative selves. In my class there are students who I think can really do some amazing things. However, will they be able to tackle the world’s problem if they are afraid to think creatively? When they are outside of the structures of IB Paper 1s and Paper 2s, will they think in a way that is still creative, analytical and innovative?

IMG_0284

The final product of our graffiti wall

It is up to teachers to break the mold, disrupt the norm, and to encourage creative thinking. While schools systems and administrators play a role in this, teacher’s are the key link. It will be the daily challenge of creative thinking opportunities created by teachers that will help students hone their creative and critical thinking skills. Stacey Goodman provides suggestions on how to help students hone their creativity in his article on Edutopia. Goodman stresses heavily on the development of divergent thinking as creative thinking. Divergent thinking does not have to be combative thinking. Combative thinking is simple. Divergent thinking is complex. Divergent thinking is thinking outside the box to be a creator. Combative thinking is selfish and focuses on consumption  — the me-me-me mentality. 

It is important that we provide students the opportunity to be creative and divergent thinkers. To think in new and different ways takes practice. Students are told to conform so often and to not question. As teachers let’s break that mold. Let’s let students think about things in new ways. Let’s empower them to share their ideas. Let’s be divergent thinkers ourselves. With new thinking comes development academically, socially, and emotionally. If we as educators can consistently provide an opportunity for students to practice their creativity, then we hold hope for future graffiti walls and more importantly, for future societies.

The Doodle

We are solidly into the school year. I am working with seniors this year which means that we are solidly into the rhythm of DP 2. In history that means that we are analyzing text, comparing and contrasting, evaluating sources, and looking for historical process. I am proud of my students as they develop their skills as young historians. However, the other day I stepped back and reflected on what we had been doing so far in class. While the rigor was high, as was the engagement, I realized that I had very much been teaching to the test. We were practicing skills they would apply on their world exams, over and over and over again. It began to feel like we were in a rut.

It was time for a mix up. How could I have students engage with history and thinking at the high level that I wanted them to but change the way I had them unpack their thinking? Then it came to me — doodling. Why not challenge students to doodle their interpretations of history. I felt like it was a good idea but still wanted to know if doodling would engage my students, engage  their brains, and promote thinking in a different way. With a quick search on Google I was overwhelmed with people advocating the power of the doodle. In particular, the Ted Talk by Sunni Brown had me sold.

My first attempt with using the doodle to decode a historical text came when we examined the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence. Students were given the text and a blank piece of paper. Their task was to doodle their understanding of what Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh stood for. I read the text and they doodled.

At first they seem unsure but by the second paragraph I saw pencils flying. By the third paragraph of the text I saw multiple colors being used to represent different ideas and emotions. When we were just half way through the text students were flipping to the backside of their paper. Their construction of understanding was messy and scribbled but individualized and specific. After the text students were given time to catch up with their thoughts and still the doodling was rampant.

Next students paired up to share their understanding of Ho’s ideas and had to use their doodles to support their ideas. As I moved around listening to conversations I was amazed by not only the ideas but how they connected their doodles to their ideas. Some students took they doodles very literally while some were more metaphorical. After the sharing in pairs I facilitated a conversation around the driving question of the day of Ho’s ideologies. The level of conversation was high as was the level of understanding.

I do not know if it was the doodle that supported their understanding or if it was something else. However, as I watched them doodle their understanding I could see them thinking. Students would pause, think, then attack their papers with doodles. I think that the doodling pushed students to think about their thinking and understanding in a way they are not used to. They rose to the challenge and because they had to think more about what they were doing I believe they were more aware of their thinking. While students will not be doodling on their world exams in history I hope that they can still think like a doodler as they apply other skills.

TOK meets Visible Thinking

The IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay. Like many assignments students are tasked with in their high school careers, the TOK essay is a chance for them to demonstrate their critical thinking, analytical writing, and communication skills. In 1600 words students this year will tackle ideas and prompts such as

“In gaining knowledge, each area of knowledge uses a network of ways of knowing.” Discuss the statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.

“Without application in the world, the value of knowledge is greatly diminished.” Consider this claim with respect to two areas of knowledge.

“In knowledge there is always a trade-off between accuracy and simplicity.” Evaluate this statement in relation to two areas of knowledge.

When I initially saw these prompts I thought to myself, wow! The prompts students are asked to write on are hefty. It is my first year teaching TOK and maybe I am naive to it all, but I am still amazed at what students are asked to think about. As a teacher and a learner myself, I had to take some time to unpack these questions, make meaning, and create understanding. I wanted to really think about each of the prompts and what they were asking. By unpacking the prompts myself, I hoped that I could help to support my students as they selected the prescribed title of their choosing.

Due to time constraints and holidays at the school where I am, my students did not have the luxury that I did to slowly pick apart the TOK essay prompts. In order to help them think about about what prompt they would want to select for their essay , I utilized a Harvard Project Zero Visible Thinking routine. Specifically, I used the See-Think-Wonder routine. According to the project Zero website, See-Think-Wonder “encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.”  For me this was perfect. I wanted students to unpack these questions while interpreting and wondering so as to set their stage for both inquiry and for essay success.  

Often times Visible Thinking routines are associated with elementary or middle school learners. I am one that would strongly advocate the use of these routines at the high school level. As my students used this Visible Thinking routine, they discovered and created very complex ideas and connections that will aid them in their selection of a TOK prompt, in completing an outline, and hopefully in the writing of their essay.

IMG_0053 IMG_0054

Overall I was very happy with how this Visible Thinking Routine allowed my student to make meaning of the prompts in a simple, clear, and uncomplicated way. With the structure of the routine to keep them on track students were able to work together collaboratively to unpack ideas, support each other, and even challenge one another in their understanding of the prompts. What is also great, is that rather than having these ideas be vocalized and then forgotten as they head to their next class, students produced visual representations of their thinking that they could refer back to later as they jumped into essay writing.

Why do I think that this exercise was relevant to my students on a greater level? These are all students that intending to go to university next year. They will undoubtedly be given questions and tasks that they find confusing or overwhelming. I would like to think that this exercise could be relevant to them because now they have been given a simple and straightforward tool to approach and unpack complex tasks. Instead of reacting to challenging assignments in a negative way, these students have three clear questions they can ask to provide clarity and make sense of their own thinking. What do I see? What do I think? What do I wonder? Three short questions that can provide such depth and understanding.

Why do I Study History?

History provides me with a context of the world. It’s comforting yet disturbing as the world is more than today yet greater than myself.

I study history to appreciate the opportunities and advancements we have in the present.

I study history because it promotes critical thinking.

I study history to understand the human race, and why/how people act/think the way they do.

I study history because it helps me to evaluate (IB,IB,IB) the world’s conditions.

I study history becuase the eternal knowledge that it represents allows me to almost time time travel and teleport. It inspires me to leave my own eternal mark.

This year I am working with seniors in high school. I feel lucky that I get to be part of what is a very exciting year for them. There are countless things for these students to anticipate such as graduation, university, and world exams. I hope to be an adult that can support them as they begin their transition into their post secondary life. In addition, I hope that I can be a teacher that can keep them focused, grounded, and living in the present so their high school experience culminates in a way that is memorable and meaninful for them–not experienced in a blur.

My fear is, along with all of the excitement that comes with being a senior in high school, there is also lots of stress, anxiety, and potential burnout. Students can fall victim to going through the motions of school as they wait for the year to finish out. The hard work, critical thinking, and love for learning could be put aside as their next chapter is about to begin.

In an effort to set the tone for the year and hopefully encourage students to reflect and draw focus on the year ahead of them, I asked them the most of basics questions for a history teacher. I asked them, Why are you here? Why do you choose to study history?” The class I teach, SL/HL IB History is an elective for these students. There are other classes out there for them to select from. However, for one reason or another, I have 40 individuals that selected this class. I hoped that by helping students reflect on why history class is meaningful to them I would help to ground them on all the learning that is still to come this year and also rekindle that study of history spark.

In addition to wanting them to be grounded and focused on this year, I also wanted their voice to be heard. Last year when they were first year DP students they did not necessarily get the chance to answer this question. Instead, as the teacher I made the call to start the year off by using a piece by Peter Stearns entitled Why Study History to answer this all important question. While I think that there are many excellent ideas in this piece, the more I reflected on it, the more I became upset that I stole my students opportunity to create this idea for themselves. A year later I tried to redeem myself by giving them the voice.

The responses that I got blew me away. Their responses helped me see that there are many student who are passionate about history and that they find value in the study of history for a wide variety of reasons. Also, by soliciting their response to this question it can help me create a path for the year that can incorporate my students ideas on the importance of history by relating back to the themes and ideas they think are key. Yes, there may be off days and moments of high-stress and unknown for my students, but overall I am so amazed by the insightfulness that my students bring to their learning. It will be my job to keep this level of engagement up all year especially when the future, via their lens, could seem more important than the present. Challenge accepted.

Educational Journey

In the History classroom we often ask ourselves how we can make the content come alive so as to engage our students. In some schools students have the opportunity to travel to historically important locations. Via their school sponsored travels students are able to make a personal connection with history that they would not normally be able to make within the confines of a classroom. When students are able to travel to historical locations they can begin to experience what history looked like, felt like, and sounded like. In a wonderful interview with Stephan Anagnost on the Ed Tech Coop Podcast, he speaks to a trip that he organized for his students to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In the description of this trip, Anagnost describes how the experience becomes more of an educational journey, rather than a really big field trip. Anagnost speaks to how the idea of a journey comes about in the pre trip planning, the trip experience, and in the learning and debrief that occurs after. He says that because the trip becomes a chance for students to make real and intimate connections with their learning via this journey, they end up learning and thinking in a much more complex way. For the purpose of this post I want to think about and focus on the idea of creating a journey in the experience of student learning and understanding.

Unlike Anagnost, I have not been provided many opportunities to take students to a location to experience, to feel, to see, and hear history. However, after reflecting on this podcast, my thinking was provoked about how I can, or have, done my best to try to create learning experiences that become more than lessons and become journeys of learning within the classroom walls. When I think about a learning journey, I think not only about a student totally engaging with a topic or concept, but I also think about that journey leading towards developing empathy and a deeper understanding of a topic.

I have experimented with a variety of technologies that can help bring learning alive and make it a journey that allows students to connect with the history. In reality it is not devices that support the student journey but it is web based tools that build the connection for students. The web based experiences can transport students from the classroom to an alternate place and a time. These web based tools allow students to see places all over the world and hear voices that they normally would never get to connect with. Here are some examples of resources that I have used in the past, and or plan to use in the future. These resources I hope will facilitate an educational journey for students and help them make relevant connections to today’s world and through a lens of empathy.

Oral History Databases

A variety of organizations have spent lots of time interviewing people who have first person accounts of history. Students are able to access these oral history databases that contain stories as told by people who have intimately experienced an event. By listening to and/or viewing the stories students can key into the emotions that are embedded into the stories by their tellers. Through the emotions of the interviewees students can make connections that may not have been made if the student is just reading about something or listening to a lecture.  This is the intended hope of a journey and a crucial step in developing empathy and understanding.

An oral History interview with my 1st grade teacher, Aki Kurose.

Google Earth and other Interactive Exhibits

Google Earth is another powerful tool that can transport students to places all around the world. One of my favorite ways that I have used Google Earth is creating a tour for my students to take. With the creation of a Google Earth Tour I can take students on a journey. The tour allow us — as a class — to “fly” to locations all over the world. At each location I can embed information, primary sources, songs, and other medias that will spark thinking. As the creator of a particular tour, I can share with students information that can help them build a deeper understanding of the topic. I have also had students create their own tours to reflect their understanding of a topic and to demonstrate a deeper connection. I love this tool because I think that it mixes geography and learning with a sense of a journey as students zip around the world.

Other Interactive Media Exhibits

Depending on what you are teaching there are all kinds of other interactive exhibits on the internet that allow students to take a virtual journey to new places. An example that I have used in the past is an exhibit called The Places we Live.

jakarta_2

This particular tool allows students to visit different cities around the world and to step into the houses of residents of particular communities. I found this to be an incredibly powerful tool. Since students travel to locations all around the world — from Caracas to Jakarta — they definitely are on an adventurous journey. However, this exhibit — and others like it — take students on an emotional journey, as well. Programs such as this connect students with real people in their real environments. In their studies students can examine statistics or analyze text.  However, when students have a chance to see the faces and hear the voices of real people they have experienced a different kind of journey — a journey of connecting more with their learning and develop empathy.

Taking time to explore virtual resources so as to create a journey for students is well worth the time. If we, as teachers, want to help create future global citizens that are aware of the greater world around them then a journey is a good place to start. By creating these journeys for our students we can help to connect them to real people and real places. Journeys have the opportunity to take the obscure and make it real. Journeys can put a human face on a story and can convey emotions that textbooks and lectures cannot. I think also important is that journeys are student centered. Through educational journeys students are allow to make meaning on their own. The connections that students make to what they are experiencing via their journey are unique to each student. An emotion, or a story, or a place that resonates highly with one student may impact another student in a different way. In the end hopefully these journeys can facilitate thinking, conversation, and most importantly, empathy.

Feedback From Students

Feedback is everywhere in education. As teachers we give our students feedback all of the time–formally and informally. Feedback to students comes to them in all sorts of ways (verbal, written) and in many types of settings (formative, summative). There are have been many articles written on the importance of giving students feedback so that they can change their practices so as to refine their skills and work towards mastery. It is through feedback that students are able to learn and grow under the watchful and caring eye of their teacher.

While it is common for teachers give feedback to their students, it is far more rare that students have the opportunity to give feedback to their teachers. I see reflective feedback from students to teachers as being a crucial and integral part in the continued growth and development of a teacher. In addition, by creating this channel of feedback and communication there will be a positive evolution of a classroom and learning environment. When teachers gather feedback about their practice from their students, it can act as a tool for teachers to modify their pedagogy to better support the learners in their community. It is all about the students!

So why don’t we? Why don’t teachers actively and regularly seek out feedback from students? If it is the goal of the teacher to reach and connect with students in a meaningful way so as to support their developmental and educational growth, why would we not ask them how we are doing? The act of garnering feedback from students is a great way to demonstrate that the classroom is student centered and that students have a voice in their education. Through this empowerment students will feel more connected to the class and their learning as they think about how they can best be supported, and know that their voice will be heard.

In a great post by the globally minded counselor, she speaks to asking people what support looks like for them. By asking someone what support looks like to them, the supporter can best address the needs of the person that they are working with. This idea of explicitly asking students what support looks like for them in the classroom forces students to think about their learning process. When students have to vocalize what support looks like for them and articulate how well their teacher is responding to their needs, it put students in a new position. With this new voice, students shift from being a passive member of the learning community to an active member where their thoughts and feedback matter. Students become active as they note and think about the learning activities that work for them knowing they will have a chance to give feedback. If we are ignoring the needs and experiences of our students and not intentionally asking them what support looks like for them and how they feel about their classroom experience, then how can we as educators be reflective on the effectiveness of our practice?

A tool that I have used over the course of the year to gather feedback from students on my teaching practice is Google Forms. Google Forms allows me to create a questionnaire that I can easily distribute to students digitally and then collect their responses in an organized way. What I like most about using Google Forms to gather feedback from students is that their responses are anonymous. The anonymity of the responses empowers the students to be more authentic in their feedback as their is no fear that a teacher may be hurt or upset by an individual’s constructive criticism. Additionally, I find that by having no names attached to the responses ensures that there are no pre-conceived ideas about the feedback that I receive from certain individuals. Kevin Brookhouser has made a great video explaining how to create a Google Form for feedback.

By asking for student feedback on my teaching and facilitating in the classroom, I have become a better and more reflective teacher. In the past I would reflect on lessons or assessments but the reflections would mainly be from my own perspective. Now that I am asking students their opinions I have direct access to the thoughts of the people that matter the most — the students. By asking for and receiving student feedback I am able to tailor my teaching and facilitation of the class to the needs of my students. The tailoring of my lessons allows me to be reflective on activities that were less successful so that I do not make the same mistakes in the future. Additionally, I can reflect on successful lessons and refine them for next time.

I think that asking for feedback scared me at first. Once I got over the fear of being judged (which in the end was a total irrational fear), I was able to embrace all the feedback as a learning and growing opportunity — just like I ask my students to view my feedback. My teaching has only improved as a result of getting feedback from my students. The feedback has eliminated any guesswork I may have done on the successfulness of my teaching and facilitating as well as given me further insights into why certain lessons may not have gone as well. Most importantly if applying student feedback ensures a student centered class, we would be doing a disservice if we didn’t ask.