Sunday, September 21, 2014

Embed Enrichment into the Learning Program

In today's world of teaching and learning, enrichment is only a key stroke away.

There's no reason for an eager student not to have the challenge they yearn for or benefit from.

You may weave enrichment into your program in the following ways.
  • Start lessons with big ideas through short videos, quotes, problems, or conflicts: That approach sets the stage for the learning experience. This alone is enriching because at its simplest level, this kind of introduction "wakes up the mind for learning," but at the enrichment level these are the kinds of introductions that one can revisit to analyze with greater and greater depth and thought. For example, I often start the Place Value unit with Eames' "Power of Ten" video. 
  • Scaffold the lesson: Always think 1-2-3 when you're planning the learning experience. 1: review, 2: grade-level content, and 3: the enrichment level. I like to have all levels there for the taking for all students, but typically I expect students to complete level 2 and reach for level 3 if desired. 
  • Embed learn-at-your-own-rate programs and games into your curriculum: Today the Internet offers multiple learn-at-your-own-rate sites that students can access.  Two of my favorites include Khan Academy and SCRATCH. Students also profit from Minecraft and Sumdog, but those are not allowed at our school. I plan to identify more of these programs this year, and if you have favorites, please share. These programs allow students to level up as they are ready.  A bright young student could begin learning high school math in fourth grade on sites like Khan Academy and make sophisticated learning models using SCRATCH, Khan coding, and Minecraft. Sumdog offers playful review in a way that students K-8 can play against each other and students from all over the world. Multiplayer platforms are engaging, motivating, and help students to solidify skills they've learned.
  • Let students teach: Advanced students can typically solve a problem or complete a task, but are challenged by application and explanation. It is always enriching to offer students the opportunity to create a presentation on a topic, and then to teach the topic to younger students using that presentation. Teaching to younger students prompts one to think deeply about the content and present it in the simplest terms using multi-modal methods. For example, students could create a short blended lesson that teaches third graders the vocabulary and meaning of multiplication. Willingham's book, Why Don't Students Like School, points out the richness and strength of revisiting concepts repeatedly, and each time gaining new insights and information from the analysis and study. 
  • Spread the learning: Similar to letting students teach, also prompt students to spread the learning by making videos and posters to share with classmates, the school, and possibly others. Integrating your learning in a way that helps others is a very challenging and worthwhile learning task. Last year my students worked with high school buddies to create math films--it was deep work related to math vocabulary, work that served both high school students and fourth graders well on many levels.
  • Challenge the teacher: Give students the opportunity to use the current concept focus to write a problem that will challenge the teacher. Make sure that the student writes the problem neatly, solves the problem herself, and then reviews the teacher's work. Students' first instinct is to write a really challenging problem, one that they can't solve so it's important that students' solve the problem before offering the challenge as this is where the best learning happens. In some cases the student may need to help the teacher if the teacher needs more learning. Young students LOVE to challenge and teach the teacher.
  • Online home study list: Using a Google doc or other venue to host home assignments and enrichment helps students and families at all levels. Students can quickly use links, read the assignments, and know how to get help via other documents and sites or emailing the teacher. The enrichment list can include videos that deepen students' understanding of content. For example, our class is about to start the place value unit, and watching one of the History of Math videos on the Internet serves to enrich and deepen this unit. 
  • Email the teacher: If you're a student who is not challenged today, you can email the teacher asking for greater challenge. I have a student who does that, and the more he emails, the more I know how to challenge him well. Again, I typically give him a task that will support the whole class's learning, and he eagerly problem solves and completes the task. The challenge for me is finding good time to review his work after completion, and I'm working on that challenge. 
  • Class contests using brackets: Last year we played Illuminations' Factor Captor game online with a class tournament. Like a wrestling match, we used brackets so students more capable with the concept kept leveling up and playing other strong students, while more challenged students played students at their levels. This is a good process as when you get the chance to play with someone stronger than you at first, you witness and learn new strategies, but as the tournament continues you are playing with students that are at your level which fosters greater thinking, a good pace of playing, and well-matched challenges. 
  • Debate: Creating multi-level debate teams and making the strongest student the captain is another way to enrich students. The captain has to demonstrate leadership as she and her teammates gather information, prepare for the debate, and work to prove their point. This is an excellent enrichment opportunity. 
Enrichment routines and efforts can be embedded into the typical program in the ways above. If you have other ideas, please share as the teaching program is stronger when every child is working at a just-right level of struggle, challenge, and learning.