Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Deeper Learning: Productive Struggle and Growing Programs

As I've noted repeatedly I truly enjoy developing curriculum programs in ways that help students learn with greater engagement, meaning, confidence, and academic growth and success. Like gardening, I work with my colleagues to assess, prune, and enrich programs year after year.

I thought of this today as I worked on our standards-based environmental education program for fifth grade. This program has gone through many iterations in the past several years. We employ the design process regularly as we assess, reflect, revise/enrich, and employ the unit activities with and for students.

Last year's assessment using student surveys, collegial conversation, observation, family member commentary, project work, and standardized test scores demonstrated that our efforts were timely and engaging, yet we noticed room for greater depth. While students were introduced to almost all the standards-based concepts, some could not apply those concepts well on their own. Thus we are adding a greater focus on reflective activities and application that involve more writing, specific vocabulary, and model making to bring the teaching/learning full circle in ways that build students' ability to apply the learning independently. For example, while students created solar ovens and learned about the way the sun heats those ovens, they were not as able to write about that process on their own.

Our effort to deepen this work finds us focusing on students' lab report work. Careful review of their after-the-hands-on-activity reflection is helping us to focus in on careful attention to the vocabulary, accurate model making, and detailed, accurate explanations. I believe this will help us to deepen students learning as we engage in activity after activity to teach all the standards.

Our review also highlighted the need to include a few standards' details that were missing in our overall program so we will include those details this year too.

An analysis of the math program demonstrated a similar need to deepen the program so that all children are able to navigate multi-step math problems and more sophisticated mathematical thinking. To fulfill this need we are employing more performance tasks and multi-step investigations as part of the math program. The challenge here is to still meet the breadth of the program while building depth too.

I had hoped that our system would take advantage of the state's great Kaleidoscope Project to build this capacity. In general, the state initiatives are wonderful since they are cost-free opportunities to gain good consultation and support for growing programs in timely, research-based ways. The system support for this project did not exist, so I could not apply for the program. This was discouraging, and in my opinion, a missed opportunity, but I'll continue to grow this effort on my own with my grade-level colleagues utilizing Jo Boaler's terrific resources, the state's resources, and my PLN.

There is great satisfaction in growing curriculum programs to better serve students in timely, forward-thinking, engaging and empowering ways. I look forward to this continued work this year. The next immediate steps include the following:
  • Working with students to reach for greater depth with reflective work related to our recent water cycle and watershed model hands-on activities.
  • Meeting with students and family members at student-led family member-student-educator conferences to discuss students' overall work habits, attitudes, and reflections which include their reflections related to recent math performance tasks. 
  • Noticing students' ability to independently demonstrate their knowledge on an upcoming math assessment and analyzing who held on to the knowledge taught and practiced, and who did not. Then thinking with colleagues how we might help those who did not demonstrate mastery.
  • Initiating more standards-based hands-on science explorations and math performance tasks and reflective lab reports to build program depth and breadth.
  • Meeting with state leaders in an evaluation pilot to look deeply at our environmental science program and determine what is working well and what we might improve. 
This is good work, the kind of work that makes teaching meaningful and worthwhile. This is the kind of work that makes you excited to go to school each day since the work helps you to provide a meaningful and beneficial program for students. Onward.