5 Jul 2016

Self Directed Learning Version 1 - My Reflection

I have a taken a step out in the wild and unknown this year with part of my Curriculum for Year 9 Social Studies. I have handed over as much control as I could to the students in regard to what they were learning and being assessed on. You can read the beginning story and outline for my Self Directed Learning (SDL) class here. What Would Students Do If They Could Learn Anything.

The short version is that I cut down what the students had to do to just the absolute basic 'Must Haves'. I decided we still needed, to have a focus, this was Citizenship, we needed to measure learning, and we needed evidence of learning. The 'Must Haves' were:
  • A learning plan
  • A citizenship skill and a rubric to assess it with
  • Evidence of learning - photos, videos, product
  • Progress reflections
  • Final Summative Reflection
  • Self Assessment
Teaching Methods
This was a very high trust model. I gave the students, all of the students, the benefit of the doubt that if they were given the freedom to learn what they wanted then they would focus and engage and put effort into their learning. Ill talk about how that went later on. They could choose any group size they wanted from individual through to the whole class. There was a range of individuals, pairs, threes, fours, and a few fives. Who they worked with was a large part of the process. They had the freedom to change their topic at anytime as their interest shifted. This could mean separating from partners or having conversations with other groups about joining, as long as they met the must haves they were ok. For some these led to great reflections around the challenges of working with others. Reflection was a major part for SDL. It was used as a tool to record their experiences and learning throughout the process with what ever they were learning.
See my reflective process in this Blog Post. Teaching Self Reflection.
The reflections were the only compulsory individual part. Everything else could be worked on in a group or taken from someone else. I did this as it is the same as normal with the teacher providing the plan, the topic, the key question, and the assessment.

What It Looked Like

I kept the plans a simple as possible. Each plan needed a key question for inquiry as well as an experiential part of doing something to practice or making a product to show learning. A key part of the plan was to choose a citizenship skill and write their own rubric for it that they will self assess near the end.

The students could choose any topic they wanted. Any. The only requirement was that they needed a citizenship skill that they could develop while learning about their topic as well. With the classes I created a big list of topic idea generators and citizenship skills as a place for them to start thinking and broaden their thinking.

Here is a list of the topics they choose and the citizenship skills they developed through them with their group size as the number on the end. These are from three classes of up to 24 students in each.

Anzac Biscuits - Self Teaching - 2
Photography - Decision Making, Managing Time - 1
Making Musical Beats - Teamwork - 2
Movie Review - Critical Thinking - 2
Sculpting Chess Board - Teaching Myself - 1
Design a Superhero - Teamwork - 2
Building a Computer - Innovation, Problem Solving - 2
Book Review - Communication - 1
Raffle on Community Day - Teamwork - 4
Performing a Dance - Self Confidence - 3
Pancake Recipe Comparison - Making Judgments - 3
Making and Selling T Shirts - Entrepreneurship - 1
Song Making - Expressing Yourself - 1
Making a Fish Smoker - Teamwork, Contributing - 4
Eel Catching - Responsibility - 3
Pencil Drawing - Creativity - 1
Cancer Awareness through Minecraft - Raising Awareness - 2
Building Models - 2
Making Pizza Bites - Team Work - 4
Natural Disasters - Problem Solving - 1
Historic Weapons and Warfare - Critical Thinking - 2
Cooking Healthy Desserts - Teamwork - 5
Healthy Desserts - Time Management - 2
Dinosaurs Top Predators - Managing Time - 1
Building a 'B' for my sisters room - Creative Thinking - 1
Baking a Cake - Collaboration - 3
Ancient Mythology - Teaching Myself - 2
There were four basketball groups - Perseverance, Teamwork, Responsibility, - With 2 or 3 people

As you can imagine there were greatly varying results amongst the projects. It would be easy to think that having students plan and organise all their own learning is easier from the teachers perspective. While it does cut down on what I can prepare and organise before class, it creates a far busier environment for the teacher in class. Every group needs to be check off and kept accountable and it is easy to let things fall through the gaps.

The Challenges
As I just said it was hard to keep a track of everything. I decided to keep the ownership of keeping on track with the students the first time and round, give them the benefit of the doubt. This worked as you might expect the high performing, well self disciplined students did well and the others not so well. Mostly around getting good paper work sorted, their plans, rubrics, reflections, evidence of learnings etc. They all had a great time doing their topic it was just too easy for some of them to forget the reason why, the citizenship focus and to record their learning.

Next time I will put in a milestone hitting structure. Where they need to be signed off at important stages before they can carry on with their topic. This workload for the teacher in class can only be managed/minimised by having groups I think, as each group needs the same amount of attention so conversations with 1 student and 5 students takes the same amount of time.

There was a lot of opportunity for off task behaviour. Some took that opportunity others were more diligent. Having milestone tracking would help with that. This was especially apparent for projects that had to go out of the classroom to the gym or the kitchen or the tech room or around campus. It was fantastic the support we had from the chefs in the kitchen (boarding school), they helped the boys with their cooking so much and supervised them and reported back to me their performance.

Some students could not get past the idea that this was a free ticket to follow their own hedonistic interests. All their paperwork was completed, or not, so that they could do their topic, so they could spend the time playing basketball with their mates or baking something sweet for them and their mates.  Some sort of responsibility and privilege system could work here and those that perform well can leave the classroom and do less supervised projects perhaps.

Deciding who to go with and what to do were big challenges for some and a challenge that kept coming up.  I encouraged them to work with people they don't usually work with, to develop stronger relationships within the class.  Then they also had to find something they would want to study together.  Some groups had divorces and then the members reformed or joined other groups.  Some students did this three times.  The had to do a lot of reflecting on this process and that is where most of their learning for the term was focussed on.

The citizenship focus, as well as writing and using rubrics relating to it was hard.  All the students were focussed on their topic.  No matter how much I emphasised that the citizenship skills were the important part rubrics about their topic not their skill kept coming back.  They didn't refer back to their citizenship skill rubric throughout either so this will be a structured part in the future.  In saying this they did get good at reflecting about citizenship skills when prompted, they got good at looking at deeper learning behind the topic.

I have learned a lot about what actually happens when you give student full control of their learning as much as possible.  While many can handle this and they do some awesome things, there are areas that need structure for a class to do this successfully.  They need milestones, they need some focus for their topic choice, they need ongoing feedback (Austins Butterfly), they reminding of the focus, they need to be challenged, some need direct supervision.

There was high engagement and excitement across the board with this.  I got excited and engaged with their learning too.  I believe that about 90% did have genuine robust learning experiences that developed them as citizens and their ability to engage with their communities.  However there was probably about 60% that could back that up with solid paper work explaining their plan, their assessment, and good reflections on their learning.

I will be doing this again, time for version 2.0, keep developing as I believe that the choice and ownership that students get through this is super valuable for their learning.

And Finally here are some of the better reflective comments from the students.

I learnt time-management by only using that one lesson to get heaps in but I lacked in it coming to the reflections and not getting them done. I also learnt team work this SDL because it was our overall goal and Riley and I never had an argue with him.

I learnt that nothing to do with music but I did learn some citizenship skills, I don't know what it would be called but I would describe it as make sure that if you are going to do something make sure you pick people that will help you and make sure that you/they make sure they are on task

I learnt to respect and listen to my peers because in some cases you can learn a thing or two from them. For instance, Reuben is younger then me but I still respected him and listened to him and from that I learnt things which helped me get better at basketball.

When shooting (Basket Ball), I realised that my shot always drifted to the right, missing the hoop. I found out it did that because I was pushing the ball with my thumb instead of all my fingers. I adjusted my shooting technique and started to get the ball in the hoop more frequently. I also helped Jerry fix his technique.

I learnt that I should be more prepared and I can apply my learning by if I'm going out in public to make sure I have everything so if I turn up to a meeting I will have what I need.

I learnt that you have to build a bridge and get over stuff sometimes because people ignore you.

We learned that we need to communicate with each other and work together to get our work done on time. We also learned that time management is something we need to work on.

I learnt that ideas can come to you at any pace either being quick or so slow that nothing comes to you until the lesson is over. So a quicker way for coming up with ideas is to research.

SDL was probably one of the most massive failures of all time but in the this failed process we have learnt quite a lot. Not just about technical and how our traps were really bad but deep learning.

One of the most important things we learned was being responsible because when we were putting traps in the river we were by ourself most of the time. We had to be responsible because someone could of been hurt or fell into the river if we were joking around.

We worked hard together as a group and managed to get were we are now, our perseverance levels and our levels of patience were at a high standard as we really wanted to rip into our pancakes but we still needed to research our ingredients, but it's really the deep learning that mattered and I think as a group we finally realised that and we did what matters first and in rewards we can eat some pancakes. We also created our own pancake mix to add, it was much more of a healthier pancake mix but we need to check if it taste as good.

Social studies has been a different experience from any of the other classes we don't, just listen to the teachers we can direct our own learning and learn life skills from any thing we want to. I can't wait to see what I will use these skills for in later life.

I can apply this in my life by being brave and confident when asked to perform for church, family events etc. A lot of things in my life can relate to performing. By doing this sort of item for SDL, it will help me become more aware and on to it when asked to perform.

I learnt that if you put in the extra effort whether in sports or study maybe just maybe you'll get respect from the people around you.

I also learnt a lot about citizenship in our planning we learnt how to collaborate and just get the planning done so we can do our performing part we also learnt about managing our time because we had failed to get to the performing part of it.

I learnt quite a lot of things during the SDL sessions. One of the things I learnt was the sense of Teamwork, Cooperation and Decision making. The team work and cooperation popped up when we actually made the food. We helped each other out giving each other positive attitudes. And the decision making came when our group was researching. I learnt that the all of these things would combine into one, which is teamwork. 

I have learnt to communicate with others so that the original plan can come back together.

I've learnt that having a partner isn't so bad, it's only when they don't meet you halfway with something that it gets really annoying. 

Here I learnt that teamwork can really make a difference with these group-based projects, because when we worked together we were able to get the job done to a high standard. That can really help in everyday life because it's inevitable that we all will work in groups (school, job, sports etc.), and teamwork is a must-have in these situations.

I learnt about teaching yourself things, by making the slideshow with Chan. I have also learnt about teamwork, because at a few stages chan and had some arguments so he denied my access to the slideshow. We also had some problems about making it, how chan was just watching YouTube, but now we our cooperating, and have completed the slideshow. 

What I learnt today was how good our cooperation skills were when we worked together. We supported each other and helped out each other. Since we only had just below an hour to finish this SDL, we really did need to help each other.

I learnt to always have room for little hiccups in your daily plan and don't always think that the day you planned out is always going to work.

I learnt about managing my time, by setting goals for myself to get the slideshow done in time for the presenting our slideshow on seesaw.

I learnt that managing time can help really well for important things like homework.

I learnt that if you want to work in a team you should have an agreement, pretty much like what I learnt in minecraft yesterday.

We have now decide on a truce not to muck up each other's slides and work as a team. I learnt that George can be annoying but life has issues. I can apply this to life when it comes to patience skills like waiting in line.

I learnt that we need to mange our own time better so we can get stuff done on time.

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