Moving it Along

Although it might go against the very spirit of blogging, I think responding to Dina’s comment on my post about the “Connections” class deserves a little more attention.

This class sounds like a jewel in the making. I’d love to know nitty-gritty (length? scheduling? vertical alignment?) if you’re willing.

I wonder this too: it was recently at a meeting of the minds educational panel (2004 NYS Teacher of the Year, 2008 NYS Teacher of the Year, and a former National Science Teacher of the Year) that I heard this put forth as a pedagogical touchstone: “Who owns the question?”

I thought of this as I read the list of questions your colleagues have drawn up– truly exciting and challenging stuff. Will these ideas exist with the leeway for students to determine their own critical inquiries?

In other words– in your proposed class, who do you think will own the questions? I’d love to know.

Dina’s question has been sitting on me for a few days, possibly weeks, now, and it’s not that I’ve been ignoring it, but rather gathering some resources to include in my response.  One of the things I found was a recent post by Dr. Tim Tyson called Value Chain 2.0.  Dina had asked who was going to own the questions that these teachers were proposing as essential to the unit of study, the students or the teachers?  Tyson’s article asks a much similar question, but he refers it to “who owns the learning in the classroom: the teachers or the students?  It also raises questions for me in the area of responsibilities shared by students and teachers.  A while back I wrote about being impressed with Alan November‘s idea that teachers should “outsource” a lot of what they do to the students.  Tyson’s point about who is doing the thinking work in the class goes to that–are you doing all of the thinking, or are the students?

What I am struggling with, and I think it’s a struggle that all teachers and administrators will face in the coming years, is convincing and working with teachers to learn alongside their students, to model their practice for them, to fail in front of them, and to resurrect themselves in front of them.  The key point I have been trying to drive home with the teachers I am working with is that this class should be designed around topics that both you and the students want to learn about, and that this class has unbelievable potential for personal learning.  That being said, I like the idea that the ownership of both the learning and the questions be distributed evenly between the teachers and students.  Student-centered? Teacher-centered?  How about learning-centered?  or inquiry-centered?

As with anything we do in education, there needs to be some structural framework to all of this, and we are ramming up against that pretty hard as we write the curriculum.  Questions of assessment strategies keep arising being that we are stripping out all of the focus on conventions (spelling, grammar, mechanics) and focusing solely on thinking process and ability to express ideas.  We are also running into the issue of how to structure this class on a daily basis, how do we set this up technologically (please, any classroom bloggers out there, we need your methods and practices that have been successful!), and what do we do to convince students that writing and thinking are not drudgery?


5 thoughts on “Moving it Along

  1. Nice post! My students were appalled the first time I did not have an answer but fully understand this now at the end of the year. They also know many questions do not have just one answer.

    However, I still think I fall short here as I do a lot of front loading with project based activities. This I must improve upon. How do you begin this process and still maintain the concepts you must get through in a year (not content but we still have standards to meet)? I am really struggling with this and wonder if there is any more guidance?

  2. Louise,

    You ask “How do you begin this process and still maintain the concepts you must get through in a year?”

    We came across this problem when we were designing the class in the beginning. Our solution we pulled from Doug Reeves ideas of using “power standards” to pull together several idiosyncratic standards into one summative “standard.” We tried to phrase it like a state standard (we used NJCCCS for this). It was the best way we could see of still maintaining alignment to the standards, yet still having the freedom to be creative in what we teach.

    The other issue was that we had to do this from the four core subject areas of science, math, social studies and English/Language Arts. We did a lot of crunching. If you’d like, I can send you a copy of what we did.

  3. I just read Clay’s last post and he offers some interesting insight in your discussion. (
    I wish I had your problems now, but I am have not got my teachers to that level. I hope in a year I can use what you are learning now. I am trying to lead a group of teachers that just don’t see the importance nor does the building leader. Someone wrote a 1:1 tech grant from the district office for this school and now they have me. 1:1 laptop is one of six initiatives this school must endure.

  4. This sounds fascinating.

    We are in the beginning stages of starting a professional learning community with a group of teachers from a variety of disciplines. But we’ve already been talking about the idea of curriculum–and of the difference between “pouring content” into the “pail” and working alongside students, and that we’ll have to figure out what that looks like in terms of curriculum.

    I found a great resource in Robert Fried’s book Passionate Learner–he has an excellent chapter about “curriculum as relationship” that I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

    I’ll be interested to see how your experiment progresses and how it impacts the teachers and students.

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