Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shelley Wright on Ownership as Framework for Learning

"I used to think that compliant, well-behaved students were the ideal; now I’m afraid for them. I’m afraid for the kids who think that scoring 90% actually means something in the real world. I’m afraid for the kids who believe the academic hoops they jump through so effortlessly guarantee that they will be successful at life. I’ve come to believe that being good at school might mean you’d make a decent academic, but it isn’t a guarantee of much else."
Shelley Wright is a high school educator in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada. In her post, “The Flip: End of a Love Affair,” she wrote,
 “As I shifted my classroom from teacher-centred to student-centred, my students began to do lots of their own research. Sometimes this resulted in them teaching each other. Sometimes they created a project with the knowledge they were acquiring. But the bottom line was that their learning had a purpose that was apparent to them, beyond simply passing the unit exam.” 
As time went on, Wright saw her role changing to more of a guide and partner in learning. In one year, the flip disappeared. What happened?

Her students took over. They did the research, discovered, and shared their own resources. It was not about the technology either. Wright explained that she does not have a 1:1 classroom. 
“We used whatever devices my students had, which often was a couple of iPads, a few computers, and student cell phones. There were students who didn’t have a device, so other students shared. We made it work and everyone learned.” 
We interviewed Shelley over a month ago and realized this is someone who is growing and changing daily. So we followed her blog, Wright's Room, where she tells her story and journey as a high school teacher and now consultant, coaching other teachers. We are learning so much from her and wanted to make sure we presented how changing how she taught is now helping other teachers. This post is only a snapshot of how transforming her classroom to a personalized learning environment has completely changed how she teaches and her students learn now. We also wanted to share her new role as consultant supporting teachers.

Shelley shared with us how she and her students have changed since she changed her teacher role and let go so her students took responsibility for their learning.


Teacher as Partner in Learning


Shelley played around what it was like to have her students teach each other using feedback loops. They discussed what worked; what didn't work, and what they would do different next time. Students loved doing case studies such as trying to solve a real medical problem. They had ownership in their learning because they chose the problem, selected the resources to find solutions, and collaborated on how to solve the problem.

Shelley facilitated discussions on how their brain works and how they learn best so they could drive their learning. What they found out is that they had to go through a process of unlearning so they could understand this new way of teaching and learning.
"Every student I’ve taught could learn, just often not the same thing, or in the same way.  And when I’ve asked my students about it, I’ve always found they love to learn; they just don’t like school." [The Problem of Student Engagement. 1/11/13]

Shelley talked about her first project was a Holocaust Museum with her 10th graders. She started with the question "what do you need?" She used Carol Kuhlthau's work on inquiry and the Information Search Process.
"Technology opens up learning. Inquiry opens up minds."

From Carol Kuhlthau's site: "Inquiry requires that we dig beneath the surface to explore a topic, dwell in it, wonder about it, and find out information. This deeper understanding is forged with long-term memory." (Harvey, 1998, 2)



Culture Shock and Process


Shelley realized she was the only teacher in the school where her students were in charge of their learning. When they went to other classes, they were back to traditional teaching methods. This is when Shelley was asked to coach other teachers and started working with seven teachers through a process.
  • Sit down with the curriculum.
  • Choose outcomes and entire unit.
  • Determine how students were going to learn it and how to assess what they learned.

She asked them: If you designed school, what would you do?
  • Start with the negative -- what don't you like?
  • What would the opposite look like?
"The process is really messy. Everything falls apart. When it falls apart, these are the most important teaching moments."

A New Framework for Learning

"As my students worked with me to invent our own version of student-centred learning, we realized that the three questions every student in our classroom had to answer were: What are you going to learn? How are you going to learn it? How are you going to show me your learning? This became our mantra — our framework for learning.  This is what it means to give students control over their education.”

A snapshot of Shelley's English Classroom



Dean Shareski talks about learner-centred learning in Shelley's Classroom