Student creativity and inquiry through exploration of their passions.
The search-engine giant, Google, allows it’s engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any pet project that they want. The idea is very simple: allow people to work on something that interests them, and productivity will go up. This way of working has inspired innovative ideas in a range of companies that have lead to significant improvements to the way we live and work. Sticky notes from 3M are one, the Google DriverLess Car another.
How would Genius Hour / 20% Time work in a school environment?
Student project ideas need to reflect their own interests or passions. These project ideas need to be realistic, but not necessarily achievable. Students can experience failure, in a supportive environment. And when they have experienced that failure, they are able to use reflection to plan for improvement.
- Brainstorming a list of things that students are good at, excited about, or want more information on.
- Driving Question: a question that enables deep thought, research. An UnGoogleAble answer. A question that takes time to answer.
- Independent work: The role of the teacher is not to guide the student work, but to support the choices they make and enable the opportunities. Initially students work individually, as they become more competent, collaborative projects can be introduced.
- Incorporate expertise: you’re not going to know enough about everything to help your students, this is where an outside expert comes in. Support students in making connections.
- Authentic Audience: students need to present their work to an authentic audience. How they do this is up to the individual, with teacher support to realise the opportunities.
As the teacher in a Genius Hour environment, rethink your role to become facilitator. Provide the advice, support needed to have students develop their own thoughts and ideas into a viable project.
Allow students to make some mistakes.
Know what your students are working on, know their plan, know their intentions. Facilitate their progress.
Students use a range of 21st Century skills to create their Genius Hour project. Using their passions as an initial guide, they become experts in something and produce new knowledge to share with their audience. They don’t have to get it right the first time. They wont complete it in a week or two, it takes time and deep learning to achieve. Students provide the ideas and the resources.
The most important thing to is innovate. Innovation on a grand scale, or innovation on a small scale. An UnGoogleAble question is one that hasn’t been answered anywhere, every. It’s a big thing to come up with the UnGoogleAble, and an even bigger thing to answer it successfully.
Links and Resources
What is Personalised Learning?
Personalised Learning offers a means of transforming the learning experience of every child. It provides an education that is tailored to the needs, abilities, interests and aptitudes of every student. As such, it is a challenge for schools and teachers, but it also a real opportunity to make a positive impact on young people’s learning and future.
Learning can be personalised within the context of the Curriculum as prescribed by the System, with students being able to develop their learning path in consultation with the teacher or the facilitator of learning. Alternately it can provide a framework for students to pursue their interests through self directed study.
In whatever way that Personalised Learning manifests within a particular context there are several features that are consistent:
- Student Centred
- Self Regulation
- Formative Assessment
- Goal Setting
A Student Centred Learning environment places the focus on the student and their needs and builds the accountability around this, rather than the accountability of the teacher to covering a prescribed curriculum. Being student centred does not discount the requirement of the curriculum but implies greater flexibility in the path through the curriculum that is followed, they way the content is learnt, and they way that the knowledge is demonstrated or evidenced.
Students self regulating their learning requires them to manage the process of learning. To be an effective self regulator students need to know that they don’t know something in order to know it. They develop goal setting skills and become more aware of the steps that are required to learn a new skill or content, and how best to present their new knowledge or skill. Reflective thinking follows the learning process where students can analyse their actions and work and identify new learning paths to follow. To be successful self regulators, students also need to be motivated to learn.
When students are able to analyse their assessment data and take greater levels of ownership they are more aware of their skills and knowledge in the curriculum area of the assessment. Having a clear understanding of what they don’t know from their assessment allows the also to be able to set learning goals and develop learning pathways, because they know that they don’t know something.
Many formats are available to students for setting goals for long, mid and short term purposes. In a Personalised Learning setting, students will be setting many short term goals. The format that the goals are written in is dependent on the level of self regulatory ability the student has. The most suitable method for students setting goals regularly is to use a modified version of the S.M.A.R.T goal framework.
S – Specific. Be clear about what you want to achieve. These can be set from Learn To and Learn About statements that are derived from Content Descriptors of the relevant Domain of the Australian Curriculum.
A – Action. How will you learn it? What will you need to do to learn it? What are the steps you will need to follow? What resources will you need to access to help you learn? How will you show evidence of what you have learnt?
T – Time. How long will you give yourself to achieve this goal? Sometimes goals need to be extended beyond the original amount of time specified.
O – Outcome. Students examine what they have learnt, how they learnt it, and what their next steps on the learning path are going to be.
The ability to reflect on the process of learning and what was learnt is an important skill for a self regulator. This should be a simple recount of what they did, but a critical analysis. Reflection is included in the SATO goals framework as the Outcome step. Students can present evidence of learning with their reflection.
The Personal and Social Capability Domain of the Australian Curriculum contains detailed progression points to aid in the development of students as self regulators. Typically spread over a two year period they cover Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Social Management.
Teachers still have an accountability for teaching the content as prescribed in the Australian Curriculum and this can be achieved by monitoring student goals and providing learning opportunities for students. Learning opportunities can be comprised of student choice activities put in place by the teacher, student directed activities where the student designs the learning to reach a desired outcome and explicit teaching in small group and whole group workshop sessions.
Particular content can be delivered to students through the management of software services such as Reading Eggs, LiteracyPlanet and Mathletics. Tasks can be assigned that match student goals and students can independently choose tasks that contribute to them reaching their goal.
Using Technology to Personalise Learning
Personalised learning does not rely on the use of technology, but it does expand the opportunities in both delivering of content and the construction and communication of outcomes and evidence of learning.
Content delivery is achieved by making specific playlists, or collections of resources available to students. These can be custom created by teachers and placed in accessible locations to students, or they can be created within a Learning Management System where students can access.
Students are not limited to exclusively using technology to create evidence of their learning, but by harnessing technology, they are able to publish their work to an authentic and wider audience than may be possible by using non digital methods. A variety of web2.0 applications allow students to do this.
Student portfolios provide a platform for demonstrating their understanding and achievements. Where students are working at a wide range of levels and on varied tasks, portfolios are important for tracking student engagement with learning. The creation and curating of these portfolios is again not limited to being digital, but the use of digital methods opens up new possibilities and opportunities.
Reflection and Goal Setting are important skills for students to have to be able to self regulate, take responsibility and and have independence in their learning. It is equally important that their teachers are able to model the process of reflection, identifying learning needs, setting goals and working to achieve their goals.
Engaging in reflection is an essential part of learning. It allows the learner to analyse the process of learning, and the product of their learning. Additionally, it allows the learner to identify areas where they may need to make further improvements for continual learning. Reflective thinking needs to be taught, and planned for in a student’s course of study. Being to able to reflect and analyse their learning is an important requisite for critical thinking.
Reflection on learning requires honesty from the learner and a commitment to continual improvement. Reflection can be based on feedback that has been provided, and is most effective when it is written and recorded in a permanent location that can be referred back to.
Effective learners are those that are able to use the knowledge generated by reflection and metacognitive process to self regulate their learning, have awareness of their thinking and are able to move towards new and reformulated goals.
A simple framework for reflection could be:
Description of what happened.
Feelings associated with the learning.
Evaluation of the learning, was it positive or negative.
Analysis and making sense of the learning.
Conclusions and what else could I have done.
Action Plan and what the learner can do next.
Goal setting provides students with further opportunities to self regulate their learning. To be able to set relevant and realistic goals, the learner first needs to be able to reflect, and in the Socratic way, they have to know that they don’t know, in order for them to know. This can be applied in a cyclical fashion, to create a continual process of learning and improvement. Goal setting provides opportunities for students to self evaluate, discuss their learning aims, and to formulate strategies for learning.
SMART is a well known framework for goal setting. Modifying the framework to make it simpler for students has been highly successful.
Specific – What do you want to achieve?
Action – How are you going to do it?
Time – How long will it take you?
Outcome – How are you going to show what you have learnt?
The following are some content descriptors from AUSvels Level 2, and some links for online games to assist students to develop skills against the content descriptors.
Investigate number sequences, initially those increasing and decreasing by twos, threes, fives and ten from any starting point, then moving to other sequences. (ACMNA026)
Recognise and represent multiplication as repeated addition, groups and arrays (ACMNA031)
Hit the Button
Understand how to use digraphs, long vowels, blends and silent letters to spell words, and use morphemes and syllabification to break up simple words and use visual memory to write irregular words (ACELA1471)
Understand how texts are made cohesive through resources, for example word associations, synonyms, and antonyms (ACELA1464)
Synonyms and Antonyms
Critical thinking is the analysis, interpretation, evaluation, summarizing and synthesising of the information that is presented to us everyday. We are able to consciously and unconsciously process information and draw our own conclusions about its validity, authenticity, accuracy and usefulness. Critical thinkers don’t take all information presented to them for granted, and they often ask “Why?” a lot.
Regular reflective thinking gives students opportunities to practice and improve their critical thinking. They can think about what they know, how they know, what they need to know, and what they can do to find out that information.
Critical thinkers are able to observe issues and problems from others points of view, are open minded and willing to consider new information and evidence. After collecting a range of information from varied sources, critical thinkers are able to reconsider their position and are more flexible in negotiations.
Students that are confident critical thinkers are also able to infer meaning and information from texts; a high level comprehension skill by performing a synthesis of information from the book and from their own experiences and prior knowledge.
Working and learning in an inquiry method requires that students are able to employ critical thinking skills to enable them to understand different information sources, synthesize information from a variety of sources, and then develop further questions to progress their inquiry.
To be citizens of the 21st Century, students need robust critical thinking skills to enable them to make effective and efficient use of the information that is available to them.
Developing a personalised learning program for Spelling requires preparation and resourcing as any personalised learning program does. Selecting types of assessment and locating and collating resources that are meaningful and useful will help to create a solid foundation for students to work from. The following paragraphs present a model that is used in classrooms that can be adapted and modified for use in your own context.
Assessment for Learning
Students need to know where their level of achievement is against expected standards, and what they have to be able to do to progress onto the next level. Assessments should be aligned with the outcomes for your educational context so students are easily able to identify the path for progression. Sometimes the teacher language in curriculum documents may need to be simplified to make it more accessible to students.
After completing assessment tasks, students need ready access to their data, as they become self trackers and self managers.
In the school that I work in I have used On Demand Testing (ODT), Gap Testing and Online Assessment and Reporting System Progressive Achievement Tests (OARS PAT) with students. Both ODT and OARS are online systems, while Gap is paper based.
Students analyse the results of their assessment and identify areas of strength and weakness from their results. Often the students can identify patterns in their results, which help them to determine which areas they need to work on more. Students compare their results against the expected levels of achievement. Initially students may want to keep their results private, but as they begin working closely with other students with similar needs, they become more confident and competitive within their ability cohort.
Students take responsibility for their learning through the management and tracking of their data and by setting goals for their learning. They follow the SAT framework, (Specific, Attainable, Timely) which is modified and simplified from the SMART goal setting framework. These goals are set weekly at the beginning of the week, and can last for a single week or may be recycled or rolled over into the following week if the student reflects that they need to continue working.
Resources and Activities
An important part of the teacher’s responsibility is to provide appropriate resources for the students that provide a level of challenge and are matched to the students needs. The resources selected should be suitable for the context and match their learning styles of the students. For the most part these activities are completed independently with minimal supervision. These activities are done at the beginning of a writing session so generally they need to be short activities to allow quick completion. The teacher will have small groups created that have similar goals or spelling patterns/rules that are being worked on. The relevant information should be recorded by the teacher during goal setting time to allow them time to analyse the goals and create groups. Examining the abilities of students within the groups also provides the teacher an indication of the types of activities needed for the groups to work on. Each day the teacher should work with a small group for a period of time to monitor and assess their progress on the tasks, work with them on explicit teaching activities.
At the conclusion of the week students should complete a short assessment task, either a buddy test of their spelling words with a partner, or a test of words that are similar to their own words. After the assessment task is completed students should record their progress and reflect on their learning for spelling for the week. The format for the reflection should be flexible but recorded in some way.
They should include in their reflection a description of what they did for the week, how they felt about their work and the learning that occurred or did not occur, how the learning will help them or could have helped them, what else they could have done (if anything), and a further plan of action.
In my current practice, I have come across many different perspectives of what personalised learning is, and the different ways it can be implemented according to your context.
Earlier this year I heard from Dan Buckley from Cambridge Education (http://www.camb-ed.net/pbyp/) and their method of personalisation. In formalising the approach at my school we borrowed a few key ideas, namely Personalisation by the Learner (PbL) and Personalisation for the Learner (PfL). This has helped us to distinguish between the different practices and identify them more clearly.
With PfL we use student achievement data from a range of sources to help us create ability based maths and writing convention groups.
PbL is used in spelling, interest based writing and inquiry for humanities and science. This has helped to boost engagement and connectedness for the students. When our students are happy and enjoying their work, the teaching team feel similarly enthused and motivated.