What are we teaching?

I was lucky to be able to spend some time with my parents this weekend during which we tried to pack in as much “catching up” as you can do in a one-evening stay. We covered the basics about work and life, and I left feeling how I usually do – wishing I had more time with them. There was one story my mom shared that resonated with me and brought me to my keyboard today.

She was telling me about someone she knows who is struggling both personally and professionally. His career has consumed most of his time over the years, allowing his personal responsibilities to fall to the wayside, and now he is facing some really challenging obstacles with his business, as well. My mom said something to the effect of, “He knows what he needs to do, but it’s not that simple. He feels like he’s drowning. He doesn’t know where to start, so he just doesn’t.”

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? If he knows what he needs to do, why doesn’t he just do it? One thing at a time, right? I have experienced this with students. All they see is the giant staircase in front of them. They don’t know how they could possibly make it all the way to the top, so they never take a step. The ability to see the staircase as individual steps is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It needs to be taught.

So tell me – in which class were you taught to break down large tasks into smaller ones and to prioritize those tasks? Which curriculum includes practice in time-management or organization?

I wrote about a 7th grade boy last year who, more than any other I have worked with, would hunker down at the bottom of his staircase and refuse to budge. All it took was the creation of a daily “must-do” sheet where he wrote one or two tasks to complete during each class to get him closer to his end goal. Suddenly those stairs weren’t so strenuous anymore, and as I recall him saying, they even became “fun.”

There are skills and strategies used by adults on a daily basis that are assumed will be learned by kids at some point because most of us have figured them out along the way. The earlier these are taught, the more successful students feel and the more confident and productive they can be. We need to be teaching our students how to think about themselves and their learning.

Check out this one-minute video from Edutopia that offers some great questions to ask your students to stimulate Metacognition.

Due to some unexpected circumstances this past week, I was able to step outside of my Humanities class and back into the hustle and bustle of the real project work going on in what we call our CHILL times. CHILL stands for “Choosing How I Like to Learn.” It is during this time that our students have choices about what they will work on, who they will work with, where they will complete their work, and by when they will have their work done. Though the title has given some people the misconception that our students have multiple “free” periods throughout their day, one of our students brought a neat idea my way recently.

She was in her foreign language class, and they were writing out their daily schedules, so translations were being made for science, reading, social studies, etc. This student raised her hand and explained her schedule didn’t match the others and she didn’t know how to translate the word CHILL. After describing to her teacher what CHILL Time looks like, her teacher helped her land on the translation that would directly mean “hard-working free time.” I love it. It is during this “free” time that we are attempting to develop metacognition, so our students can make positive and productive choices about their learning each day… which is hard work.

On Wednesday and Thursday last week, some choices one particular group was making proved to be problematic for their learning. Thursday ended in one student actually handing over his own iPad to me because he didn’t think he could be trusted to make productive choices with it the rest of the day. It was on Friday when this group of boys approached me and asked if they could spend the hour writing up a group contract to help them be more productive moving forward.

They spent about 40 minutes developing a contract they were all comfortable with, making sure all had contributed their own ideas to the form. Then they all signed it and asked me to hold onto it, so it wouldn’t get lost. They didn’t make any progress on their project during that class period on Friday. But it was the most productive I had seen them be in three days, and if they stick to the contract moving forward, they’re going to be so much better for it in the long run. The contract could be a total flop, I know. But 40 minutes spent engaged in powerful conversation about holding themselves and each other accountable for their learning??? Worth it!



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