10 Questions to Critically Reflect On
As 2017 draws to a close, we sense the beginning of new opportunities for growth and improvement on the horizon. In looking back on the past year, we have a choice to reflect on what has worked and what hasn't. Although reflection is a practice that we all need to pay more attention to, the act of reflecting itself is not enough as learning and growth through reflection requires taking action.
As George Couros says in his latest book, An Innovator's Mindset, "Teaching is one of the most human professions that there is."
Better understanding and deepening the relationships that we have in our lives is at the heart and core of what Couros is referring to in the above statement. Teaching is deeply personal and developing our relationships with colleagues is just as important as the need to get to know our students better. Our actions, day in and day out, have a strong impact on the relationships we have with our colleagues. I'm not implying that we need to be best friends with every single colleague, but our profession does require us lift and empower those around us on a daily basis. In getting teachers to be their best, they MUST feel valued and supported.
However, in order for us to be our best, critical self-reflection provides us with opportunities to become more self-aware of our own actions and assess to what degree these actions are empowering not only to ourselves but to others in our life as well.
I took some time to create a list of questions that I wanted to personally reflect on as 2017 draws to a close. In being the leader that I want to be, I have to be able to answer these questions honestly. I need to zero in on areas I need to do a better job at and not only just reflect, but take action on improving these areas.
I hope that you find value in these questions and that they spark thought within yourself in regards to whether or not you were your best in 2017 and what areas you need to focus on to be a better version of yourself in 2018. You can print off a copy of these questions by accessing the PDF link below.
Nothing can replace the power and impact that a carefully designed provocation has on student learning. I've devoted the last several years to better understanding how provocations can be improved on and designed in ways that help students make stronger connections to the big ideas in a unit. A rich and meaningful provocation can:
Although I understand what a good provocation is, I recently challenged myself to better articulate what I truly believe makes up a rich and meaningful provocation. I spent a few hours really thinking my way through different considerations I have when designing provocations. In order to do this more effectively, I decided to create a 'provocations design' rubric that zeroes in on important criteria related to designing effective provocations.
I rarely like to take a stance on things as I like to remain open to new ideas. However, I found that taking a stance on what I believe to be the key building blocks to designing a rich and meaningful provocation helped me to clarify my own thinking. As I was giving a presentation to teachers on the power of provocations, I thought that including this rubric in the workshop would be a good way to stimulate discussion related to what they think makes up a good provocation.
I'd like to share this rubric with you. I hope that, at minimum, it challenges you to think about the provocations that you use and how these provocations can be refined in order to deepen student learning in your classes. Feel free to share any thoughts below in the comment box. You can agree, disagree or think it is complete nonsense. All that I ask is that you share your honest thoughts and feedback. I've included a PDF link for you to download this rubric if you'd like. Thanks!
Narrowing the Focus
Purpose of Unit:
This unit is focused on inspiring students to take action on being physically active when outside of their regularly scheduled PE time.
Background into the unit:
The unit itself is quite unique in the sense that we are providing opportunities to students for free play and exploration of areas of interest in regards to being physically active. However, this unit is carefully designed to get students thinking about what opportunities exist for them to be physically active within their immediate community, then create a unit that recognizes these choices and to offer students chances to explore these opportunities. We are very fortunate here at KAUST to have amazing facilities, resources, and spaces for young people in the community to take advantage of.
Our goal is to provide students with an open slate of possibilities that falls within the constraints of what they can do within their community. We want to inspire them to take action on being physically active in order to find the value it has on connecting them with their peers and the impact it has on their well-being.
Major challenges of this unit
When designing a unit such as this, it is necessary to be ultra-aware of the actual curricular outcomes that we are striving to address. In allowing lots of choice, it is necessary to be purposeful in our pursuit of providing meaningful, community-based opportunities for physical activity.
FLEXIBILITY: A unit such as this is impossible to deliver if we are not flexible within our approach and how we interpret the curriculum.
CONTROL: We must be able to give up lots of control and to let students' genuine interests rise to the surface. We must honor these choices BUT ensure the students understand that the choices that they have are rooted in opportunities that exist outside the school and within the community.
SUCCESS CRITERIA: Regardless of the physical endeavor itself, we must provide a solid structure in regards to making success criteria explicit to the students. As this is not a traditional unit, there are a number of physical activity themes embedded within the experience. A teacher using this approach must be ready to draw on a multitude of outcomes from various areas of the curriculum.
FEEDBACK: It is critical to stay on top of the students' chosen paths of exploration and make them aware of the desired outcomes of their chosen areas. This can be done through a number of strategies, but collecting data on their progress is pivotal to creating opportunities for them to be successful.
As you can see from the photo above, over a succession of classes, the students were able to explore different areas related to physical activity. After a whole class exploration of these areas of physical activity, they could assess to what extent they enjoyed it (0-10 scale).
Once they had experienced all of the different possibilities (4 classes), they had to NARROW THE FOCUS. I then asked them to chose their top two favorite activities. They filled out their answers on the cards shown in the photo below.
I collected their responses in regards to these top 2 choices and now the rest of this unit (8 more classes) is devoted to honoring their choices and structuring all learning and opportunities around these choices.
You can imagine what it's like getting ready for a unit such as this. It requires lots of preparation in regards to organizing equipment and space, but it's well worth it.
As the students come to class, there is no warm up needed. No opening tag games, no sitting in a circle talking about what they are going to do, no explanation of expectations or rules. They just get right down to business. I love it!
However, at this point in the unit, as the main focus is still on free play and exploration within the boundaries of their two choices, the students must understand that there still needs to be a focus that is rooted in specific outcomes within the curriculum. Ensuring the students understand these outcomes is critical to the success of the unit itself.
As we work through this unit, our goal is to inspire action. To get kids wanting to take action on being physically active in their own time, outside of regularly scheduled PE time. We want to get them reflecting on the action that they take on being active and to find joy in this this endeavor.
If you are interested in teaching a unit such as this, you need to throw traditional assessment out the window as it will not work. However, there are still possibilities to assess your students and offer timely feedback to them in order to help them improve on their skills but it depends on making important learning outcomes explicit and visual. The students must know that their free play and exploration must be rooted in a purpose that allows them to demonstrate important outcomes and skill development.
Formative Assessment For Learning
In order to begin to gather data related to their successes and to areas in need of growth, I had my students do a thinking routine that allowed them to share their thoughts. I made anchor charts that had important outcomes described in each area of their chosen physical activity. I had the students record their successes and their areas in need of improvement.
In recording their thoughts, I now how a visible anchor to give them timely feedback while they free play and explore their areas of interest. There is no doubt that I could step in and dictate what they need to get better at and provide them with a number of drills and different types of practice that they could do to get better at areas that I think they need to improve on, but the aim of this unit is not about teacher directed skill and drill. Instead it's about meeting them within their level of interest and choice and offering them insightful and critical feedback related to the areas they have identified as being important to improve.
I'm not saying this is the best way to run a unit, but I can say that I'm enjoying teaching it and the students seem to be enjoying the experience. I'll seek feedback from them over the next few weeks in regards to whether or not they actually liked the unit. More to come!
In the meantime, see examples of the thinking routines used to elicit important thoughts from the students in regards to their strengths and areas in need of improvement within their chosen areas of pursuit. Thanks for reading.