Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Design thinking in school: Students as designers, creators, and tinkerers

Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are co-hosts of a new show called "Making It." Makers from around the country tackle projects using their own preferred medium. Because it's a competition, the least successful is eliminated each week. I adore this show and not just because it highlights the maker movement in a wonderfully creative way, or that it's hosted by two of the funniest people on TV. Participants have a limited amount of time to create their projects, but there is no way they don't know ahead of time what some of the projects are. They have to have time to figure out their materials and notify the show so each participant has access to sufficient amounts of the requisite materials. My point is that while they may make it look as though they are designing on the fly, the reality is that they have given some thought to what they are doing and how. Enter design thinking in a very real way.

Okay, you're thinking that's all very well and good for a television show and grown-ups who do crafty things for a living but let's talk about a classroom full of kids and limited resources since your classroom isn't backed by advertisers and a major network. Sure, let's talk about design thinking in the classroom. (If you feel like you need a little catching up, please read my blog post "Design thinking is not an output only process.")

First, I'm just going to say this: what we're calling "making" shouldn't be, needn't be limited to a particular place and time and it doesn't always require duct tape or a glue gun. Sometimes the process of making might require only a pencil and paper. I know, right? How droll.

The good folks at the University of Texas describe and define making in this way:
Making is an iterative process of tinkering and problem solving that draws on a DIY mindset. Making is collaborative and allows for self-expression through the creation of a personally meaningful artifact that is shared with a larger community. UTeach Maker Advisory Group, 2016 
Making promotes creativity and engages students in problems of their own invention. Making helps students develop identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers. Through making, students gain access to sophisticated tools for building and thinking critically.
Hang on to that. Now let's review what we're talking about with design thinking.
Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)
A.J. Juliani and John Spencer developed the LAUNCH cycle as a way for teachers and students to navigate design thinking. It's a great structure and you should most definitely visit their website for loads of resources. But I have to say this: all of the projects you see at this site and at many others are about engineering, about constructing something, about science or math. Nothing wrong with STEM or STEAM. I'm a believer. I'm a STEAMer myself. However, limiting design thinking to STEM/STEAM projects is, well, limiting.

Let's back up to the components of design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test. I talk about design thinking and how I used it as a computer engineer/systems analyst in this post, "Design thinking is not an output only process." Or, to simplify: identify the problem and figure out the POV, think about the end user (or reader), brainstorm possibilities, pick an angle and design an approach, design a prototype (write or create that draft), and redesign (revise that draft). How does that work for any content area?

First, you have to start with the right question, which may not be an actual question. I'm not going to talk about the "right question" strategy in this post but will in another. I'll make the connections for you, I promise. The not-question might actually be a concept or a broad area of reference or, my favorite, an "I wonder. . . " statement. Why not a question? Because students infer you want a specific answer if you ask a specific question. And they get frustrated if the question is too general.

Eons ago I did a high school paper on the religious and political implications of nursery rhymes. I did that paper because I'd heard someone mention that "Little Robin Red Breast" had religious and political implications about a particular Cardinal of the Church and I found that fascinating. That was an "I wonder. . . " moment and I had a fabulous time doing that research.

Let's think about social studies. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allies in January 1919 at the end of World War I. The United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy negotiated the treaty. However, in November 1919, the United States rejected the Treaty of Versailles and refused to join the League of Nations. Rather than give a specific assignment or ask a specific question, I might offer up some "I wonder" statements to give students some idea of possibilities and then let them go from there. For example, I wonder what it felt like to be one of the allied countries negotiating that treaty. I wonder how one of the negotiators might explain what was going on to people back home, politicians or family. I'd also leave the "what" wide open so maybe students would write a series of letters from the POV of one of the negotiators. Or maybe do a series of news bulletins or broadcasts.

Design thinking might not work for every lesson or every assignment, but once students get in the habit of thinking in terms of empathize, ideate, design, prototype, and test, they will use those strategies whenever they can.

As a former English teacher, I get that you don't always want to read papers and not just because students don't always want to write them. Yes, they need the writing practice, which is one of the reasons we make them write papers, but there are other ways for them to convey that information. Even if they do a green screen presentation or use Adobe Spark or Book Creator or maybe even assessment tools like Nearpod, Quizlet, or Quizizz to present their content, they could easily use design thinking. And how much more interesting for them and for you if you ask them to write for a different audience. You could let them choose or you can use something like Wheel Decide to randomize options; that could be FUN.

Let's go back to that making definition, specifically this part: "Making promotes creativity and engages students in problems of their own invention. Making helps students develop identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers. Through making, students gain access to sophisticated tools for building and thinking critically." Think about tools your students use or could use. Even if they're creating a rough sketch or draft using pencil and paper, isn't that a form of tinkering? If they're working with classmates and they're pointing and grabbing at the pencil and erasing and talking over each other to adjust lines or numbers or ideas, isn't that tinkering? isn't that making? And while they're working alone or with each other working on that draft, whether using pencil and paper or a computer, they are thinking about the end user, they are thinking about the best approach, they are thinking about what will work and what won't: they are, probably almost by default, using elements of design thinking.

The more we encourage students to use design thinking, formally and informally, the more likely we are to help them tap into their skills and "identities as designers, creators, and tinkerers." Having said that, however, let me strongly encourage you NOT to formalize design thinking or laminate the steps as an anchor chart. There are ways to encourage this way of thinking without making it too formal.

Years ago, when I was still teaching literature as a general education class, I decided I could not read one more 20+ page research paper written under duress. I thought about why we were asking for such papers and I knew it was a culminating project to demonstrate learning. Okay, so why torture the students and me? So, way before all of this stuff was cool and trendy, out of sheer exhaustion and in self-defense, I told students they could do a final project however they wanted and for whomever they wanted as long as the audience wasn't me. They could create a video, design a game, create a sculpture or a painting, etc. Whatever as long as it expressed something about something in the class. And, of course, they could write a paper if that's what they wanted to do. I asked for an abstract so they could tell me what they were doing, explain the intended audience, and how it connected to the course which enabled me to create a simple rubric. I told them they were NOT being graded on the level of craftiness but on how well that product connected to what they wanted to say about what they learned in the class. I got some amazing work.

They were designers, creators, and tinkerers and I got student work that enabled them to express themselves in ways that truly reflected themselves as learners. Younger students might need more guidance and help with resources, but don't underestimate what wonderful creative thinkers and designers they can be when given the opportunity.

Additional resources
5 Ways to Use Design Thinking in Your Classroom
8 Steps to Implementing Design Thinking in Your Classroom
Design Thinking in Education
Introducing Design Thinking to Elementary Learners
Improving Schools Through Design Thinking
The Beginner's Guide to Design Thinking in the Classroom

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Reading with BHH. Book. Head. Heart.

I love Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. I love the way they write. I love what they write. I love them and yes, I'm privileged to know them. I'd love to hang out with them pretty much any time.

All of their books are useful and insightful, infused with that Beers/Probst humor. Their Notice and Note books are amazing but I want to talk about Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters.

Herewith some highlights and observations although it will be much, much, MUCH better for you to just get the book and read it. In fact, use it as a book study with your colleagues. Follow Kylene (@kylenebeers) and Bob (@BobProbst) on Twitter. It's entirely possible Kylene and/or Bob will agree to Skype in to talk with you and your colleagues about the book.
Too often, the right book created a compliant one-book-at-a-time reader, that kid who will willingly read the book we promise him he will enjoy. And yet, he doesn’t become the committed reader who searches on his own for the next great book.

And then we wondered if we were trying to solve the wrong problem. . . . Perhaps what was missing was helping students have the right mindset while reading. Once we reframed the problem, we began to understand why how kids read matters so very much (p. 17)
I was in a school library last year when kids were trying to finish all of their AR requirements. Kids were looking for books with the right colored dots. A few kids had finished their AR requirements and were looking for books to read for fun. For fun! Elementary students!! The library staff was making all kinds of great recommendations (that I was writing down for my own reading stacks). What was particularly fun was how enthusiastic the librarians were as they were describing the books they were recommending. Some of the books were not the right color dot, and the librarians would encourage the students to give the book a try. Calloo! Callay!

Students learn to extract information from texts and most of the work they do is about extraction. The following quote reminds us of the importance of flexible thinkers, which is often a challenge to the way we tend to want to do things in our classrooms.
We would argue that in today's world, learning to extract information is not enough. It's not enough to hold a reader's interest and it's not enough to solve our complex problems. . . . [Students] need to be flexible thinkers who recognize that there will rarely be one correct answer, but instead there will be multiple answers that must be weighed and evaluated (p. 21) 
I'd never thought much about a reader's responsibility to the text, but this section of the book was eye-opening. Beers and Probst state "While we, of course, want students who pay attention to what's in the text, we know that the most responsible reading requires that students pay attention to their own responses, their own thoughts, their own reactions" (p. 31).

Please note the emphasis on the word "own." Reading teachers like to talk about making connections: text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world. I remember startling a group of students by asking them what they didn't like about a story. When they were reluctant to answer (it probably felt like a trick question), I told them one of the things I didn't like about the story. Small light bulbs exploded as they began to realize that part of reading is recognizing what they like, how they connect, and, yes, what they don't like.

Heidi Weber sketchnote (p. 37)
If you're familiar with the Notice & Note books, you're familiar with the three big questions: What surprised me? What did the author think I already knew? What changed, challenged, or confirmed my thinking?

These questions assist students in their process of becoming responsible readers. These questions provide a means for expressing text-to-self and, quite possibly, text-to-text and/or text-to-world. But that's not the whole point. These questions also help students begin to think about what affects them, and why.

I'm going to fast forward a bit to the BHH part; otherwise, we'll be here all day.

I really, REALLY wish I had a recording of Kylene reading this part of the book and I'm going to quote from the text at length because it gives you insight into how they came to the BBH framework.
Our experiment with getting kids to read with the possibility of change in mind, willing to let the text be disruptive, got off to a rocky start. . .
We visited one classroom and said to the fifth graders, "As you read, we want you to think about the textual, intellectual, and emotional aspects of the text. In other words, we want you to read responsively and responsibly." We won't even record here how poorly that lesson went.
I must interject. These are two very experienced teachers who get to work with students often, so it wasn't lack of experience or perspective. I can't begin to tell you how helpful it was to me to understand this journey.
Next classroom: "Reading can change you. It can open up the world for you. But as you read, you need to think about your responses and you need to think about what's in the text. And you ought to ask yourself how this will help you be a compassionate person." One student responded, "Will you two be here all week?"
 My guess is that was not a question posed with joy and excitement.
Another day. Another class.  "As you read today, we want you to think about what's in the text and at the same time think about what your responses are to what's in the text." The response from the girl on the third row, middle seat: "Did you say if this was for a grade?"
Finally: "Okay. Today, as you read, think about what's in the book, what's in your head, and what's in your heart." Kids looked up. No one said anything. We took that as a good sign and wrote three words on the board: Book. Head. Heart. One boy repeated, "Book. Head. Heart." Another said, "Like what for the head?" We said, "Just ask yourself, 'What surprised me?' Then you'll be thinking about what was in the book while thinking about what you already know." He nodded and said, "Cool." Another asked, "What's a heart question?" We said, "Try 'What did this show me about me?' or 'How could this change how I feel?'" More nods. We held our breath.
The room was quiet. Kids studied our three words as we added some prompts. Then they shrugged and said, "Okay." And there it was. Three words. Book. Head. Heart. Our frame to remind kids that they need to do more than simply extract information from the text. . . .
 It's simple. Direct. And it keeps kids focused on where they must begin--with what's in the book--and where they must end--with how it's changing them. We tell kids, "Of course you must read what's in the book. The author put those words there for a reason! But you also must read thinking about what's in your own head, your responses. And finally you must read thinking about what you took to heart--your feelings, commitments, and values" (p. 62-63).

Why should you read this book? Why should you think about adopting some of their ideas and strategies? Because reading is meant to inform, entertain, and yes, can change us. It can change the way we understand. It can expand and change what we know or what we think we know. But we have to know how to read effectively, doing more than simply extracting information.

At the beginning of the book, Beers and Probst explain that disruptions begin because someone realizes there is a need for change. They note there are two questions asked: 1) What needs to change? and 2) What assumptions make that change hard? (p. 7).

We want students to be willing readers. We want them to be responsible readers who are will to reflect on what they are reading, who are willing to question what the writer has made them think and feel. It's possible that to help our students become disrupted thinkers, we have to disrupt our thinking and our teaching about how (and what) our students read.

You might also check out their Ten Tips:
Tip 1 Teach More by Talking Less
Tip 2 Value Change
Tip 3 Reading as a Transaction
Tip 4 Let Kids Reread
Tip 5 Book, Head, Heart
Tip 6 Give Kids Choice
Tip 7 Reading the Same Book
Tip 8 Books You Haven't Read
Tip 9 When Your Child Says "I Don't Get It"
Tip 10 Understanding Non-Fiction

Sunday, August 12, 2018

SEL isn't just another edutrend

A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at myself. I would have said that SEL is a new touch-feely trend in education destined just to add one more thing to the already overcrowded plates of teachers and administrators. And then I started paying closer attention to students and to teachers, and to the interactions of students and teachers.

In one of "my" schools, I witnessed a young boy slamming open the classroom door, then slamming it shut, and then heard him walking down the hall pounding on the wall. Second grader, maybe third. It was an explosive response to a teacher's quiet request. She looked at me. She had 24 or so other kids in the classroom. The phone was across the room. I got up and went after the student.

I pulled him down to sit on the floor next to me. It was easier than trying to kneel to be eye-to-eye and then we didn't have to be eye-to-eye. "So," I asked, staring at the opposite wall, "what's going on?" I felt him shrug because he was leaning towards me. I leaned back. He tensed, then relaxed a little.

"Oh. Okay. I thought you were upset the way you slammed the door. My bad."

After a few minutes of quiet, the two of us just sitting there, came the torrent of what was bothering him that had little to do with what the teacher asked or how she asked it but that she asked and, in that moment, he felt picked on. We took a few minutes to discuss why he felt picked on and it turns out he'd had a really rough night and a not very good morning. Lots of family stuff.

"So now what do we do?" I asked him.

I got a quiet "I dunno."

I told him I had some ideas and shared those, then asked him what he thought he might do. He started to get up and, because he's young and I'm not and I felt like he needed to feel in charge and needed, I asked him if he could help me up which was really funny because he really didn't know how to do that so we got the silly giggles which helped a lot.

As we walked back to the class I asked him if he was good for now. And he said, "For now."

Yea, for now. He was an elementary school student but old enough to know that our solution was for that moment and only temporary because there was still stuff going on at home and it would be there when he left school. He wasn't old enough to know how to manage those emotions and fears.

In my conversation later with the teacher, I told her what had transpired and she said something I've been hearing in schools for a while. She told me they needed school psychologists or people who could be in the halls when a kid has a meltdown so the student would have someone to listen to them and help them talk through whatever is going. She, like every other teacher, has other students who aren't acting out, who aren't throwing chairs, who aren't tossing books or iPads or Chromebooks out of frustration or whatever attitude is gripping them. She couldn't chase the one. Because I was there, she could attend to her students knowing that the one was being taken care of.

If I hadn't been there? She would have interrupted her lesson even more to call the office so someone could come to get him to take him to a buddy room or the timeout space or whatever they have for kids who aren't behaving. And what happens during that time? Nothing. The kids sit in those spaces still angry, still frustrated, and even more convinced that no one cares about their feelings or them as a person, even if they can't frame it in those terms. Then that student eventually returns and because the emotions haven't been handled, that student is still simmering or even angrier or more frustrated AND further behind.

That is just one of many examples of how I've learned firsthand the value of social emotional learning.

But let's start with what that is if it's not some eduspeak buzzword. According to CASEL, SEL "is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." Their wheel of the five core competencies provides a framework for their work in SEL.

Okay, so that's a definition with a nice graphic, but what does that mean for students and teachers in the classroom? Because SEL cannot be a one-way street: kids have to be part of the conversation. Ideally parents or guardians would be involved, too, but starting with the kids helps.

Researchers Roger Weissberg, Joseph A. Durlak, Celene E. Domitrovich, and Thomas P. Gullotta try to explain this more in their book Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice. They explain each of the core competencies and explain the value of students being able to manage themselves, make better choices, etc. Right on. That's good for everyone.

If you're anything like me, you want to know how. How do I integrate SEL? How do I help students learn to sort out whatever is going on at home or even at school and make good choices, manage their emotions, etc.?

Emelina Minero offers 13 activities. Okay, some of those make sense for some students and some classes. If you've read them, you're already thinking of the kids who will try to make a joke of some activity because it makes them uncomfortable, perhaps touches too close to an emotion they don't want to feel, or perhaps it just seems stupid for reasons they don't quite understand but that's their usual defensive posture.

Elizabeth Mulvahill offers 21 ways to integrate SEL. These are mostly designed for younger students but can be adapted for older students, of course. There are some growth mindset and mindfulness in this as well as the other activities, all good.

One of the 21 ways is simple: a check-in. Teachers stand at the door and greet their students, getting a sense of how they're doing that day. I've seen teachers do a check-in as students arrive and that's it. And even if the student is feeling sad or grumpy, the teacher might offer a few words of encouragement and that's it. Why? Because 14 kids have already arrived and there are 9 more straggling into the classroom and he has to keep the 14 in check or focused on a task and he has to hurry the 9 stragglers into the room so they can get started. Will he check-in with that student or any others any other time during the day? Probably not. Why not? He's got standards to address and a lot of work to do before the end of the class period or the end of the day.

I can hear kids thinking, "If you don't really care how I feel, don't bother to ask me." Why? Because then they'll lie so the teacher doesn't think the student is a loser--student's thought process, not mine--or they'll sink further into whatever funk they're in because the teacher is just one more example of no one really caring about them.

We have to remember that they're kids. Even if they're in high school, they're kids and there are a lot of emotions running rampant for a lot of reasons. Kids learn to hide things really well. It's one of the ways they survive. Overly dramatic? Not to them. Yea, I remember being one of those kids and for the majority of my school years.

Posters in the classroom might help some students. Games to build community will help many students. Whether the kids are from at-risk homes or apparently nice middle-class suburban homes, students struggle with figuring out their role in the emotional mess. I remember thinking that some of my mother's behavior towards me had to be my fault even though I knew she was angry with my dad. At some level, I understood the vicious circle of my parents' emotional battles.

So, like many other students, I learned to play the games, to participate when and where as needed to keep up appearances. One of the reasons I was hospitalized with an ulcer in high school is because I internalized my emotions and found other ways of expressing my anger, fear, and frustration, some healthier than others.

I'm not belittling posters or any of these strategies. I think the more resources and options teachers have available, the better. But I also know that many of today's kids need to know that someone cares, really and truly and deeply cares about them and, perhaps most importantly, that someone will listen to them and help them figure out how to make sense of whatever chaos is churning their lives.

We forget how much one or two kind words can matter because then a teacher gives the student the sense that he or she matters; that someone cares about them as a human being. It might not shut down the anger or help with the frustration, but it might.

Angela Maiers is the disrupter and innovator behind the Choose2Matter movement. She's incredibly driven and incredibly passionate about reminding people of the value and importance of these two words: you matter. I have the privilege of knowing Angie and yes, I promote her work whenever I can. If you don't have 20 minutes right now, watch the first 5 minutes of this video to give you a sense of how she's been trying to reconnect people to remember the value of the sense of community, the need we humans have to matter to one another and to belong. Then call her or email her. Book her to speak to your school district AND the community because Angie has been promoting and investing in SEL since well before it was a thing.

And even if you don't work with Angie, even if you don't completely buy into SEL as an important component of your students' lives, I can't encourage you enough to invest in your students as individuals. Do more than just check in with them first thing in the morning. Check in with them throughout the day. Let them know that they matter and their presence in the building makes a difference.

Additional resources:
The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why (2018).
Social Emotional Learning: A Short History (2011).
"The Need for Social Emotional Learning. (1997). Promoting Social and Emotional Learning.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What about a student's WHY?

You've probably heard about Simon Sinek's books Start with Why and Find Your Why. You may also be familiar with his TED Talk; if not, check out the edited version. In this video, Sinek talks about his idea of the Golden Circle and the center of that circle is, of course, WHY.

Now Sinek's idea was for organizations and leaders. One of his key lines in this video is that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

In the past year or so, there have been a lot of videos, articles, and more for teachers to reconnect with their "why." It's sort of like purpose-driven teaching. WHY do you teach? If you had to articulate a vision statement for you as a classroom teacher, how would it read? Would your statement be anything like this?
I am an educator because I love to use my skills and talents to help students be successful in every area of their life. Every student in my school is my kid. They have value. They have the potential for greatness, and I am dedicated to provide them the best education possible.
Finding and holding on to your why has become something of a business in some quarters, and for others it's simply a matter of asking some fundamental questions, though it mangles the Golden Circle because these questions start from the outside rather than the inside:
  1. What do we do?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. For whom do we do it?
  4. Why do we do it? What value are we bringing?
Sinek believes you should start from the inside of the circle and start with why because WHY informs HOW and then WHAT. Think about your approach to teaching if this was your WHY:
Everything I do as a teacher, I believe in helping my students identify as citizens, scholars, and individuals whose voices matter. I believe our world is better when individuals understand their value, believe in their capacity to cause change, and take action to better the world around them.
I think this is important, but the teacher's WHY is only part of the equation. As teachers are preparing for a new school year, they're thinking about those critical first few days and ways to start to build rapport with their students. They are thinking about how students see them as teachers and how they can learn more about students as individuals and as learners through different activities.

But what if teachers were to ask students about their WHY? What if students were given this prompt: "Everything I do as a student. . . " or "I am a student because. . . "? Sure, the responses from 1st graders might not be very deep, and you'd hope to hear something a bit more profound and insightful from a 9th grader and certainly from an 11th or 12 grader. But I have an itchy feeling about the kinds of responses we'd get from most students.

I had an interesting revelatory moment late last spring about which I was very uncertain because it seemed so odd: kids don't understand WHY they are going to school. I think most students know they go to school because it's what kids do, but they don't really understand what learning is and what learning could be. They don't really understand the potential of learning. They don't have the capacity or the experience or the exposure, maybe, to dream about what they could be or do because of learning?

Last year one of my big phrases was "they can't be what they can't see." I still believe that. Learning is a window to possibility.

If we want to help students be prepared for the world, we need to expose them to possibilities of the world. Yes, we need to be realistic about what we can do, about what they can do. At the same time, we can't underestimate their capabilities and capacities for learning. So we need to read them books and show them videos about scientists, engineers, mathematicians, inventors, writers, cartoonists, artists, and more. And we have to encourage each of them to think expansively and imaginatively about what learning is and what learning could be for them as an individual with all kinds of potential we might not yet recognize.

Defining your WHY – Keep Yourself Inspired as a Teacher
Starting with WHY