In January after I wrote my post about Juggling the Learning I had a number of educators give me great advice. One of my readers stated, “if something on Twitter was important to you, it will find its way at just the right moment. On a Saturday morning in May that is exactly what happened. At just before 9:00 am I opened twitter to take a quick peak. There on my screen were a number of tweets reminding everyone about the liveclassroom2.0 session just about to take place on Genius Hour. Even though my plan had been to tackle a pile of marking I decided to switch gears and join the session. I am so very glad I did.
I have been watching the growth of Genius Hour for just over a year. I met with Gallit Zvi, one of the driving forces behind GH, last summer to discuss passion based learning that was starting to pick up speed, and followers, throughout our school district and North America. I had planned to begin Genius Hour some time in the fall of 2012 but for many reasons this did not happen.
Even though Genius Hour has been on my “to do” list for the year I cannot add insight into how well this is going in my class. Instead, after listening in and being a part of the liveclassroom2.0 session, this helped reaffirm in myself that what is happening in my room, even though it is not attached to a specific approach to learning such as passion based learning, is valuable and is right for my students. I realized that I needed to acknowledge what was working and not chastise myself for what I have not done yet.
There were many comments made during the session about student choice, student ownership, student motivation and student engagement when teachers have implemented Genius Hour in their rooms. Even though I have never done GH I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with many about the importance of these things. I believe my students are engaged, are motivated, and are encouraged to own their learning and because of this I can see their enthusiasm and feel their positive energy each day.
Over the past couple of years I have been asked how my students have become owners of their learning. What is happening in my room that students have been quoted as saying, “learning in this class is fun”? I believe at the base of much of the shift is CHOICE. “You always give us choice to roam our ideas on how we can make projects our own instead of giving us a straight assignment where we don’t get to do what we want. Like for presentations you give us the chance to express our understanding how we want to do it.” (Grade 7 student) When given a choice, no matter how minor it may be, students feel like they are in charge and have a say in how they learn. This is making a difference.
Often teachers are worried about losing control in the room if students are given choice. Many hear ‘chaos’ when ‘student centred learning’ is mentioned. I have discovered that making some relatively small changes will have tremendous impact on how students feel about their learning.
One small adjustment that is fairly easy to implement and can have big results is letting students choose where they are most comfortable learning. In our class we have tables to work at, bean bag chairs, a love seat, an open common area right outside our door, and a stand up desk with a moveable foot bar (would love more of these as it is in high demand by those students who need to be moving all the time). Students will even choose to sit on the bare floor with their backs against the wall. This would be uncomfortable for me but not for them. If students are not required to be in a specific location they move to where they are comfortable and can focus. They choose their spot depending on their needs and the needs of their learning. Rarely do they make poor decisions as they value the freedom of this choice.
Another avenue of choice that has shifted the ownership piece in the class, is how students are able to demonstrate their learning. It has been a rare occurrence this year that I ask for the same product as a summative piece. As long as they are meeting the learning outcomes, and are following the criteria, they can choose to demonstrate their learning in their own ways. It is not uncommon for projects to come to me as booklets, posters, power points, prezis, google presentations, voice threads, on ipad apps such as Book Creator and the list goes on. Currently the students are showing their learning of a measurement unit and the projects are all individual and unique. Some students are working in partners, some on their own. Some are using technology, some are creating models, and some are hand drawing the designs. Students value the choice, therefore are able to showcase their learning to a higher standard then if I prescribed the how and what. “I also have changed in the way I make my presentations because before all I could make my projects out of was a poster board, but now I have the “CHOICE” of how I want to do my projects and it has made me a better student because I don’t like when I only have one option of how to do something because I have different ways of expressing my learning and when I get choose my way of doing something I do much better.” (Grade 7 student)
So even though I have yet to try Genius Hour in my room (it is at the top of my priority list), many of the benefits that have been witnessed by educators who are doing it are also what I am seeing each day in my room. By allowing for student choice, students will become engaged in their learning and the ownership piece will evolve naturally. I only wish I had learned this years ago!