What is learning?

Made by one of our fantastic students, Sierra Jones, 9th grade, Center High School
 I'm trying this new mini-project with my students. I'm having them write a guest blog post for this very blog. It's pretty clear that an end-goal could not be to publish all of the student's blogs onto this space here. I have around 140 students and I'm asking for around 300 words per student. Some quick math gives us 42,000 words (I hope I'm right. If not, I teach social studies - leave me alone!) which are far too many to post all together.

What I've decided to do instead is make this a little bit of a competition. I've told the kids that I'm going to pick the top 6 to 18 blogs* and I will publish those blogs on my site. To make the work a bit more realistic, I've also told the students that whichever blogs get picked will need to go through an additional step of editing with me. Extra credit will be given to incentivize this process, but it shows that there should be a few drafts before publishing work. All the students will go through 2 drafts. Those who get published will go through 3 to 4 drafts.

*I know that number seems random, but it is 1 to 3 blogs from each of my 6 hours of classes. 

I gave the students some guidance on what would guide my decision. I did not use a classic rubric because I wanted to represent that holistic writing is important, especially when writing a narrative like a good blog post very often is. There is no single formula, but there can be guiding questions that show the student what I am looking for in their writing without limiting their scope. Those questions were:
  • Does the student provide a thoughtful answer that is interesting to read? 
  • Does the student show deep meta-cognition in his/her writing?
  • Does the student use quality grammar and sentence structure?

How will it turn out? Who knows! I will say that this is the most intensity I've seen come from a writing assignment in my teaching career, and that's worth something. I've had several students who normally don't ask me a lot of questions coming up to me and asking for guidance or advice. This shows that there has been a chord struck. Kids like attention. I want to give it to them for a positive reason.

In addition to the posts, which will hopefully come out sometime next week in their fully published forms, we made a video centered on the question of What is Learning? It is truly amazing how much kids like to watch themselves on video! For this particular one, I took volunteers who had something to say and stitched together their answers to the question. It's a bit silly and goofy, but it's a great window into my classroom and the students that I get the privilege of working with every day.

I'll also say that going through this activity has been really good for me. The students can be really frustrating at times, as teenagers tend to be. I try to be upfront with my students and have told several of them recently that they are starting to gnaw on my patience; some have responded well and some are going to need the message worded a bit more strictly. By this point in the year, I have been amazed by every single student and been frustrated like hell with every single student.

Making this video brought me to the edge of tears and got me all sentimental -  it is so important to do things in my class that help to remind me every so often how much I love my kids. In the midst of them being teenagers, they are also becoming young adults. Having taught for nearly 5 years at this point, I'm able to see the bigger picture more than when I was a brand new teacher. I can more easily identify progress that may not necessarily look like progress in the traditional sense; that could be a student handling a situation with a touch of maturity or showing kindness to a student that is normally ignored in the social hierarchy that too often dominates high schools in America.

More on the student guest posts coming soon! 

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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