Giving 19.8% 3

Thanks to Cooperative Catalyst (@coopcatalyst) I’ve been experimenting with self-directed learning in the public school classroom for the past three weeks. I’ve set aside 19.8% of class time for self-directed learning during a 20-25 minute station three times weekly. I’m 80.1% shy of my goal, but it’s a start.

Using a graphic organizer, students have self-identified reading and writing goals, reading and writing interests, and projects that they would like to undertake, either to learn something new or to show off their learning in reading and writing.

Over time I’ve increased the amount of structure around our self-directed learning.

  • First, I assembled resources catering to student goals, interests, and project proposals (though in the next iteration I’ll outsource this work to students, and we’ll use something other than Portaportal).
  • Then I asked students to play around with the resources for a week.
  • Next I asked students to draft schedules with learning/reading days, project days, and feedback days.
  • After that I introduced entrance/exit slips asking students to set goals at the start of self-directed learning time and to self-assess their progress at the end of self-directed learning time.
  • Within the next few days I’ll ask students to tell me how they’d like to be assessed on both their goals and projects (though in the next iteration we’ll do this right after play).
  • Finally, for this go-round, I’ll evaluate students’ products over Spring Break, assess students’ learning, and think about how to improve the process and allow for more student input throughout the Spring.

At present, students have self-differentiated into undertaking

Several students have also started a friendly Free Rice competition, and some are amazingly invested in teaching themselves cursive.

Cursive? Yeah, cursive. Why? Well, here’s what the students who practice cursive have in common according to my informal observations: in each student’s life, some adult who is crucial to the student’s sense of self-worth has criticized his handwriting and made, in the student’s mind, an implicit connection between the quality of his handwriting and his intelligence. I’m torn; what would you do? Let the kids take class time to practice cursive? Tell them that handwriting doesn’t matter – at least not in the way they think it does? Both? Bottom line: we have to stop judging kids’ worth by their proficiency at what we were asked to, whether it was worthwhile or not – and especially if what we were asked to do wounded us.

Here’s something else to ponder.

I work with students who are disengaged from school for a variety of reasons. Many struggle with reading. Many students who struggle with reading put down “read better” or “read faster” as a goal for self-directed learning. This is a pretty brave admission for any of them.

In response to their goals, I found spreeder, an online reading tool that takes a chunk of pasted text and flashes it one word at a time in a box on the screen. Users can paste in anything they want and set the words-per-minute (WPM) rate, font-size, and background and text colors. While spreeder bills itself as a speed-reading trainer, it can also chunk lengthy texts into manageable bits for readers who struggle with fluency and/or comprehension because of their eyesight or visual information processing. The tool allows for WPM rates well below 100 and font-sizes of about 220 before the text starts to intersect the progress bar. The progress bar works just like those on iTunes or YouTube; users can drag a slider to rewind or advance texts at will.

Since discovering spreeder, several students who struggle with fluency and comprehension have latched on to it. It helps them access online texts that they want to read. During self-directed learning time, they use spreeder to read and re-read self-selected texts. They bump up the WPM by 5 each time.

Today we did not have any self-directed learning time scheduled. Instead, we had online text practice. Students had the “choice” of continuing online practice tests for their online reading SOL, or of reading one of three online news articles and answering constructed-response items aligned to state reading standards.

After hearing the instructions, two of my spreeders – without missing a beat – each went to our class blog, chose an article, copied it, pasted it into spreeder, and read it before tackling the questions. They requested help with the questions, which is not out of the ordinary, but doesn’t make a slam-bang case for pairing spreeder and comprehension yet.

While I introduced spreeder, the students found an application for it outside of self-directed learning time.

I think this is great, but I’m also starting to think of “read better” and “read faster” like “write in cursive.” Something is still missing. These kids have purpose, but I don’t know if they have joy. Another next step to take.

I’m curious; what would you do? About cursive? About reading? About self-directed learning? About classroom joy?

What can you do? What do you think you can’t do? How will the balance be righted?

Certainly anyone interested in the materials we’ve used can email me here.

3 thoughts on “Giving 19.8%

  1. Reply Alfonso Gonzalez Mar 27, 2010 8:03 pm

    This sounds awesome! Our students need this to develop their intrinsic motivation of learning and gaining the skills they will need to have a happy life! I especially like the idea of doing this part of the time. With the curricula we have in place making time to have our students choose what they want and/or need to learn is a perfect balance. I couldn’t imagine doing that everyday, all year but part of the time can work!

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Reply Chad Mar 28, 2010 8:46 pm

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback!

      I struggle with balancing this type of learning with the more traditional teaching that has been the norm in my career. I also struggle with compromising by designing activities meant to address both students’ learning desires and state standards. I think the more I see in terms of engagement and learning from self-directed work, the more I can imagine something like the New Country School in Minnesota, or a public version of something like the Brooklyn Free School.

      Where do you think the difficulty comes from in imagining doing work like this more frequently throughout the school year? This is all new to me; I very much appreciate feedback and others’ viewpoints on the approach. It definitely feels different than “teaching.”

      All the best,

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