For my week two submission I chose to review a series of videos that I collected during while a graduate assistant at UConn. I’ve shown, and discussed these videos plenty of times with in presentations, papers, and in my classes. I wanted to take a minute to re-examine this work in the context of deeper learning to see how well it fits. My interests will focus on the mindsets and student agency that are seen in student work process. I want to see if students take ownership of their learning, and how could I better scaffold them to increase collaboration and take charge of their learning.
Setting and Participants
A little bit of background…these videos are of a 7th grade classroom in an economically challenged school district in CT. To test the ability of students to collaborate, and exchange search strategies, we set up a challenge for them. We presented them with a hypothetical situation, the school district was planning on spending $500 per student to buy them a personal media player. They were to work as a group to identify the best possible personal media player to buy. What was the best mix of specs and user experience for the budget. They should work as a group to make one recommendation and submit this in a short letter to the Superintendent of the district.
At the point when these videos were collected, we (two researchers and the classroom teacher) had already provided them with a little over 10 weeks of instruction in online reading comprehension (questioning, locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating). Despite this explicit instruction, we still had two questions. First, strategy exchange between experts was a challenge. In order for this type of teaching and learning to occur, we needed to empower students to step up and share this expertise with other students in the classroom. Second, could students work collaboratively to accomplish the goals of the project, despite any obstacles. We set up this learning challenge specifically to provide obstacles. We asked them to search for a “personal media player”, this could have multiple meanings, and uses. We also did not specifically state a brand (e.g. Apple), or model (e.g., iPod Touch…this was pre-iPad). Finally, we knew that once students started searching online, most of their searches would be blocked by the school filters. We wanted to see if they could support themselves, and remain flexible and persistent as they restructure their queries.
In this first video I am working with the group of students to explain the use of the cups for classroom support. The students are five minutes into the activity and they are already letting me know that they cannot find anything in their searches.
In this second video, the students are more interested in the work outside of the group than supporting one another. The video also shows one student using the yellow cup to call me over for support. This is all despite one of the students indicating at the beginning of the video that he found something.
I did not go to help the group between video two and three, the student finally put the cup down. In this third video the students are sharing, almost to themselves, that they found websites that would solve the challenge. I briefly spoke with the individual students in the group to review their work and validate their selections. Finally I indicated that they should work collaboratively and come to a consensus. At that point I walked away.
At the end of video three, and into video four we begin to see students sharing work. This took about 10 to 15 minutes focusing in this class on providing opportunities for students to share with and trust the members of their group.
Is there evidence of deeper learning?
Yes and no. In my estimation there is some evidence of deeper learning. This challenge is loosely linked to the academic content in that we were focusing on the online research and media skills promoted by the CCSS. They were practicing critical thinking and problem solving skills but at a cursory level. They began to collaborate and communicate with their group, once again at a cursory level. The academic mindset, or flexibility and persistence…or GRIT…is something that I believe they grudgingly began to exhibit. What we’re talking about in this “academic mindset” is learning dispositions. The research tells us that it is possible to assess dispositions, but they must be brought out in an activity. By forcing my students to show these dispositions and trust one another (by ignoring them) they started to trust their own abilities and believe in themselves and their peers.
This was a highly structured, learning challenge that was developed to test the groups and we basically forced them into a box. After weeks of trying to get them to work with one another, we devised the activity to challenge the students while forcing them to work collaboratively. In a traditional learning environment I would most like have a series of lessons and activities in which I show the students through a think-aloud and modeling the value that I place in collaborative work. I would also model group work processes before just putting them in groups and ignoring their pleas for support. It was a challenge, but one thing that we noticed was that students wanted to call us over immediately when they found the answer to our query. It might be the right answer, it might be the wrong one. To them, it didn’t matter. We asked a question and the first thing they found they wanted to submit to us. Most times this was so they could go off and play in other areas online. In future learning challenges like this, I would build up a series of challenges to build up the academic mindset and student agency.
Image CC by SawyerAFK