Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Genius Hour? How about Genius Curriculum?

Guest post by A.J. Juliani

It was only a few years ago that I started doing a 20% time project with my students. As I began to share the work I was doing online, I met a group of teachers so passionate about this type of learning...that I could not help to be drawn in to what they were doing as well. Joy Kirr, Hugh McDonald, Denise Krebs, and Gallit Zvi are rockstar teachers in my book. Not because of necessarily what they've done with Genius Hour...but because they share what they've done with Genius Hour. I've learned so much from them and the large group of teachers out there giving students choice in the classroom. 

Flash forward to today. It's a few years later. The Genius Hour wikispace, Joy's Livebinder, Angela Maiers's Choose2Matter movement, Robin Theissen's Global Genius Hour Project, and Paul Solarz's site of resources are consistently being used by teachers around the world to give students choice. I sit back and watch the #geniushour feed and #20time feed on Twitter and I'm blown away. I see the community on Google+ sharing...teachers like Nick Provenzano, Erin Klein, and Vicki Davis all getting involved (and many, many more). And yet...

It's just the start. 

I wrote my book about 20% time and Genius Hour primarily because I wanted to reach a new audience of teachers and educators. I hope this text is used at the University level and in Graduate classes, as well as by school leaders, to introduce the power of choice in learning. As I see this idea spreading like wildfire I'm reminded of the three problems that led me to start the 20% project with my students:

- There are many adults who are unhappy with the work they do on a day-to-day basis.
- When students go into the work force they often have no idea what they are passionate about...
- School tends to force students to walk a straight line rather than give them a choice in their learning.

These reasons are all interconnected, and why student choice is so important in the "big picture". However, let's think bigger about Genius Hour or 20% Time. I'm not proposing the entire school day is filled with student choice and every class is like a Genius Hour...nope, that's not how it works. But, it can look different. 

Here's a simple way to think about the possibility of a "Genius Curriculum":

1. Most students already have a set of skills that they need to master and demonstrate in each grade level...and drilled further down into each unit. The Common Core and other standards-based curriculum have focused on the skills (not necessarily the content) and that is great for student choice. 
2. Right now, it is very easy to tie one particular piece of content to a whole bunch of standards... Think about how we use a textbook, or how we use certain texts for Language Arts class etc. But that is the easy way out... and is an antiquated way to think about curriculum. We have millions of resources today at our fingertips that can help teach the same skills...why only use one?
3. If we are focusing on skills, then there are many ways to assess that skill or skill set. Let's not limit our students to one form of assessment at the end of a unit, but instead give them choices as to how they demonstrate knowledge and mastery.

A Genius Curriculum, then, has these specific features to it:

     -common set of skills students need to learn and then demonstrate mastery
     -a litany of resources that teachers can provide to students to learn/master those skills
     -a wide variety of assessment choices
     -student choice opportunities for learning resources, assessments, and pacing

Are there still going to be times where students should read a text as a communal activity? Yes! Are there still going to be times where students all demonstrate mastery through a shared assessment? Yes! However, there will also be "student choice" infused into the daily learning activities and assessments when possible.

A Genius Curriculum is no different than how we learn outside of school. Here's a final example:

A few years ago I wanted to learn how to use Wordpress to design and make websites. I searched online for articles and watched some videos. Then I tried my best at getting a site up and failed a few times before asking another person online for help. They helped me get started, and then I used more articles and videos to get better and better at Wordpress design and now I help many teachers who are just starting with Wordpress. 

I did not get a degree in any type of "computer/programming" area... yet, I can build and design my own websites using Wordpress. I did not take a formal class, although I could have. I used resources that helped me, while someone else learning Wordpress might have used different resources, or some of the same resources. I asked one person for help and they pushed me past my pain point. Now I continue to learn through informational text when I need it.

That is learning. That is how we all learn each day and week. Multiple learning sources that we can sift though, multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills, and multiple ways to reach out for extra help. 

Do you think a Genius Curriculum is a possibility? How do you learn today? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Guest post by A.J. Juliani