I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Passion-Based Learning: Ready, set, go!

No matter the name, the goals are the same:
     Keep children engaged during school by letting them know you value them.
     Give children opportunities to collaborate, share their skills, learn what they want to learn, and share that learning with others.
     Help children stay life-long learners.

Names for this type of learning, that most likely happens outside of the "regular curriculum," include Passion Time, Genius Hour, 20% Time, Innovation Time... and the list goes on. Some teachers set aside time weekly for students to learn what they choose. Some schools have one day or one week a year dedicated to students owning their learning. Whatever you decide to do, your students and you will benefit - but I'm writing today to suggest guidelines for getting started. There are many decisions you should make before you begin. Don't let these scare you off - you'll have to make these decisions at some point during the process, so you might as well get going on them now.

Created by me with Diptic & Over apps.

Here is a brief "how to" guide for getting started:

1. Decide if you feel students need to focus this "choice" learning on your subject or a certain subject only. If so, your ideas for how to proceed will be different than if you leave student choice wide open. This will also help you determine the name you will give to this time.
2. Decide how much time you will dedicate in class, and stick to it. Which day(s)? Next, tell the students and parents, so they keep you accountable. Keeping parents in the loop is crucial - be sure to be proactive in this regard, and update them often through your class website or emails.
3. Decide if you will have a gradual release for ideas... Begin by asking students to teach their talent? Maybe a classroom-wide service project? A challenge? Learn something new first?
4. Decide your end result - Will students share throughout the year? Each semester? End of year? Will you require a product? An action? A presentation?
5. Figure out how your students will share. Will just their class know what they're doing? Partner with another class? The school? The world?
6. Decide if you will allow for pairs or group learning, or if you will require students to work independently. You will need to make this clear to students from the start.
7. Write down your expectations for class time. Some teachers have a small set of rules. These could include the following: be productive, learn something new, create, collaborate... Think of scenarios you'll run into (students watching YouTube videos) - will these fit into one of your expectations for students? Once you decide, put them on the board under your goal for the day.
8. Decide if, or what, you will grade. If you will grade, decide just how. If you will not grade, gather some reflections for the students to complete anyway. Reflection is a key step in this process.
9. I believe one-to-one conferring with students is essential. You will need to figure out a management system to monitor your own students' progress. Will you use a journal to keep track? A checklist? Goal sheets? Student sign-up? Will you have mentors come in to help? Do not check your email during this time, or do your own project (do that at home). Instead, confer with each student, as often as you can. Decide how you're going to keep track.
10. Research ideas as to how you will introduce the concept of passion-based learning to your students. You will want to explain the reasons behind your choice, and of course give them the "how does this benefit me" reason. This will also help you wrap your head around how you will keep students focused as they work. Ideas from teachers are here, videos are here, and picture books are here.

Once you get started, follow these steps Gallit Zvi laid out.

Count on tweaking your ideas from week to week and year to year... Students' ideas will provoke change in your classroom, and in your thinking!*

*Disclaimer: Be ready to be the loudest and most engaged class in your hallway...

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