Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Exhibition of Transformative Work

Last week, the 900 teachers of the York County School Division participated in a gallery walk, an exhibition of student and educator work. To start the day, teachers walked for ninety minutes with colleagues among 140+ exhibits presented by their peers. The exhibits included project descriptions, student work, assessment rubrics, assessment checklists, and other materials to help teachers "steal" ideas from one another. Following the gallery walk, each teacher participated in a series of three 20-minute small group discussions, each of which focused on one of the exhibitions.
The tweets sent by participants provide a glimpse of the power of the exhibition. In addition to providing camaraderie, the exhibition generated three valuable benefits:

Learning from presenters and other participants;

Inspiring teachers to take action; and

Sparking further collaboration across the district.

The exhibition showcased examples of transformative learning. We define transformative learning as follows:

Transformative learning engages students in rigorous work that makes a difference. Students master the content and skills of the curriculum while making a positive impact on their local, state, national, and/or global community. Students are more likely to fully commit themselves to their work because transformative learning generates a sense of ownership by appealing to students’ desire for significance. Students use digital tools to improve and amplify the impact of their work.

When students make a difference through transformative learning they are accepting the challenge set forth by Angela Maiers and others to #Choose2Matter.
The exhibition featured work from all three levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Projects allowed students to learn the content and skills of the curriculum while making a difference in a variety of ways: reducing the waste of old cell phones, working to protect endangered species, designing healthy school lunch menus, managing charitable donations, creating book trailors to market books, promoting water conservation, and designing APPs. Here are three projects that involved students helping their peers:
Jennie MacBlane shared how her fourth grade students create instructional videos that are posted on YouTube to teach peers reading strategies. She emphasized that students took charge of the projects, serving in one of a variety of roles, such as Director, Head of Script Writers, Head of Filming, Actors, Filming Crew Members, and Production Crew members. As Alan November observes in describing the concept of the digital learning farm, she reports that students committed themselves fully to the work because they valued the work for more than a grade. For resources relating to this project, click here.

Sixth grade teachers Cindy Evans, Nancy Hehir, Becky Karatsikis, and Kelley Payne enlisted their students in supporting the transition of 5th grade students to middle school. Fifth grade students wrote letters to the 6th grade students asking questions about middle school. The sixth grade students wrote detailed letters in response. They then grouped the questions into categories such as lockers, the schedule, and homework and worked in groups to create video Public Service Announcements for the younger students to view. One teacher observed that some of her reluctant writers wrote lengthy responses and wrote multiple letters, although only one letter was required.
Emily Lerberg and Joyce Kuberek are examples of high school teachers engaging their students in making a difference while learning content and skills that are part of the curriculum. Their chemistry students create comic strips that reinforce and extend peers’ knowledge of Chemistry. Without any technical instruction from their Chemistry teachers, students used Bit Strips, ToonDoo, other digital tools, or free hand drawing to create comic strips relating to Chemistry content. Mrs. Kuberek shared this link to a video to explain the process of embedding a comic strip in Edmodo in order to publish work for a larger audience.
An excerpt of a student-created comic strip

These teachers are heros. They are working to resist the content coverage mentality that grips much of education. By giving students opportunities to make a difference through these projects, they increase the likelihood that students commit themselves fully to their work. They design projects that teach the curriculum, but they reject the short-term perspective of the content coverage mentality and seek deeper, longer-lasting mastery of content and skills.

These teachers are also heros because they shared their genius by presenting during the exhibition and small group discussions. In some districts, pockets of innovation exist in which teachers engage students in transformative learning. To move from pockets of innovation to consistent transformative learning throughout a school or district, a distributive model of leadership, including active teacher-leaders, is crucial.

After lunch, teachers gathered at their own schools to participate in a variety of activities relating to transformative learning. For example, staff members at some schools completed a jigsaw activity relating to excerpts of articles or books by Dan Pink, Phil Schlecty, Bill Daggett, and Robert Marzano. Each teacher joined a small groups and used a protocol from the National School Reform Faculty to make connections between transformative learning and one of the excerpts from an article or book. They then reconfigured the groups and discussed how each of the articles and books relate to Transformative Learning. Staff members at other schools used a protocol to discuss a blog post relating to the concept that student work can still be meaningful and valuable, even it is somewhat authentic or somewhat transformative, rather than fully authentic, transformative work. Another school used Today's Meet to discuss transformative learning. All three of these approaches were modeled recently at our Leadership Academy for teacher-leaders, school-level administrators, and central office leaders. 

The success of the day was based on the work of many people in addition to the exhibiting teachers. Ashley Ellis, Candi Skinner, Mike Lombardo, Len Donvito, and Stephanie Guy not only organized the day but have worked over the last several years to support teachers’ creation of engaging, rigorous projects. Our School Board members, Principals, Assistant Principals, Educational Technology Facilitators, Instructional Specialists, and others at central office and within schools have also provided teachers with support in recent years that contributed to the high quality of work exhibited.

We plan to build on the excitement and insight generated by the exhibition to engage students in transformative learning throughout the year!

You might also enjoy these posts:
Choose2Matter: Don't Underestimate Students
The Digital Learning Farm: A Call to Action
Fretting about Somewhat Authentic Projects
Students and Transformative Work

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