Progress is an Option

Before I begin, I want you to know that this post began as one thought, turned into a second, and by the end, had gone through a third, fourth, and maybe a fifth...I'm not sure. I think I have it written well, but please forgive me if I don't.

Most of you know that I practice in a flipped classroom and that an integral part of my class is that learners are given the opportunity to pace their own learning. Now, I do offer guidance and give them more freedom as the year progresses, but the basic idea is that Student A will not always be working on the same thing as Student B, which is fine. I think it is extremely important that learners be given the freedom to take more time when they need it and less when they don't for any given topic.

I'm also okay with "busy" learning spaces. I like learners up and moving and I like discussion and collaboration. When you have a room full of freshman, the volume can get pretty high, but as long as they're being productive and challenging one another, its music to my ears. Managing a busy class is tiring, but I'm in there, learning with them.

My blood pressure really begins to build when a learner makes a deliberate decision not to participate in their learning. To me, they are not only halting their own progress, but they are also hurting other learners in the room by omitting the contribution they have to make.

Is it my job to make the learner learn, or is it my job to help the learner want to learn? Unfortunately, I still feel a twinge of the former.

I am not an entertainer. I do not stand up and do a song and dance routine in an effort to keep learners engaged. Rather, I am focusing on providing dynamic learning experiences where each individual can be an integral part in someone else's learning...not just their own. Just today, my biology classes were working on density. It was fantastic to see small groups collaborating and pulling from one another rather than diving to a computer to look up the "answer." A snippet of conversation I heard:

Student A: What's a regular object? Student B: I think it's something you can measure. Student A: Can't we solve for volume? How do we calculate that? Student C: It has something to do with area...I remember this from algebra last year. Student B: Why are we doing this? This isn't math...

...and on it went. They eventually figured out, through discussion and without computers, that you can find volume of regular objects by finding the area of one face and then factoring in a third dimension...depth.

Without the cooperation and engagement of every individual, this conversation would probably have gone much differently. If Student A, B, or C hadn't participated, would they have been successful in the task? I would like to think so. Would it have been okay for them to have failed at the task? Sure...that's part of learning.

But, that story changes when one individual drags the group down because of a refusal to progress. It would have been much more difficult pulling from only two experiences. Student C led them down the right path and by working together, they were able to solve the problems and complete the task at hand.

Now, I could have stood up front and taught density. In doing so, I would have effectively removed the influence of those refusing to progress, but it would have been at the expense of true learning. That is not a compromise I am willing to make.

Our learning spaces should foster learning communities. We need to become parts of those learning communities by standing back and encouraging those outsiders to share what they know.

Angela Maiers TEDxDesMoines "You Matter" talk has exploded on Twitter and the internet in general. It is one of my favorite TED talks...ever. She focuses on showing every child that walks through our rooms that they have an important contribution to make and that we want to hear it. Their thoughts matter.

Building learning communities is a great way to help that quiet/shy/defiant/confused/whatever learner embrace the fact that they matter and will promote a culture of learning and collaboration. How can you change your class to incorporate this?

Failure is an option...but don't forget about progress.

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