Over the 23 years I’ve been teaching English, I’ve learned some things about learning. I try to keep my eyes open, observe the ways my students learn best, change my methods to give them the best opportunity of learning broadly and deeply.
For the last few years, I’ve been using a method I call “Start with Create.” I wrote a post for TechSmith’s education blog on this: Learning by Creating: Turning Bloom’s on It’s Head. It’s about Project Based Learning and I use the ideas in my Dual Credit English class and I also do trainings for teachers often on this topic. The core idea is this: If we begin learning at the highest level, and design the project well, students will then learn all the lower level stuff–remembering, understanding, applying, etc.–on their way to completing the assigned project.
I really believe this and my students love to learn this way. They work hard, create great products, and usually learn at a higher level than they have done in the rest of their school career.
Last week, I was working with teachers at a tech conference. I was actually presenting on this topic and my session was titled, “Start with Create.” But I found myself back-sliding into traditional methods even as I was helping teachers learn a better way of teaching and learning.
What happened? Well, I had a project I wanted the teachers to do in Google Drive. I ask them to respond to the video and to collaborate with people sitting near them. They learn about the powerful sharing properties of Drive and how well it works for student projects.
It was a really good idea except for one thing. I placed this project at the end of my presentation instead of at the beginning. I did this presentation twice during the day, and the first time, I started with a series of slides that showed my audience all of the features of Drive and the Create tools inside of it. That took so long (there’s a lot of good stuff for teachers in Drive) that I didn’t get to the project.
I was reflecting on that during a break between sessions and I realized that I had failed to come up to my own standard. I should have started with the project. Fortunately, I did that particular presentation twice that day. The second time, I gave a brief intro and then gave the assignment. If you would like to check out that project, click here.
So what was the difference between the two sessions? In the first one, teachers listened politely and there were few questions. I must have done a creditable job of presenting the info, because some of them came to a later session on a different topic. In the second presentation where I “started with create,” the teachers not only understood the capabilities of the resources better, but they also experienced a method of learning–academic learning–that actually works. Instead of learning in an artificial way, with someone standing before them and lecturing, albeit with an engaging presentation, they learned by creating something of value. If you look at the assignment, you should see that they learned something about what doesn’t work as well.
The great majority of teachers are so steeped in the industrial education model that we, yes WE, have difficulty thinking outside of that box. This pattern of instruction>worksheet>quiz>test seems right because, in the classroom, it’s all we’ve ever known. Outside of the classroom, however, when we are learning something we want to learn, something that inspires us or seems important to us, we choose other methods of learning. We watch a YouTube video, call a friend, find a tutorial online, or just start to work and figure it out.
As teachers we’re also very often distressed that our students don’t retain what they have learned even when they pass their tests; they don’t remember what we worked so hard to teach them last year; we try to build on what students learned last week, and they don’t have sufficient grasp of the principles we thought they learned to move forward with the next step.
That’s why we need to try something different, something perhaps radically different. Let’s start with create.