Resources for Sessions 7-9: Supporting Student-Led Inquiry, Exploration, Innovation and Collaboration

“Use themes and action-based projects to make connections across subjects and issues, and link classwork into both the school community and into learning in the local environment and community.” – Becs Boyd, “21 Tips for Connecting Learners to Their Community”, www.gettingsmart.com 

The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas. – Valerie Strauss, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students”, www.washingtonpost.com 

This section of the Newspaper and Digital Media Club – EDU 663 page is especially full of resources. Why? Because the topic of student-led and student-centered instruction often comes with more fear than tools. What if I didn’t plan for that? What if students ask questions or explore topics I’m not familiar with? How can I teach to students’ interests if I don’t have time to learn more or get my hands in their world? The following resources are designed to address these and other questions bound to pop up when trying to switch to a more student-led instructional delivery and production system.

For instance, the “vision” list provided directly below is similar to a checklist, rubric, or assignment description that an educator might hand out at the start of a unit or workshop series. In the case below, however, it was provided half-way through the program. The reason why was because the newspaper club in that instance was run very collaboratively, but without the benefits of consistent times for the team I lead to meet and plan. This meant there were times when we were only able to float plans by each other before implementation – without being able to confirm strategies and outputs, and this absence of time would sometimes mean finding points of alignment after the fact. Yet as a team, we arrived at a point in which we wanted students to be able to articulate specific techniques we had each taught them, and not just for a vocabulary exercise. Instead, we wanted to provide our students with a tool they could use as they looked back at what was accomplished and what they practiced – on their path to setting goals and action plans for what they would do moving forward. While on the one hand, there is a move in schools to provide rubrics, standards, and clear objectives to students upfront, on the other hand, when thinking about points of intersection with practices in ELO settings, in some cases it might be better to delay distributing a checklist, or it might be better to articulate skills that students will acquire instead of point-by-point requirements for an assignment or unit to ensure there is room for student choice. One way to learn what works? Ask your students what they prefer – a list of skills they are acquiring or a rubric detailing what is expected?

What’s another way to support students if you’re assessing and planning as you go or after they’ve dismantled your curriculum (with your permission or as predicted)? Help them build the skills and teach the techniques described above by Strauss and Boyd. Demonstrate what Strauss means when she says “being a good critical thinker and problem solver…able to make connections across complex ideas.” Ask students to turn a research topic and report into a multi-sectioned website (see the resource at the top about how to build an identity and objective as a website publisher/digital storyteller). Or task a student with creating a logo and tagline designed to appeal to a certain audience, but about any product of their choice – or any character of their choice in a text.  Model and give examples of metacognitive processes that teach students how to analyze and respond to work they come across, and give them tools like those that emphasize and respond to goal-setting and monitoring action steps. Below are a few more “hints” based on our four target areas.

ELA Hint: The three graphics at the bottom are visuals of a style of writing referred to as listicles, where writers often list or rank topics, media content, news coverage, consumer products, and more – and provide accompanying commentary . Listicles are common formats found on contemporary blogs and websites, but the concept of having a top three list or culling a few main ideas is not new at all. However, assigning listicles can be a great way to introduce and scaffold skill-building practice for more formal essay-writing and research papers – using a format students may have come across in non-academic settings. With their emphasis on catchy hooks and introductions and clever conclusions that thread a disaggregated list back together under a theme, joke, political stance, etc. as well as the skill of consolidating a list of ideas, sources, etc. down to a manageable number, listicles provide a great template for building critical writing and communication skills.

STEM Hint: Showing students infographics and assigning them to make their own is a great way to support “student-led inquiry, exploration, innovation and collaboration” in science and math. Below is a sheet showing samples of infographics I produced using data collected and analyzed from the same (or a similar) “day one survey” students in my programs will have taken, with snapshots above that of the raw data and a look at which questions a recent group of students selected for their infographic-making. Like the survey, the worksheet on visiting colleges can be used, shown, adapted and distributed for the use of collecting and comparing data not only on similar institutions, but also for contrasting ideas, philosophers, and arguments. Between fractions, decimal points, percentages and scaling for multiple plains (on paper, on a website, on a photo-editing program), to turning information into numerical representations, a unit or project devoted to or ending with infographics is one stuffed with real-world STEM skills that can be driven and shaped by student-interest.

Art Hint: At this stage, students should understand the power and necessity of creating and producing original images, and they should have had time to practice on and test-run one or more software programs and/or apps. At this point, though, some or many students will be starting projects (not skill-building) from the beginning, and some will have taken the earlier “workshops” and began a portfolio of work directly afterwards. Among both sets of students may be those who need instructors to facilitate visioning exercises and/or instruction on how to “curate content” to support them with seeing how multiple pieces can be woven into one body of work, and to plan for multiple modalities of expression for a single body of work. Worksheets like the final video planning tool and the multimedia slideshow tool all are examples of ways to plan from the beginning, or connect at the end, multiple pieces of art and/or different learning products – whether completed sequentially or in bursts.

SCL Hint: Hashtag social media campaigns, and dry-erase art are affordable and replicable ways to inquire, include and promote student voice in projects – and there are several reasons why: 1) the individuality of each person’s handwriting gives a visual reminder about student voice; 2) sometimes theres is hard work required to synthesize ideas, causes, and actions into a single saying, but when the work is done it’s easy to feel ownership of it; 3) the speed that hashtags and dry-erase boards allow for capturing, documenting, editing and disseminating information mean that revisions are easy and it’s possible to reach a wide audience, quickly; 4) offering projects that call for implementing or replicating social media campaigns means that students can be tasked with pieces that not only very likely engage their prior knowledge, but also demonstrates how personal inquiry can transform into qualitative or quantitative research as seen in both the hard and social sciences. Perhaps most noteworthy, for educators in any setting, a project like this can be implemented immediately or over time.

When SCL is done correctly…Watch them fly!