Adolescents are wonderfully self-involved.
Their universes have space for their interests and little else. Many are driven by a degree of academic engagement that motivates them to do what’s necessary to succeed in school — not because of any enthusiasm for learning or curiosity in the subject matter, but solely due to the expectation of their parents or peer group or some other external focus that tells them that success in school is important. These students do their work, raise their hands, and complain about their grades, but they are not interested. How can we intellectually engage these teenagers? How can we nurture their curiosity? How can we hasten the “big bang” of their social and emotional maturity that seemingly overnight turns a purely self-involved teenager into a crusading young adult ready to change the world? — Too much?
Alright, then perhaps a more reasonable goal might be, how can we pivot in our work to use our students’ very normal degree of self-involvement to help us achieve academic goals?
Self-Help & Learning Skills
The self-help industry pulls billions of dollars from people seeking to achieve personal goals. Lets challenge our students to consider the learning skills and work habits we expect from them as opportunities for personal growth. We can use our students self-interest as the prompt for a research project: “Think about how one of the learning skills or work habits could help you to be more successful in your personal, school or future life. Find out as much as you can about the relationship between the learning skill or work habit and success, and learn how a person could develop the learning skill or work habit you’ve chosen”.
When the students are investigating responsibility, self-regulation, independent work, initiative, organization or collaboration – they will be using our curriculum of reading, writing and critical thinking to explore topics that will feel relevant to their needs.
- Which careers require particular strength in the learning skill or work habit you’ve researched?
- How do adults who feel they need to improve the learning skill or work habit you’ve researched try to change their behaviours?
- How easy do experts on human behaviour say it is to change a habit or develop a new skill?
- How will you monitor your progress in improving your skill or changing your work habit?
Sample Task: Your Personal Self-Help Program
Does what we know about co-constructing criteria, assessment for learning and student engagement invalidate the utility of “Independent Study Units”? I don’t think so.
Literacy guru Kelly Gallagher advocates for more reading in English classes. In his classes he challenges students with a short instructional text every week (a text that requires support and teaching). While using this short text for teaching particular skills or content, Gallagher also has students working on longer group texts (novels or long non-fiction texts that the students select from a limited teacher created list) these texts are studied through a seminar format. Finally, Gallagher asks his students to always have an individually chosen text on the go. An independent novel or non-fiction book. That last element sounds like an ISU to me.
I think it’s perfectly appropriate to ask our students to be reading on their own. A change in my practice from the ISU tasks of ten years ago, would include providing clear exemplars of the tasks I’m asking the students to complete and check-ins throughout the process to monitor the students progress and address problems. The “i” in ISU should stand for “independent” not “isolated”. By monitoring the students’ progress I can intervene as necessary and provide appropriate lessons in organization or initiative or independent work as required. The monitoring in a grade 10 class would look different from the monitoring in a grade 12 class.
This Biography Assignment might lend itself to an ISU approach. Instruction up-front to clarify the nature of the task and my expectations, then the occasional check-in to monitor progress. See what you think.
|Resilience and Self-Regulation|
I think a case can be made that self-regulation is the most important learning skill with the least useful title. I wish the Ministry of Education had chosen the term “resilience” to describe these attributes. Here’s what we’re trying to teach our students to demonstrate when we focus on a student’s self-regulation skills:
- sets own individual goals and monitors progress towards achieving them;
- seeks clarification or assistance when needed;
- assesses and reflects critically on own strengths, needs, and interests;
- identifies learning opportunities, choices, and strategies to meet personal needs and achieve goals;
- perseveres and makes an effort when responding to challenges.
I’d describe much of that as resilience. To be resilient is to believe you have control over your success. I fear that at times when we discuss learning styles or preferences with our students we leave them with the impression that they don’t fully control their own success. So to put the teaching of learning skills and thinking about learning styles in context, I’d suggest these three important goals for the discussion:
- I’m interested in you and interested in understanding your strengths and preferences, to help me be a more effective teacher;
- I’d like to help you to recognize your interests and strengths so that you can use them to build on your weaknesses;
- I want you to understand that your learning styles are not a trap, they do not mean a you are only capable of learning in one way.
A fast read, and a great companion / counterpoint to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, or The Reason I Jump or as a great contrast to Sisters Brothers, Romeo and Juliet or The Great Gatsby. Chapter 2 stands alone as a charming character study of a man on the Asperger’s spectrum: Chapter 2 of The Rosie Project.
From GoodReads.com: Narrator Don Tillman 39, Melbourne genetics prof and Gregory Peck lookalike, sets a 16-page questionnaire The Wife Project to find a non-smoker, non-drinker ideal match. But Rosie and her Father Projectsupersede. The spontaneous always-late smoker-drinker wants to find her biological father. She resets his clock, throws off his schedule, and turns his life topsy-turvy.
Ben Stiller has published a recording of the classic Thurber story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” to promote his feature film interpretation of the story. You can find the original short story here: pdf and the recording here: audio version
Students who’ve seen the movie might be interested in hearing the source material. The episodic nature of the story invites “fan fiction” versions. Students could try to capture Thurber’s voice and write an additional scene.
This often quoted, yet unsupported theory, has been refuted by many psychologists. The theory’s cultural impact can not be denied. This article discusses the origin of Maslow’s ideas and the impact they’ve had.