It’s quiet in my classroom right now.
A little too quiet.
Did my students just have the most boring lesson ever?
I don’t hear snoring.
Did they all eat turkey for lunch?
Are the students all out of the room during prep?
Nope. They are all here and engaged in something called Genius Hour.
Here’s what led up to this moment.
Me: Have you ever wanted to study something on your terms and wasn’t in your text book?
Them: Yes. I do. Wait what? Followed by another 6 simultaneous comments in favour.
Me: Would anyone like to do that now?
Them: Yup. YES! Me! Followed by another 6 simultaneous comments and another 6 side conversations on top. All if favour of this strange, but intriguing opportunity.
Me: Okay, but here are the rules.
Them: Oh great, now here come the rules…(I only imagined this last line).
1. Your topic must be declared and shared with the teacher before proceeding. That way some suggestions and direction may be offered if needed. Switching topics in not encouraged. See one idea/interest through, and chase after a new one next time. Ask them if this something they really want to share? Why is this interesting to you? Explain.
2.You must work quietly on your own. Don’t annoy your peers. They’re working too – so be cool.
3. You must be on task. Independent learning sounds easy, but carries a great deal of responsibility to those who are privileged with the gift of time. Use the present(see what I did there?) wisely.
4. You may use technology or texts or whatever you can gather information from to do your research. Interviews are cool too, but may require more than the time allotted. See teacher to negotiate.
5. You may use headphones to screen videos or audio content as long as it relates to your topic.
6. You may share your new learning in the format of your choice. This can include, but is not limited to; visual presentations, works of art, a performance, video, a poem/song/rant, research paper, or TED style talks.
7. You will become the in-class expert on your topic. So enjoy discovering the knowledge that is waiting for you to find it.
The certainty of uncertainty
When students are empowered and engaged, the resulting learning is immersed in intense inquiry and thought. The room is filled with nothing other than productive silence; barely broken by keystrokes and infrequent fidgeting as grade 5s are wont to do. Students’ questions are usually met with responses of redirection that affirm their instincts rather than direct answers. I want them to develop and trust their instincts as learners by stretching beyond their comfort zones. If that means answering a question with another question, then so be it. One thing’s for sure, it will be a stretch for everyone including you.
Me: Here’s your chance to discover something that you’ve always wanted to know more about. What do you think it should be? What did you discover when you were doing your research? Have you considered…?
Then there’s the momentarily unsure. Occasionally, there are students who are really stuck when given so much latitude in the classroom. It might be a good idea to have the class share some general ideas that can be used in the case of Genius Hour Learner’s Block. Keep in mind this is new for some students as they have been conditioned to learn what is being taught without ever having time to scratch their own intellectual itches. If a learner is still stuck, keep directing them back to what they are passionate about in their lives. Feel free to share what you might study if given a chance. My students always love when I share my own passion projects in learning. Here is my latest one about the Psychology of Accents.
Handing over the learning to students is a struggle for some educators. We are so used to having everything organized, on time, and in its place. If this is you? Don’t panic. Please keep in mind that it will be messy at times. Some educators will feel compelled to assess this somehow. I get it. Perhaps for the first time, you consider only assessing the presentation skills rather than the content. If this is truly to resemble self-driven inquiry in learning, students should not be afraid to take chances because a mark is hanging over their heads.
Take it as opportunity to construct the success criteria with your students. They will not let you down. Consider having students assess one another’s work for the purposes of learning. Maybe you can make it like a gallery walk where half of the class shares and the other goes from one presentation to the next. You can also model and post some guiding questions as prompts.
One more rule
8. Have fun and celebrate all of the new learning that your students have discovered.