By becoming an action researcher you are putting yourself in the position – more than ever before – to truly impact the learning experience of your students and prepare them for what they will need once their leave us.

As educators we are accountable for our childrens futures.  Are we giving them what they need?  Great content by itself is not enough. Competency skills need to accompany the knowledge of the material. Sure, we want students to know how to give us the answers we are looking for…but more importantly – do they know how to learn?

Tony Wagner says that education today is between a rock and a hard place.  A rock because our students need a skilled mind and intellect in this day and age, and a hard place because this generation is motivated very differently and we are having a hard time getting them to engage so that we can help them grow.  

According to Wagner’s video (see below) there are 7 survival skills that our children need in order to succeed.  I took those skills and asked myself where in my classroom could I find evidence of these? A useful (and eye-opening) exercise.  Here is what I came up with…

  1. Challenge helps them develop critical thinking and problem solving – don’t fix it for them!!!  Let them struggle.  LEAD them to their own thoughts and to a solution but don’t scaffold so much.  Stop with the multiple choice!!!  Make them explain or name it.  Education is their responsibility.  When we take it upon ourselves they are happy to abdicate and then they disengage. Test for competency.  Encourage them but don’t make excuses or accept them.  I have turned my classroom into an active learning environment where they are held accountable for the work they do and the learning is THEIR job.
  2. Group work / collaboration: every marking period I rearrange their groups.  They complain but I tell them they need to learn to work with all types of different people.  For conversations I always assign new partners.  No ruts allowed!  Routines become comfort traps where they begin to fear being uncomfortable – but as teachers we know that growth only happens when we are stretching beyond what we can already comfortably do.  It requires being uncomfortable sometimes. Leading by influence is something I see happening a lot within their groups. I also strive to teach them a respect for foreign cultures and people – this is my whole goal. I want them to be global citizens, not just Americans.
  3. Change and growth will help to grow agility and ability.  Learn from mistakes.  Effort creates intelligence! In class they have a list every week of activities they are responsible for. They have to decide how to best use their time to do the activities, check their work (mistakes are fine, we learn from them and move on) and be adaptable to the whole class activities too. We are always busy, moving from one thing to another, growing our abilities and our knowledge while growing our ability to manage ourselves.
  4. Initiative – your choice.  I think back to when I was a child, and I was fascinated with National Geographic and journalism.  I created my own paper and I would spend hours cutting out pictures and writing my own creative stories about them.  This was not an assignment. No one ever graded them – in fact that would have ruined it.  I took great pride and delight in creating these but they were for ME.  I grew my reading and creative writing skills on my own because of a personal interest.  Ongoing learning!!!
  5. Communicate in a meaningful way ABOUT something that is meaningful to you. In this day and age of twitter talk I strive to include writings but also recordings where they share their opinion and also 5 minute conversations with a partner. These face to face conversations in a foreign language oftentimes scare them in the beginning (Mme J, they will tell me, I can’t even have a 5 minute conversation in English!) but they learn quickly and feel very accomplished with it – all while spending lots of time practicing the art of conversation. I also do discussion circles where students need to find things in common with others opinions and share their own – in a respectful and thoughtful manner. I want them to be able to communicate well about things that matter to them.
  6. Sorting information.  Critical thinking! What is valid and what is not? We practice reading comprehension A LOT to help them be able to scan and focus quickly in on the important information. They struggle with this skill. I have read my whole life and so I am very adept at skimming and pulling out meaning and items of importance. They don’t read much more than 144 characters at a time, so helping them to tackle a page-long text is an important activity to help build their sorting skills.  Web quests are also a good activity to force them to categorize and deduce how to find the relevant information without a “map”.
  7. Unleashing their imaginations is not always easy. Creative, outside the box activities are not always possible when there is a tight curriculum.  But when I can I like to let them pursue things that excite them.  Encourage them to make unusual connections! I allow for choices when we do projects, but I know that this is an area I need to grow in. I think the key is allowing some degree of choice. But I have also learned that boundaries and obstacles tend to encourage creativity because they need to find a way around the problem. We did a team building game in the beginning of the year where they were given a plastic pig and had to use classroom objects to create a device that would launch the pig into a basket 5 feet away. They came up with awesome crazy ideas I never would have thought of: proof that they are truly so ingenious, they just need an outlet for it! Why am I so reluctant to let them use that creative power?

So the question I ask myself and others after having viewed this video is: Where in our classrooms are we teaching critical thinking, problem solving and ownership?  

The challenge is to teach them to take responsibility for their learning!  Using action research to find what works has never been more important – our students are in critical need of these skills.  It’s up to us to find what will make our students successful both in school and in their futures.

Wagner, T. (2009, October 01). Retrieved December 21, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NS2PqTTxFFc

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