2 Teachers and a Big Idea
|Room 14 King Chavez Community High School
Meet Alicia and Megan, teachers at King Chavez Community High School in San Diego. Alicia teaches Algebra 2 and Megan teaches English Language Arts. They had a bold idea. What if they shared a classroom together with students choosing which subject to learn? What opportunities for cross-curricular learning might emerge? How would the students handle a self-directed learning environment? What interactions would emerge with 50 students sharing the space together? What would the curriculum look like? How would the students respond to this new level of freedom (and responsibility) to drive their own learning?
Enter Room 14
When you walk into Room 14, you see it is different right away. An environment of choice is set as soon as students walk in. You do not see student desks in rows. You do see desktop computers lining the walls, couches, stand up desks, and a small group learning center. They choose where they want to sit and who they work with. Students pick from iPads, Chromebooks, or desktops to work on. Megan tells me that students in this school can take a long time to transition between classes, lingering and socializing in the halls. Not this class. They get to class as fast as possible to choose their spot and device.
A traditional learning environment would not work for their vision of student choice. So, Alicia and Megan developed their own blended learning environment by:
Students in Room 14 now have instant availability to their learning so they can choose what and when to learn.
One mistake we make when launching self-directed learning is going too fast too soon. Classrooms suffer from frustration, loss of confidence, and disorder. Another mistake is not giving enough empowerment, stifling learners and causing boredom. Growing empowerment is like a muscle. Let’s say you have been a couch potato munching on Pringles while binging on Netflix for the past 5 years. You would not run a marathon tomorrow. You might first try walking around the block. Then build up to running a few miles. By incrementally increasing the challenge, you are fit enough to run that marathon
The system that has created self-directed learning couch potatoes. The decision making muscles have atrophied. We can’t expect students to become self-directed learning Olympians in one day. Alicia and Megan first noticed students were not yet entering and choosing their seats and device responsibly. So, they started here, ensuring students mastered basic classroom procedures. Paradoxically, freedom requires mastering structure first. A well structured classroom sets the mind free to self-direct.
Once students were able to self-direct themselves in entering the room, Megan and Alicia provided them the opportunity to choose what and how they learned. After some months and much improvement, students still struggled to self-direct and keep focused. They had great content, a model blended learning environment, a solid curriculum, and they believed their students were capable. They were missing the supporting process and tools self-directed learners need. Then a big shift happened when they discovered Agile.
Agile Classrooms in Room 14
Megan and Alicia started implementing Agile at once. They saw growth in learners ability to focus, supportive one another, and plan and carry out out their learning goals. Here is how they did it
Every classroom is unique. Agile Classrooms empowers teachers to differentiate 21st Century learning to fit their context. Agile Classrooms has 5 Elements to architect the learning environment.
2 Structural Elements: the Visible Classroom and the Learning Rhythm
2 Growth Elements: Collaborate and Empower.
The 5th Element is The Journey, the process used to scaffold collaboration and empowerment.
|Elements of Agile Classrooms
The Learning Zone
Collaboration and Empowerment are like two dials you can adjust to configure the right learning environment for your classroom. The Learning Zone Map depicts these settings as four Learning Zones. Room 14 is in the early stages of Zone 3 (Independent Learning), with High Empowerment and Low Collaboration. This Learning Zone is a perfect complement to support their blended learning model.
|Agile Classrooms Learning Zone Map
The Visible Classroom
In Agile Classrooms, we use highly visible learning aids to mediate self-regulated learning called Learning Radiators. The Learning Canvas is one type of learning radiator that students use to visibly inspect and adapt their own learning.
Every student in Room 14 has their own Learning Canvas. Here is how they designed it for their ELA subject:
Canvas: Each student uses their own Learning Canvas in Google Draw. (They are moving to Trello soon).
Columns: The learning journey is mapped onto the Learning Canvas using Columns. Each Column is an explicit step or phase that visibly guides students through the process of learning.
Cards: The goals and activities of their learning are represented as Cards. A Card flows through each Column, tracking what is being learned and what stage it is in.
With the Learning Canvas, teachers and students know their progress at all times. Megan designed their ELA Learning Canvas with 3 columns:
To Do: The goals the students selected for the learning cycle
In Progress: What activity they are working on now.
Mastered: The card only moves to Mastered from In Progress when it meets the proficiency level of Mastery.
|A Student Learning Canvas for Room 14
Asking one student in Room 14 her thoughts on the Learning Canvas, she replied,
“It helps me stay on track. I like that I get to move my own cards. My other classrooms I am told what to do.”
|Another Learning Canvas Designed for Algebra in Room14
The Learning Rhythm
The Learning Rhythm is a process that guides students through the steps of self-directed learning. It is a repeatable cycle, consisting of 4 events (1) Planning, (2) Check-In, (3) Review, and (4) Reflection. Each is a powerful feedback mechanism inspect and adapt learning.
Let’s see how Room 14 is using the Learning Rhythm, supported by the Learning Canvas, to put learners in the driver’s seat.
The Learning Rhythm starts with Planning. Students set their goals and map out how they will accomplish them. In Room 14, students pull from a list of learning goals. Each goal is added as a card under the To Do column on their Learning Canvas.
|Megan and students during Check-In
At the beginning of each class, learners meet for 5 minutes for a Check-In. Each student answers these 3 questions:
(1) What have I accomplished since last class?
(2) What am going to accomplish this class?
(3) What’s in the way of accomplishing our goals?
Alicia and Megan added an additional question to the Check-In process (4) What strategies will I use?
Megan and Alicia pull in small groups of students for the Check-In. While students each answer the Check-In questions, they display their Learning Canvas to the group. The teacher and students in the group use this time for quick coaching and support as needed.
Not only do Check-Ins make progress and accountability visible, it also enriches relationships. Megan shared with me a story of one such time. When asked, “What is in my way?”, the student responded, “I am tired, I had a rough night”. Unsolicited, the other students in the Check-In group rallied to support him. They offered suggestions and encouragement to get through the day and made him hot tea to restore his energy. That is a proud teacher moment!
|Algebra Learning Group
At the end of the cycle is the Review, where goals are assessed against clear criteria and feedback is given. Room 14 uses Just In Time (JIT) Reviews. During my visit, I was so impressed with how they did this for Algebra. Anytime during class, students would tell Alicia they they were ready for Review. Alicia hands the student a small slip of paper with one Algebra problem to assess their understanding. When finished, the student hands the small slip of paper back to Alicia for immediate assessment and feedback. If they require help, Alicia might give a quick and focused instruction or coach them through their thinking process on the spot. If Alicia sees they meet the level of Mastery, students update their Learning Canvas, moving their card from In Progress to Mastered.
I love this approach Alicia uses. By focusing on one small goal at a time from start to finish, faster and more relevant feedback is given, students do not feel overwhelmed as they do when taking a 20 question assessment, a have a clearer picture of their progress. Since students are given such focused, differentiated support they feel that their teachers are really there to help them.
At the end of the Learning Rhythm, students reflect on their learning and interactions, then deciding on how to improve in the next cycle. Megan uses this format for Reflection in her ELA class:
What has changed about your thinking about the unit?
What worked best for you in your learning?
What could be improved to support learning?
Let’s take a look at Room 14’s Agile Journey by revisiting the Learning Zone Map. They started in a school culture that was in Zone 1 (Traditional), low collaboration and low empowerment. This year, they turned up the Empowerment dial and moved into Zone 3 (Independent). Next school year, Alicia and Megan are going to implement Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL is a great opportunity to shift their class to high empowerment and high collaboration, entering Learning Zone 4 (Self-Organized). With this shift, they’ll maximize 21st Century skills, deepen learning, create stronger relationships, and evoke radical engagement.
|Room 14’s Journey in growing an Agile Classroom
I look forward to my next visit and supporting them on their Agile Journey. I hope you are as excited as I am to see what they do next.
Any questions or just want to learn more about creating an Agile Classroom to make your students 21st Century ready, contact us!
Thank you for reading!
John Miller | Chief Empowerment Officer| Agile Classrooms