It is through looking at students' work--their writing, projects, webpages, portfolios, video designs--that we gain insights into our own teaching and the caliber of our assignments. When we see patterns in student work, we can better understand our own role in students' learning. We have the capacity to create powerful learning opportunities for all our students. The processes of looking at student work allow teachers to be more reflective about how they plan and design lessons that engage and challenge students.
What does it mean to be an inquiring educator? When teachers open themselves to asking questions about how they teach, about why their students are performing in certain ways, about why one lesson design works when another doesn't, that is when the whole world of instructional practice shifts. Teacher Inquiry or Action Research, a qualitative approach to classroom inquiry, has enormous power to change learning in the classroom.
A central pathway to deeper learning in the classroom, PBL taps into students' lives, the environment around them, and puts students in a profoundly different role in the classroom. When teachers become strategic activators of learning, opportunities for students to exercise their research and their voice to articulate what matters and how to advance that learning into action, that is when learning becomes most powerful. Students own their learning and dig deeper into problems so that solutions actually affect the world around them. Whether a project is small or monumental, students develop efficacy for their own learning and productivity in a PBL environment.
Teachers need a solid background in how to teach writing. The writing process brings students to a place of power in the classroom. Articulating clearly in print, whether in a web design or a lab report or a blog or an argument or a narrative, students' writing creates voice and stance in a world that too often dismisses young people. Classrooms that shift from assigning writing to teaching writing create a fertile garden for student growth. A student armed with skills for clear writing holds a powerful tool for success with any challenge in any field.
Schools that understand and embrace the power of transformative teacher collaboration know that collaboration is much more than merely asking teams of teachers to meet together. When teachers share their thinking about lesson design, ask purposeful questions about best practices, share a compelling purpose, examine data and reflect on their roles in the classroom, then mindsets begin to shift and cultures become more learning-centered. Students become part of the collaborative conversations with teachers. Embedding collaboration throughout the school establishes a 21st century dynamic for educational transformation.
Who knows the classroom better than the teacher and the students in that teacher's classroom? When teachers write about their learning journeys as professionals, they steep themselves in the reflective practices that shape and reshape their educator identity. Whether a teacher keeps a journal, writes a blog, or scrawls in a diary, teachers' insights into students' learning are not to be taken lightly. After a teacher has written perhaps an entry a week over a year of teaching, he or she will find patterns in thinking, in his or her students' thinking. Quote students over time. Keep track! No one who becomes a teacher is the same person at the close of his or her career. Documenting that is a worthy endeavor. Poet Billy Collins encouraged us some years ago to read a poem a day for a school year. He called it Poetry 180. I challenge you in a similar fashion, as an educator, to write a couple lines daily about a moment in your teaching day. At the end of your 180 days of the school term, you will have compiled valuable insights about your own growth as an educator. Share these with a colleague.