The Reviewing Phase in the Classroom

It’s kind of weird talking about the Review process in classrooms, because we sort of already have that. Sort of. We have…*drum roll*…class projects!¬†Butt we’re stuck in antiquated notions of what a class project should be, and as a result are just now slowly warming up to projects that better reflect the world our students are growing into. I’m afraid the essay will never go away. There will always be articles and white papers of one sort or another to prepare. But dioramas? Book reports in folders with brads? The occasional Power Point presentation? What we need are projects that provide students opportunities to create, review, and iterate, ultimately leading to some kind of product.

In a way, we’re lucky. Project-based and inquiry-based learning have found an inconsistently applied home across schools and districts, opening the door to more robust opportunities to build systems like makerspaces and the PLE into the normal curriculum and to get students applying the skills and knowledge they’re acquiring while creating products that either resemble real-world products or that¬†do actually contribute to the world beyond the schoolyard.

Which is the point of school, right? We’re guiding children in developing skills that will benefit them once they’re beyond the schoolyard. So, we’re in the perfect position to help them start developing project management skills and cycles that set the tone for their future success when they’re in a position to fully control their projects. That’s the point of project-based and inquiry-based learning – to arm them with the skill sets necessary to carry forward with their work once they’re beyond the guidance of the classroom.

Okay, so while a typical class project fits into our definition of the PLE the way a bell pepper fits in with a fruit salad, it does have an opportunity to take something you’ve learned in class or through research and turn it into…something. But we have to embrace experimentation, iteration, and reflection to really make the project an effective learning tool.

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The Role of the Discovery Phase

As we discussed in the previous post, the Discovery process is the beginning of the personal learning environment process, regardless of whether you’re creating your overarching learning environment or just taking on a new project. At its core, the Discovery process sets the goal for your project. It might be learning a new skill or creating something. There may be a single driving question, or you may find that you want to address a few smaller questions as you build up to answer the driving question.

When you start the Discovery phase, you’re looking to answer three question:

  1. What has sparked my interest?
  2. How do I find information related to this topic?
  3. How do I learn new information or skills related to this topic?

We’ll ignore the last two questions for now, but the answer to the first question is the glue that holds the entire PLE together. It’s the reason why you’re even bothering with starting a new PLE to begin with.

This is what makes the Discovery process so important to the PLE: It sets up the topic, question, or problem that will serve as the focus for the rest of the PLE activities. So your first quest is to take your answer to that first question and look at it more closely by asking more questions:

  • What is my intent in working on this project?
  • What question am I looking to resolve?
  • What smaller, related questions will come up as I explore, and how do I want to address them or use them?

Let’s look at an example of how this works. Several years ago, a fair number of my math students were struggling. Only part of the problem could be blamed on overpacked classrooms and teachers who were certified in other areas being assigned to teach math classes. The real problem was that the curricula in use at that point made no sense. Students were expected to know skills they wouldn’t be taught for another two years. It was frustrating to them and to me.

But I saw these students for no more than a couple of hours a week. There was only so much I could do. After they got into their head they needed to clone and miniaturize me so my mini-clone could take their tests for them, I decided maybe I needed to create a simple reference that might help them when I couldn’t.

I had a topic: independent math help. I launched a blog, intending to cover the skills my students were struggling with, as well as the skills that led up to those skills. I put each skill on an index card, along with its prerequisite skills, and laid them out in the order of a traditional textbook. And that’s when everything fell apart – There were too many cards that came before at least one of their prerequisite skills. So now I not only had a topic, but I had the question that needed to guide my project: What is the best order to teach the skills in this math class? (You can still see the influence of this driving question in how I built the Dead Bunny Guides YouTube channel last year.)

Once you have some idea where you’re headed, it’s time to identify potentially useful resources. Depending on how you came across your topic, problem, or question, you might already be looking right at good starting resources. But we’ll look more at that another time.