Sunday, October 6, 2013

First Quarter Report

With the first quarter of the school year nearly over, it's time for an update on the Entrepreneurial Classroom. In general, I think it is going well. An overwhelming majority of students have bought into the system and are actively engaged in the work of the company - learning. Everyday I see a highly motivated group of kids learning to take risks, think creatively, collaborate effectively, criticize honestly, accept challenges, and take ownership. We have built our classroom around these habitudes of entrepreneurs.

Risk taking

Our Company Logo
An on-going theme in our classroom has been to see failure as necessary for success. This change in mindset from seeing failure as the end of learning to seeing failure as the beginning of learning more than anything else has changed the way students interact with each other and with me. I used to have to pull names from a hat to get volunteers to show their thinking to the class. Now, students enthusiastically volunteer. And the best part, when they don't arrive at the correct answer, a discussion starts not only about what they did wrong, but how and why they made the mistake without judgement.

Creative thinking

Thinking creatively is a difficult concept for eight- and nine-year-olds, who equate creativity with more concrete skills like drawing, painting, etc. We've been focusing more on perspective with regard to creativity, working on the ability to see things differently and look for another way to solve a problem. This is the most difficult area for me as I see the tools we have available in our 1:1 classroom and want to "push" them to use something other than the same whiteboard app for every presentation.

Improved Collaboration

I haven't grouped my kids for lessons, independent practice or activities. They have formed groups as needed based largely on purpose and interest. It's been amazing to watch how they've grouped for the different activities and subjects. During math, I have a group I work with daily because they need extra support. The rest of the class forms cooperative groups without much intervention from me. Likewise during literacy activities the groups are fluid and heterogeneous. Our afternoons are reserved for project-based learning and grouping choices are made largely based on purpose and not personality. While some students prefer to work with certain students, there hasn't been any exclusion of a student or students and all are willing to share information with peers.

Critical thinking and Criticism 

I believe that increased risk taking has lead to an increase in critical thinking among my students. I am certain that risk taking affects their ability to give and take criticism. I notice that my students are questioning more, less concerned with being first with the right answer, and continue searching for more information. They've coined a term "googleable" to use to evaluate driving questions during project-based learning and genius hour. If a question is "googleable" it's not a good driving question because Google can answer it in less than a second. I see them becoming critical consumers of information.
We starting using a critical friends process for evaluating each others work. This process begins with a student providing something to share with the group - writing, a project idea, math problem, research. Students comment by starting with an "I like" statement then move to more critical "I wonder," "I'm confused by," and "I think" statements. The process ends with the student who offered the work for "critical friending" telling what their next steps will be based on the criticism they were given. This process of peer evaluation really holds meaning for students and makes them feel as if they, and what they are doing, matters.

Accepting Challenges

Every group of students has at least one minimalist - the kid who only does what is necessary to get done. While I do have a minimalist, that child is starting to feel alone. This group has been willing to take on new challenges largely because they have bought in to the system and find purpose in what they are being asked to do. They know that failure is an option and that it doesn't matter if they don't know the right answer immediately. It's the process that matters, because in the process of learning, the learning happens.Adopting the habitudes of entrepreneurs has lead to students creating an environment where mistakes are embraced, creativity in thought and action is common place, collaboration occurs naturally, critical thinking is automatic, criticism is accepted, and students have ownership of learning.

As the Chief Learning Officer, I still have to make executive decisions. There are times when you just have to do what you're told in life. But I make very few decisions unilaterally; I trust my team to make good, reasonable choices (for the most part), accept the consequences of those choices, and have given them freedom to do so. From my perspective, I see an engaged classroom, working together to construct and share knowledge on a daily basis. I'd say the first quarter has been a success.

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