ARCHIVED—Learning logs and multicoloured hats
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Randy Cook and Maureen Flynn
Allan A. Martin Senior Public School
Randy Cook and Maureen Flynn's main goal in teaching is to create learning experiences for children that will seem immediately relevant to their lives outside the classroom. They also want to ensure success for every single student by recognizing individual learning styles and, more importantly, by getting students to understand and exploit the different ways they can learn.
The two teachers have developed a special program called the International Business and Technology program that has students, both as individuals and in groups, undertake a personal entrepreneurial venture. The program also features an ongoing assessment process in which each student keeps track of his or her progress and discusses it with instructors. To help them achieve the ambitious goals set out in their program, Mr. Cook and Ms. Flynn teach students different approaches to learning and show them how they can adopt these to meet their needs.
The learning environment the teachers have created is very different from that of most schools. The entire curriculum for all classes and grades is planned around the International Business and Technology program. The students do not follow a standard timetable with established groups in every class. As unusual as this is, the two teachers have been careful to make sure the students are always in a carefully structured learning environment. Many of the techniques could easily be applied in any school. Here they tell us about some of them.
On the very first day of classes all the program's students and our team of instructors gather in a big room. There is no division of classes and no assignment of any group of students to a particular teacher. Ideally, people and the carpet are all that is in the room.
Our students do not come unprepared, however. They have all received a letter before the opening of classes asking them to think about something they wonder about, something they are good at and something they would like to be better at. The first task of the day is for the students to compare their ideas with their fellow students and with us. This gives everyone a chance to meet one another without any preconceived ideas about their roles.
Beginning this way also builds a new kind of group dynamic. By talking about what they are good at and what they would like to be good at, the students inevitably see that their various strengths can be complementary. If a boy who has always felt shy talking to adults, for example, meets a girl who is an expert at selling Girl Guide cookies, he can see that she may be able to help him.
The next activity of the day is to create a code of ethics — a commitment from the students to the expectations they will try to live up to during the school year. Before they have done a single bit of work, we ask them to assess themselves. We ask, What is it that you want people to be able to say about you and how you work?
The objectives that students set for themselves during these discussions are written down in an individual learning log that they each receive. We come back regularly to the objectives in the students' code of ethics throughout the year and ask them how they are doing at meeting their goals.
The students also use the log book to keep track of their progress on the academic and social objectives they set with their instructors every day and before each period. At the end of a period the students make notes on what they completed and, in addition, they write a half page about it at the end of the day. Included in this end-of-the-day summary is a description of their most significant learning of the day.
An instructor then reviews the log with the student. Obviously, if the student has written that he or she learned nothing or not much, the instructors asks why this happened and what needs to be done to change this tomorrow.
This will sound reminiscent of performance reviews used in the workplace, and that is no accident. Our curriculum is based on the employability skills identified by the Conference Board of Canada. The students learn very quickly that there are three areas from the employability skills reflected in our curriculum: academics, teamwork and personal management. Setting and meeting goals is a prime example of personal management.
The other lesson that students learn through the regular review of their log books is that the results of their work are what matters. We had an interesting experience with the learning logs that illustrates this nicely. We wondered if we could help the students by providing standardized learning logs. The problem we quickly ran into was that everyone fills out their log differently. Some people like to use a very formal structure with headings and others prefer to ramble on. In the end, the best format for everyone was blank pages. The approach the students take to organizing themselves is not as important as whether their approach helps them get their work done.
When discussing objectives for a period, our instructors tell the students about the curriculum goals they want to meet. At each session, the instructor will establish the goal for that session, which the students record in their log book along with their personal goals. As sometimes happens in the classroom, the discussion will lead us away from the intended goals, but the students know what curriculum areas need to be covered and they know that it is their responsibility, and not just the teacher's, to make sure this happens.
This all feeds very easily into evaluations that we do periodically throughout the year. The students write out a self-evaluation that they discuss with peers and then with us. Because they have been through ongoing assessment in their log books and have hashed things out with others, they are pretty confident by the time they talk to us, and they should be. They know what was expected of them and they how well they were doing at living up to their commitments.
It is important to note that we still make use of many traditional assessment techniques. Our students regularly write tests, for example. We do this because tests work when used the right way. An important part of any curriculum is acquiring certain bits of knowledge, and the best way to make sure that people have gotten those bits is to have them write tests.
Knowing things is important, but knowing what to do with that knowledge — knowing how to acquire it when you don't have it — is more important. That is why we put so much emphasis on teaching our students how to learn. The code of ethics and the logs are examples of these. We go further than that, however, and teach our kids different strategies that they can learn when and how to apply themselves.
A good example of this is Edward De Bono's hats. He developed a colour code to act as a shorthand for remembering different ways of thinking. He classified six thinking processes with the following six hats:
- black hat: making decisions
- yellow hat: looking for the positive side of a situation
- blue hat: sorting and organizing
- green hat: creating
- red hat: emphasizing our feelings
- white hat: processing information.
If you teach the students about these different ways of thinking, they can learn to use them. They can understand that when they are all heated up from an argument, they will not be so good at considering what led up to that argument until they can calm down and replace the red hat with a white one. Or, if they are doing a research project and have reached a roadblock that is frustrating them, the instructor can ask which hat they need.
This helps them with group discussions and projects as well. The students quickly come to realize that you need many different kinds of thinking to make a project work. They know, for example, that there has to be someone on the team who takes notes and who can keep the project on track.
This is not all that different from a lesson we have learned as teachers. In our group of instructors, there are people who are good at keeping things on track, for example.
Perhaps the most important thing to bring to a classroom is this kind of order. On their first day, students enter what looks like a large, open-ended space, but is actually very structured. From that day on, whatever they do — whether they are working in the learning lab on computers, with a team on a project, or in the science and technology lab — it is all about producing certain results.