My 20-minute learning

Today my classes began the so-called “20 minute experiment.” (read about it from @jgough and @boadams1).  In the experiment, my class takes a break 20 minutes into the lesson to summarize or synthesize the learning that’s going on in the classroom (at some point I hope that they add “hypothesize” to that list) and posting that summary/synthesis on Twitter using the #20minwms hashtag.

In class today we’re recapping the first three chapters of a book (a reader about two Spanish teachers traveling throughout South America) by collaborating on small-group summaries.  This intro-level Spanish 2 class is taking a story written in the present and future tense and summarizing it in the past tense–a good way to start off the new semester, not to hard, but the task involves a lot of processing.

I feared that taking a break after 20 minutes might derail them.  I was delighted to see them eagerly turn toward the SmartBoard to make their Twitter entry, then redirect without prompting from me back to their assignment.

After 5 days of school cancellations, I expected serious attention deficit problems in even the most disciplined students–today of all days, their first day back.  But I seriously underestimated my students.  Or did I simply misunderstand how they handle certain tasks?

From the beginning of the class, they were in charge.  My instructions were spartan.  I lingered about helping them recall a word or phrase, but they led the activity.  After I explained the Twitter experiment, I gave them control of the Twitter feed.  After they agreed on the tweet, they hit Submit and went back to their task.

My 20 minute learning for today: when the student has ownership of the activity, the impulse to abandon it is not nearly as strong as when they’re simply “carrying my luggage.”

The school as PLC

Aside from the scuttlebutt about school cancellations for Monday’s incoming weather, Friday January 7 at Westminster started off as an ordinary day.  When @jgough sent around her email, which I have copied below, she probably didn’t expect much more than a fun experiment among a few already forward-thinking teachers/tech-nerds.  What actually happened, however, is something that I think cannot be overstated.  Our school became, in and of itself, a professional learning community.

For four months I have been part of a Professional Learning Team of Spanish teachers.  Since I facilitate this PLT, I’m also in a PLC of other PLC facilitators.  In addition to these two communities, there are a half dozen more PLC on campus spanning disciplines and divisions. To what end, though?

I suspect that the leaders of my school as well as the grassroots proponents of PLCs would agree that the overarching purpose for forming compartmentalized PLCs is that as teachers learn to make collaboration a part of their daily practice, the walls that separate PLCs will begin to dissolve.  And in doing so, the walls of the egg crate school culture, as @boadams1 likes to say, will become more permeable.

First, here’s @jgough‘s email describing the “20 minutes” experiment.

Hi… I’m hoping you’ll be willing to experiment with me experiment with something that we are learning in the Faculty Cohort. This year we are using How the Brain Learns by David A. Sousa as the foundation reading for our work. We been working on a practitioner’s corner about primacy-recency. (An exerpt from the chapter is linked .)

Will you consider taking a quick break at approximately 20 minutes after class begins to take 2 minutes to tweet what is being learned in your class?

“This research indicates that there is a higher probability of effective learning taking place if we can keep the learning episodes short and, of course, meaningful. Thus, teaching two 20-minute lessons provides 20 percent more prime-time (approximately 36 minutes) than one 40-minute lesson (approximately 30 minutes). Note, however, that a time period shorter than 20 minutes usually does not give the learner’s brain sufficient time to determine the pattern and organization of the new learning, and is thus of little benefit.”

How the Brain Learns, David A. Sousa

If you are willing to participate, could we try this next week. Could we try the following?

1. Pause at approximately 18-20 minutes and ask our students to do a quick write about what they are learning or doing in class. (a form of self-assessment; do I know what I’m supposed to be learning?)

2. Let them quickly share what they wrote. (a form of formative assessment, are they learning what I intend?)

3. At from your computer (displayed for Ss to see) tweet a summary of what is being learned or done using the hashtag #20minwms. (this models using social media for learning)

4. Follow the tweets from this hashtag to be more informed about each other and what we are learning/doing in class to possibly find curricular connections and common ground.

If you lead learning for students older than 18, will you tweet too?

We have found that asking the kids to help us pause for this break works really well. Will you forward this to other WMS colleagues that tweet? What do you think? thanks…. @jgough

use #20minwms as the hashtag.

You can also read about Friday’s practice in three different blogs!B121cf29d70ec8a3d54a33343010cc2

Read Learning by Doing and It’s about Learning to get a point by point description of the value added of the day.  They are impressive. Also, read Bo and Jill’s comments attached to those posts from 1/7 – 1/9.

I’d like to add to this list something that happened in the Spanish PLT.  Throughout the first semester the Spanish PLT we collaborated on a presentational speaking rubric.  Throughout our discussion the question of grading loomed over us–an issue not easily or lightly addressed.

Now into the second semester, we are ready to begin piloting the rubric in our classes.  But first, we must answer the question How will our four point rubric translate to a 100 point grading scale?

To assist us, the coordinator for PLCs and veteran math teacher Jill Gough introduced us to power functions and logistic functions.  My grasp on them is tenuous at best, but by the end of only 20 or so minutes, we had arrived at a logistic function that, we feel, accurately links language behavior and performance to an fair, if not palatable grade.

During this meeting a math teacher taught language teachers how to use a graph to predict grade-point values given a certain rubric-based outcome.  This conversation was not a mandate from someone higher up (in fact, the principal was in the room, just as giddy as we were that this kind of collaboration was going on).  It was simply the intersection of a need and a competency.  We were in great need of understanding how to use math to make an apple equal an orange.  Since Jill recognized herself as a part of our community, it was only natural to provide clarity on just that topic.

Change can happen in broad, sweeping top-down reforms, or in small, bottom-up bursts.  Friday’s S-PLT meeting was just such an occasion.  Change is here.  These types of intersections will continue to happen–sometimes by accident and at times by design.  But now that this small constituency recognizes the interconnectedness of our work, it cannot be unrecognized.

My school is well on its way to becoming a PLC.