Dare to Care

construct, create, communicate, collaborate, and think critically

06/Mar/2015
by Denise Krebs
6 Comments

The Ultimate in Differentiation: Genius Hour

I’m excited that I got up early this morning for the #geniushour chat. It used to be at a convenient time when I lived in North America. Now I’m living in the Middle East, and so I have to get up by 5:00 a.m. on a Friday, which is a weekend day here. Not so bad because I became re-inspired and re-ignited in a topic I am passionate about.

That topic is handing the reigns over to my students. Allowing them to learn and make and choose how to show their learning. It’s not always easy to give choices when we are mandated to test and cover so much material. However, when students are entrusted with learning–real learning, not just to pass a test learning–they are empowered and motivated. It makes every moment of school better!

This morning I actually was the moderator for the #geniushour chat because I wanted to ask questions about differentiating genius hour for students with special needs or English language learners. My questions were timely because months ago I signed up to lead a session on genius hour: “Genius Hour: Productive, Creative, and Empowered Students.” That session is tomorrow at the ELT Conference here in Bahrain, “Differentiation That Makes a Difference.

Here are the questions we asked and answered at this morning’s chat…

Q1 – Do you differentiate during #geniushour? How?
Q2 – What are some of the most common reasons you need to differentiate #geniushour?
Q3 – How do you help your ELL students? Do you need to differentiate for them?
Q4 – How do you adapt #geniushour for students with IEPs? Any tips to share?
Q5 – Why do you think #geniushour is great for all learners?
Q6 – Any general #geniushour successes that you want to share? Tips and links to share?

I was excited to hear the answers from such a variety of teachers. Many shared that the nature of genius hour is already differentiated. Pure differentiation. Others had suggestions for how they differentiate. Here are a selection of the tweets they shared:

 (Click here to go to the archive of all the Tweets.)

After this morning, I tend to agree with the pure differentiation crowd.  Students decide what they will learn and how. The term differentiation is usually paired with instruction, but really it’s always about learning.

Students will learn in the right conditions. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, we can help create the right conditions when we take into account the student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning profile, which includes these four facets of learning profile: gender, culture, learning style, and intelligence preference.¹ Teachers can differentiate the curriculum when they make adjustments on content, process and products.²

In genius hour we hand over power to the students. They choose what they are ready for. They choose what they are interested in. They choose based on their learning profile. They choose the content they want to learn. They choose the process to use to get to that end. They choose the product to show their learning. Throughout, the teacher is available for scaffolding, guiding, helping, leading as needed. Primarily, it’s about the learning, not the knowledge the teacher is imparting.

In my current work as an English teacher in a foreign country, though, I am learning that genius hour looks a little different here. (Or is it the fact that I moved from junior high to kindergarten.) According to most of my friends this morning at the Twitter chat, it seems that the very nature of genius hour is differentiation at its best.

Do you agree? Is it already differentiated or are their special things you do for ELL students? What if they are all ELL students, like mine?

If you have something to share, will you please add one or more tips for using genius hour with English language learners to this Linoit? (I’ll share your comments with the participants at the conference.)


¹”Faculty Conversation: Carol Tomlinson on Differentiation.” University of Virginia. Curry School of Education, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/carole-tomlinson-on-differentiation>.

²Allan, Susan D. “Chapter 1. Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership.” Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms. By Carol A. Tomlinson. ASCD, 2000. web. 06 Mar. 2015.  <http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/100216/chapters/Understanding-Differentiated-Instruction@-Building-a-Foundation-for-Leadership.aspx>

06/Nov/2014
by Denise Krebs
7 Comments

Finding My Way in Kindergarten Genius Hour

After teaching grades 7 and 8 for seven years, it was a challenge for me to go down to Kindergarten. The first few months, the way was treacherous. Now looking back, after eight months or so, I can say overall it has been a delight, and I know it was a gift I didn’t even know I needed.

I find I can practice what I learned in my Master’s program; that is, teaching young children literacy. Most importantly, though, the children are “wonderful, marvelous, beautiful, magical, filled with curiosity and dreams.” (Lyrics by Debbie Clement) They are loving and open. They are learning sponges with big, growing brains.

But how can I do genius hour with them? I wondered. I loved the engaged ownership in junior highers when they were given a chance to learn what they wanted in what we call genius hour.

As Faige Meller has suggested, genius hour in kindergarten may look like a maker space. In this tweet, she says making is what kindergarteners do and, in fact, makers are who they are. (Be sure to read Krissy’s original post too.)

I believed in making, but I didn’t know much about Kindergarten. I had learned to trust Faige, though, so when I saw her tweet last March, I began to run with her ideas in Kindergarten. I began collecting supplies and asking families to do so, as well. We have quite a collection, and we go through a lot of materials.

A genius hour sculpture

When I learn something new about brain research, I share it with my Kindergarteners too. They are not too young, and even though I’m speaking a foreign language to them (they are native Arabic speakers), they understand enough. They know they are capable and creative, and as they create, they get smarter. And they know that as they learn two languages, they get bigger brains too!

A matchbox car garage

So, we are definitely still making our way (pun intended), but we’ve had some huge successes. After we made a small couch for our reading center as a group project, one boy took on the task of making a very small chair with the ten juice bottles we had recently accumulated. He needed lots of help, but that’s where I came in handy, helping to wrestle the juice bottles and operate the hot glue gun and packaging tape. He was the maker. I was the sous maker taking my orders from him.

The little chair finished and ready for a cover.

Genius hour in Kindergarten. It’s happening. We are calling it that, we are making and learning, but I am always open to suggestions you might have for helping us do it better!

Please leave a link in the comments to your primary genius hour projects and process. Or share on Twitter with the hashtag #PrimaryGH.

Our growing collection of maker furniture

11/Aug/2014
by Denise Krebs
8 Comments

Reading about Learning, Brains and Metacognition

Metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” I may have first heard the term when I was studying reading education for my Masters degree in 2000. I soon came to know it was important to teach children to think about their thinking as they read. It is only then that they can grow as readers and proficient users of comprehension strategies. It changed my reading instruction, but it didn’t radically change all of my teaching.

Now, during the past few years, I have begun to realize that it had to radically change ALL of my teaching.

Oh, that teachers can help children to know and love the process of thinking and learning.

I’ve been reading several blog posts this past week that remind me even more of the power of knowing about learning.

The first one  reminded me of Meera, one of my kindergarten students. When I asked her this spring, “What do you want to learn?” she responded with, “I want to learn about my brain.” What a lead in! It was awesome. I actually explained  to the whole class a bit about brains.

But not as much as I will teach the whole class next year, thanks to Carol Dweck’s work on Mindsets and this post I read recently: What Kids Should Know About Their Own Brains by Annie Murphy Paul on Mind/Shift. Kids are interested in brain research, especially when it “makes a big difference in how constructively kids deal with mistakes and setbacks, and how motivated they are to persist until they achieve mastery.”

The second article gave questions students should be able to answer. like:

  • “What do you want to learn about?”
  • “What’s worth understanding deeply?”
  • “How do you respond to complex texts or digital media?”
  • “If I get out of your way this year, what will you be able to do?”

And 22 more in the article 26 questions every student should be able to answer (by Terry Heick on Te@chThought).  It wouldn’t be easy to interview all the students, so this article also gives ways shared by teachers to get students answering these questions, like jigsawing and team building games. Students should not only be able to personally answer these questions, but they should be asked to answer these questions by teachers who care about their learning.

In another article, Helping Students See Themselves as Thinkers also on Te@chThought, and also by Terry Heick, he ties learning and thinking into citizenship, “In lieu of outward content knowledge, perhaps the goal of all learning should be self-knowledge–themes of identity and purpose, then connectivism and interdependence–ultimately leading to self-directed thinkers who care for their connections with others, and the consequences of their ‘cognitive behavior.'”

This self-knowledge goes along with his lovely and brilliant definition of 21st century learning:  intimate, self-directed learning experiences that serve authentic physical and digital communities, ultimately leading to personal and social change. In his article, Terry gives 12 questions to help students see themselves as thinkers, and as thinkers they can also become problem solvers, conflict resolvers, makers of masterpieces, and self-knowledgeable citizens of the world.

That’s certainly what I want for all my students, so I’ll be helping my little ones see themselves as thinkers!

What have you been reading and viewing lately about learning, brains, and metacognition?

_____________________

Knight, Jim. “Instructional Coaching.” Unmistakable Impact: A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2011. 94. Print.

14/Jan/2014
by Denise Krebs
15 Comments

What Changes!

I have been quiet on Twitter and my blogs lately because I have experienced major life changes that have taken all my energy.  I’ve moved from the Midwest in the USA to the small island nation of Bahrain in the Middle East.

I’m eating new food, sleeping in a new bed, and walking across two parking lots and up an elevator (lift) to go home instead of driving past ten miles of corn and soybean fields.

I’ve also said goodbye to junior high land, and have taken on the daunting role of English teacher to two kindergarten classes. I have 50 students in all, and I see each class for 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day, depending on the day of the week. The students are beautiful, loving, fun, and I am fully charmed.

As I’ve always said, I am a lifelong learner. Since I have a million things to learn, that’s a good thing!

I’ve also been “eating my words” when it comes to some of the things I’ve espoused and commented about freedom and choice in the primary classroom. Right now, I have a seating chart and even a behavior chart! These are things I’ve definitely shied away from in the past. So much to learn!

I am in my second week. Actually, even though it’s only Tuesday morning right now in my old stomping grounds, I’m actually 3/5 of the way finished with my second week. The weekend is Friday and Saturday and I’m 9 hours ahead of Iowa, so I just finished teaching on Tuesday, the halfway day. To be sure, I have not gotten used to the days of the week here!

Right now I’m getting my tail whupped, but I’m trusting God to fill in the gap.

I also want to listen and learn from you.

A few pictures on a Flickr set:

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