A couple of weeks ago, I was optimistic about this project. The school year was young, and the signs were already promising. Frankly, I was a little bit surprised at how well it was going. But my optimism was tinged with caution. I wrote this:
What’s more, it’s early days in every class right now. The school year still has that shiny newness. Teenage angst and ennui has yet to set in. But I’m going to refrain from going down that rabbit hole until I’m actually faced with it. I’m bound to have to face it soon enough.
I’ve promised to honor the colearners’ priorities when they’re choosing how to use our class time for projects related to our class. Before too long, somebody is going to want to choose to finish the homework they didn’t do for their next class, or play a game, or take a nap, or just sit and zone out for a while. I haven’t promised to honor those choices, and the fact is that I don’t want to.
Four weeks in, as I reflected and asked the colearners to reflect, some cracks in the wall were evident. I’d asked the colearners to reflect on some things--among them the quality of their work so far and how hard they were working, the positive and negative aspects of their colearners, and the things I was doing well and could do better to support their learning.
Universally, their reflections reflected general satisfaction with the course as a whole. But they also reflected a sense that they could do more. Most troubling to me were the frequent reports that they found their colleagues to be distracting; more than a couple suggested that I should take more control.
An aside: I’m a good classroom manager. I make lots of space for student voice, but I don’t countenance foolishness or meanness; I don’t make space for disruption. And while my traditional classroom approach limits lecture in favor of discussion, I think my colleagues and administrators would tell you that I run a pretty tight ship.
With the colearners, however, I’ve been more hands-off. In some ways, that’s been great for the atmosphere in the room. Sure, we can have class outside today. Yes, you may work at the tables outside the room. Four kids break into song for 15 seconds in the middle of the period? I just smile.
I’ve wanted them to organically develop a set of norms. But it appears that no one has been willing to speak up when the conversation gets too loud or when the singing is too much. Herein lies my problem: I can shut down distractions. I can take control. But when I do, that doesn’t look so much like student-directed learning anymore.
So what do I do?
Well, on Friday, I had some stern words with the colearners about just this quandary. After I finished, they worked quietly. Productive? Yes. Innovative? Not so much. But I asked them to think over the weekend about what they need the environment to be like for colearning to really work. And I told them that our next Maker Monday would center on that. They’ll brainstorm. They’ll collaborate. They’ll get creative. And they’ll find a way to solve the distraction problem. They’ll define the parameters for what a productive environment should look and sound like. They’ll tell me what they can control themselves and what they need me to control for them.
And, after a few more weeks, I’ll ask them again: What’s working? What’s not?