Guest post by Jamie Richardson 

Creating authentic learning for students is challenging. No longer do students simply complete a project, get a grade, and move on to the next assignment. Their learning is long-term and connected to the next experience. Our work at LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR, revolves around project-based, problem-based learning. We strive to put our kids into real-world situations, similar to the conditions that many working adults encounter every day. When done right, these types of learning opportunities help students develop collaborative abilities and critical thinking skills along with a host of other skills and knowledge.

Teacher Learning = Student Learning

Our LaCreole teachers have set a goal to research and implement strategies to make project-based learning meaningful and our students’ efforts and thinking more visible. Our culture is shifting from end-of-the unit, cookie-cutter products to more sustained, meaningful participation in solving some kind of problem. The use of our PLC time to collaborate and share ideas, successes, and challenges has boosted our success in this endeavor. Though not all projects we design hit the mark, what our kids and our teachers learn from the processes they go through make the risk worth it. We are constantly designing, redesigning, and learning from our experiences.

Beyond Show and Tell

One of the key components we have embraced is the exhibition of learning, or finding ways for students to present their learning to those beyond our classroom walls. Our kids now get excited and take pride in the work they do and display it for all to see. They are able to practice and highlight creative and collaborative skills in newways. For instance, our students often present their work to a panel of adults who ask follow-up questions regarding process and difficulties. In addition, we host regular open houses and exhibition nights that showcase student work to the larger community and connect our guests with the school. These events, like our STEAM Night, elevate student motivation and project quality because of the authentic audience. Another benefit is that students develop an appreciation for the work of others as they view their classmates’ projects.

Student exhibition of learning is now just something we do, and students are using language around school that reflects this. In presenting their work in any venue, we ask our students to be prepared to answer questions about their learning. Often our kids have many more answers than we even have questions, but these questions have been a practical starting point for us:

  • What about your project was important to you as the learner?
  • What was your process?
  • Where did you experience the most struggle either as a group or individually? How did you work through this challenge?
  • What would you change about your project and why?

Reflective Learning

Providing opportunities for students to share their learning process is rewarding and helps to focus on collaboration and problem-solving outcomes. Perhaps one of the more important elements—and one that gets overlooked often for the sake of time—is reflection. To encourage this reflection, our students are creating digital portfolios to post and share their projects with a broader audience, as well as reflect more deeply on their learning process. Video discussion tools, like Flipgrid or Recap, allow for quick and easy access to student reflection. The Seesaw platform lets our staff develop learning and reflection portfolios that can readily be shared with peers and families.

By creating visibility, innovative experiences, and opportunity for student voice, we can flip traditional learning on its head and work with our kids in more meaningful ways. This shift toward more authentic learning is something we can all believe in as parents and educators, and it should give us motivation to take more risks and lead our schools to embrace innovation.

What are your experiences with visible learning? How can school leaders establish a culture of authenticity where students share their work in meaningful ways?

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He was a 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.


About the Author

Jamie Richardson is the principal of LaCreole Middle School in Dallas, OR. He was a 2017 Digital Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @JamieR42.

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