…but all I hear is “blah blah blah”.
Yep. That’s exactly what goes through my head every time my husband and I meet with our financial planner, Jason. While we’ve been working with him for 4 years now, and I know my financial literacy has improved, I still found myself sitting in our meeting with him last week thinking, “Focus, Sarah! He’s saying important things!” But after two hours of talking about financial goals and investments, my brain wasn’t processing any more information. All I heard were words like, “credit quality, return rate, value investing, etc.” THOSE ARE IMPORTANT WORDS! And I know they apply to our current financial state and obviously, our financial future, but I didn’t care enough to know more about those words at that moment in time. And then it happened. Jason made a statement that brought me back to focus and instantly created a space where I realized WHY I needed to know more about those words. He said, “One of your goals is to save enough for Jared to get a new truck. Your savings account isn’t making enough interest to help us build up the truck fund. We can use investments to make up for that, but obviously stocks aren’t always reliable for that purpose. Let’s turn to bonds!” We proceeded to explore two different bond options and evaluated which option would help us best meet our goal by applying our learning about the words that didn’t mean anything to me just moments ago.
You see, the turning point was when Jason used the content vocabulary in context. He focused our learning by:
- Referencing the problem we are trying to solve/the goal we are trying to accomplish
- Checking in on what we already knew in relation to the new learning ahead (you know..what those words meant and how we might apply them)
- Engaged us in a conversation/exploration specifically related to ONE question (“How can bonds work for us?”)
- Allowed us to apply our learning in a way we saw best fit to solve our problem/accomplish our goal
A common phrase I hear from PBL/PrBL educators is, “I do Know/Need to Know (K/NTK) lists” often followed by scaffolding activities (mostly conversation or lecture style workshops) which have little or no direct or stated connection to what students needed to know! The result? Students hearing “blah blah blah words words words.” Words that are important…and I’m sure they know they are important to their current and academic futures, but they don’t care enough to know more about those words at that moment in time. (SOUND FAMILIAR!?!? If not, go re-read the first paragraph.)
It’s time to break the cycle, my friends….you know, the one where you know information is important, and you’re working your tail off to make sure your students understand, but they just stare at you…waiting…longing for you to help them make the connection to the problem they’re trying to solve, which leaves you frustrated that you’re working harder than they are. That said, I offer you this Jason-inspired framework for using your student-created need-to-knows to drive instruction (at least until they begin to understand how to make connections on their own).
- Step 1: Before starting class, identify which targeted content standard or skill (of Oral Comm, Written Comm, Collaboration, or agency) you will be teaching. Then, comb through the list of NTKs your students created early in the project (and hopefully have updated/revised since the project launch) and identify ONE question that students asked which will help them connect this new learning to the project context.
- Step 2: During class, when it’s time to begin the scaffolding activity with students, first re-state the problem they’re trying to solve. This could be as simple as revisiting the problem statement using a sentence starter such as:
- “We know that we are trying to….. “
- Step 3: Identify what they already know/have discovered that has led to today’s learning adventure. It might sound something like this:
- “So far, we have learned about ____, ____, and _____ which helped us respond to these need-to-knows: this is where you point to or reference the need-to-knows they’ve unpacked already.” Or you might say…
- “We’ve already investigated _______ and ______ which have helped us begin to solve that problem.”
- Step 4: Name the student-created need-to-know that students will be exploring a response to through your scaffolding activity (…you know…the NTK that you identified in “Step 1” before class started!!) Write it on the board as a visual for them to see and connect with. It might sound like:
- “You also asked, ‘ read the NTK to them here…in their words so they have ownership. Because it’s about them…it’s not about you!’ Let’s explore this question today.”
- Step 5: Always, ALWAYS end the scaffolding activity (the learning experience) by re-asking the NTK you started with! If you’re really using their NTKs to drive instruction, students should be able to answer their own question (which you’ve pre-selected to align with your instruction that day) at the end of the learning experience. Then take it one step further and create the space for them to think about how they might apply this learning to solve their problem/meet their goal. Here’s what that could sound like at the end of the learning experience:
- “You originally asked, ‘ re-read their NTK that you started with in Step 1 and 4’. How would you answer that now after learning this new information? (Give them time to share out loud, or do a think-pair-share, or have them journal their thoughts, etc.) What new questions does this raise for you? (Add these to the NTK list to give you MORE teachable moments to support their learning and problem solving.) How does this help you get closer to solving the problem/ accomplishing the goal?” (restate the goal from Step 2 if needed)
I’m sure for some of you, you’re thinking, “Great idea, Sarah….but NOT A SINGLE NEED-TO-KNOW that my students stated connects to what I want to teach them!” If you’re in that boat, we need to talk about how you’re designing the Entry Event and facilitating the Know/Need to know list. SO…if that’s you, let me know on Twitter at @SarahLeiker so I can either reach out to you directly or write about that soon.