Reflection and the Student Centered Classroom

taxonomy of reflection graphic

This week I head to Grand Prairie TX to work with teachers and students at Adams Middle School. We’ll be demonstrating high value learning strategies that foster rigorous thinking, student engagement, and deeper student reflection on themselves as learners.

The key to fostering reflection is scaffolding more choices for students to make about key elements of the lesson. Providing options gives students more to think about. Divergent student products gives students a chance to explain and defend their thinking. Student can then compare outcomes with their peers, assess successes (and failures) and design improvements. See my post The Reflective Student: A Taxonomy of Reflection

Students can be given “appropriate” choices to make about:

  • Content – what knowledge and skills will be studied?
  • Process – what materials, procedures, etc will be used?
  • Product – what will students produce to demonstrate their learning?
  • Evaluation – how will the learning be assessed?

We have a variety of activities planned for the week including workshop sessions focussed on how to foster students engagement when using learning strategies for defining, summarizing and comparing. For example, when we ask students to summarize we should giving them the opportunity to use their higher order thinking skills to analyze the patterns, evaluate what’s most significant to them and craft a unique summary. 

While summarizing has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies for building content knowledge, that gain only applies when students are allowed to make their own judgements about what’s important and frame their summaries for an audience. When we ask them to “learn” the teacher’s summary – they are reduced to memorizing “another fact.”

Our training sessions will be followed by classroom walkthroughs – PD works best when you can make the connection to the classroom. I’ll also have the opportunity to work with some groups of students on the Marshmallow Challenge to demonstrate these approaches. 

Student centered Look-fors

Use Haiku Deck to Build Academic Vocabulary

Haiku Deck visualize
Haiku Deck visualize

Haiku Deck is a great iPad app for building academic vocabulary – and its free. It provides a student-friendly tool for teaching common core vocabulary standards with motivation and creativity. Good defining skills are rooted in collaborative negotiation of meaning rather than memorizing glossaries and testing via two-column matching questions. The genius behind Haiku Deck is its simplicity – just type in text and use its built in search tools for related terms and images. With minimal design choices, student can focus on visualizing vocabulary and sharing their thinking with peers.

Haiku Deck add text
Haiku Deck add text

I’m not going to offer a Haiku Deck tutorial. It’s easy to learn, and has some thoughtful online help. Instead let’s look at the steps a student might use to visualize the term “freedom.”

  1. Create a new Haiku Deck.
  2. Type in the term or phrase.
  3. Tap the image icon and Haiku Deck displays a selection of high-quality and copyright-free images. Scroll down for more.
  4. Don’t like the images? The “similar tags” column offers related terms. Tap on one and the image selection updates.
  5. Select an image and the student is offered a chance to “add some additional text.” They could use that space to explain the association between the image and the term.
  6. Tap the + sign and create another slide following the same process.
Haiku deck search
Haiku deck search

I see so many options for using this app. Create decks of synonyms vs antonyms. Let students explore terms for a close reading, defend their choice of images, or contrast multiple meanings. Only have a few iPads? Let the students collaborate in a collective deck. Perhaps the first student picks the image and the next student curates the choice of image in the “additional text.” Have a term that doesn’t turn up any good image matches and you’ve created a chance to explore synonyms in the “similar tags.” Still can’t find relevant images for the term? Then you have a chance to speculate why the system isn’t turning up usable images. BTW – don’t worry about student using inappropriate words. Haiku Deck does a great job of screening those out.

There are lots of options for sharing student work. Completed Haiku decks can be saved to the web and viewed on any device. You can share decks via email or social networks. They can also be embedded in a blog or exported to PowerPoint or Keynote.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) divide vocabulary among a variety of disciplines and grade levels. The standards focus on multiple meaning, context clues, figurative and connotative meanings and the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone. Haiku Deck could be used to support all of these goals.

How to Motivate Student Writers

My last post, What is Writing For?, concluded by offering three ideas for motivating student writers:

  • Let students make some choices about their writing.
  • Let them write for a more authentic audience than the teacher.
  • Use more peer evaluation and self reflection.

We read everything over to see if it made sense to our audience ~ 6th grader’s reflection

I thought readers deserved an example of these principles in action. Here’s a project I did that exemplifies choice, authentic audience and self-reflection.

I worked with a team of 6th grade teachers to demonstrate the power of comparison skills to help their students build vocabulary and content knowledge about the functions of various organs of the human body. (Based on Robert Marzano’s Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement and Classroom Instruction That Works). Additionally we wanted to enhance technology skills and demonstrate the power of student choice and self reflection in a PBL setting.

Students are motivated by writing for an authentic audience. “Publishing” helps students master content and develop project management and teamwork skills. The power of publishing enables students to think like writers, to apply their learning strategies and to organize and express their learning. It exemplifies the best of the information revolution – students as creators of content rather than as passive audience. 

Project overview:

  1. Students were tasked with developing books to teach the organs of the human body to third graders.They decided that the best idea was an ABC book - ”Traveling Through the Human Body with ABCs”
  2. Teams of students chose an organ and had to develop a description of function suitable for 3rd grade audience. Then they were asked to compare the organ to something that functioned in the same way and develop a comparison that 3rd graders would understand.
  3. All the content developed by students went through a peer review process for accuracy and suitability for 3rd grade audience.
  4. PowerPoint was used to layout graphics and text. Update: you might consider design and publication using iBook Author.
  5. Students and teacher were guided through a series of reflective prompts.
  6. The PowerPoints were converted to PDF files and used to publish a few copies of each classes book using Lulu print of demand. 

Teacher reflections included:

  • Students learn best from doing and from doing it together with support but no interference from adults. Students can explain concepts and ideas to each other in “kid-friendly” language more easily, sometimes, than adults can.
  • The lessons are more lasting because they happened in a social context rather than the “top-down” structure of a traditional classroom.
  • Project-based learning creates a student centered classroom with the students doing the real work of real learners. The teachers’ work is primarily off-line.

The book is available in print from Lulu as an iBook at iTunes.

Free Webinar on Higher Order Thinking – the Student Perspective

Update 2013: The free pilot has concluded – but click here for info on my $275 webinar.

One of this year’s resolutions was to begin offering webinars. (not that I don’t enjoy airports) I recently completed my first pilot (description below) and I’m looking for three school sites who would like to try a free pilot webinar and offer me some feedback. More details on my free webinar below.


Live Meeting – My “teacher” view with presentation, video, audience, Learning Catalytics

I piloted my first webinar with a group of instructors from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. (Hat tip to SWTC’s Kristal Davenport) We used Microsoft Live Meeting as a platform. Participants at SWTC were gathered in one room. We maintained webcam contact with each other throughout the workshop. (I’m not a big fan of watching webinar presentations delivered by a disembodied voice.) I pre-loaded high-quality video in advance that ran smoothly during the webinar. The webinar went very well and I think we were able to create the level of interaction that I strive for in my on-site workshops.

For years I’ve used a TurningPoint audience response system (ARS) in my on-site keynotes and workshops. When an ARS is used in a Socratic manner it fosters great conversation and reflection. So a key component I wanted in a webinar was a “distance version” of an ARS. I was pleased to discover Learning Catalytics. While it was designed for on-site classroom use, it was just what I needed to enliven the webinar.

Learning Catalytics is a web-based response system that allows participants to answer from any web-enabled device – computer, tablet, smart phone. It was easy to input questions (it even provides for copy / paste of text) and using it during the webinar was a breeze. It allows the teacher to ask a wide variety of questions. Not only the usual questions such as multiple-choice, priority, and ranking. But also some unique questions for an ARS where students use their devices to – draw vectors indicating directions, indicate the points on an image, and even aggregate student text into Word clouds. Imagine your students generating real-time Wordles from their devices!


Learning Catalytics: Teacher view and iPhone view

Learning Catalytics was designed from the ground up to foster student discussion. It most notable feature is peer-learning tool (which unfortunately, I did not use – my pilot group was too small). In advance of class, the teacher inputs a seating chart of the the class. Students log into their seat locations. After posing a question, the teacher can use Learning Catalytic to automatically create student discussion groups that direct students to talk to specific peers based on their response to the question. “Peter turn to Nancy on your left and discuss the thinking behind your answer.” After the peer discussion, the teacher can repost the original question and graph the changing responses.

I like to continue piloting this model so I will offer a free live webinar to the first three schools (or sites) that follow through with my registration process.

I think professional development should model what we want to see in the classroom.  So I’d like to start with an 45-minute experiential webinar called: “Higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) - What’s that look like in the classroom?”
We’ll watch a few short video clips, do a few activities to model instruction at different levels of Blooms and then reflect on the experience. Our instructional goals for the webinar:

  • Develop a working definition of HOTS
  • Clarify how the tasks we assign students define their level of thinking
  • Leave with 3 ideas for fostering HOTS with your students

A few stipulations:

  • Participants: Minimum 15 / Maximum 30. Could be teachers or admin.
  • You’ll use with a single webcam at your end, so they will need to be located in the same room.
  • Webinar length – roughly 45 min. Plus about 10 minutes for webinar feedback.
  • Timing: Sometime between 8:30 AM and 5 PM (PST – Pacific Standard Time)
  • Feedback: Since this is a pilot. I will expect you to assist in evaluating the webinar, gathering feedback from your participants and helping me “document” the user experience.
  • Technical details: More to follow if you get a webinar. But for starters – ability to run a WebEx Meeting (web access), LCD / sound for display, webcam / microphone to record your end, participants with web-enabled devices, designated coordinator to manage your end.

If you are willing to meet these stipulations in an efficient manner, fill in the request below. Remember – this is just a request. I will select from requests that demonstrate you’ll be easy to work with.

After the pilots are completed and my webinar model is refined, I plan to offer a series of (paid) webinars. I think there’s a need for short, inexpensive, engaging webinar-based PD that can foster reflection and professional growth. Something you can use with admin, faculty, department or grade level to foster local capacity.

Studio H Classroom: Design. Build. Transform. Community

Studio H: Design. Build. Transform is a new exhibit that just opened at Portland’s Museum of Contemporary Craft. It offers visitors an opportunity to immerse themselves in the design process.

While touring the exhibit, I was struck by how the Studio H exhibit embodies the key elements of project-based learning. The PBL approach engages students with the chance to think like professionals while solving real-world problems. Studio H gives PBL added impact by inspiring and empowering student as change agents in their community.

High 5 Studio H
High 5 Studio H

Student-designed solutions that empower people, communities, and economies.

In contrast to PBL, the traditional classroom conditions students to listen to teachers lecture – a one-way flow of information from teacher to passive recipient. And then, if there’s time, students might have a chance to “apply” what they’ve “learned” in a “canned” project (often over-managed with worksheets and a teacher-defined product). But that’s not how we experience life. We encounter challenges that become the catalyst for us to “figure things out.” Thus problem fosters research, analysis, solution, and reflection.

The MoCC’s Studio H exhibit re-imagines the gallery as a laboratory and teaching space. Visitors get to see how students were taught a non-linear design process in a more authentic learning environment that grows out of a dynamic interplay between research, ideation, development, prototyping and building.

Farmers Market prototype
Farmers’ Market Prototype @MoCC

Educators will find the exhibit to be an inspiration and template for using the PBL approach to motivate students with challenge, autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Studio H: Design. Build. Transform
Research: Gather relevant contextual precedent and sociological information.
Ideate: Generate large amounts of seemingly crazy ideas in quick succession.
Develop: Refine promising ideas using functional requirements real-world constraints.
Prototype: Build working versions and test their feasibility.
Build: Execute and test the prototype in real-world conditions for human interaction dreams.

Farmers market
Farmers’ Market – Complete

“A piece of me in every part of this building” ~ Erick
“I’m proud of the market and myself.” ~ Jamesha
“In 30 years, I’ll say I helped build it.” ~ Colin

The exhibition asks viewers to reflect on how that process can teach the next generation of designers to transform the world for themselves. Artifacts from the studio classroom in rural Bertie County, North Carolina (where Emily Pilloton, and Project H partner Matthew Miller, teach design thinking to high-school students) are on display and illustrate how a socially engaged design process can result in significant and positive solutions.

Farmers Market in operation
Farmers’ Market – In Operation

The MoCC exhibit highlights the products and process of the first year of the Studio H program. It features two design challenges – chicken coops and a farmers’ market pavilion. Both projects required students to design and build for real-world human (or chicken) interaction. Each project was firmly rooted in the agricultural context of Bertie County, but each looked closely at the local economy and fostered a more sustainable food solution – in one case offering an alternative to the local Perdue-scale chicken agribusiness and in the other, facilitating the production and sale of fresh local produce.

Emily Pilloton exemplifies an emerging generation of designers who believe that design has the power to positively change the world but that new design strategies are required to effect those changes. Pilloton is the founder and director of Project H Design (design initiatives for Humanity, Habitats, Health and Happiness), which connects design to the people who need it most and to the places where it can make a real and lasting difference.

Pilloton and Miller moved to rural Bertie County, North Carolina in 2009 to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. Through a design/build high-school shop class called Studio H, Pilloton and Miller exercised both minds and bodies while bringing design strategies and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state. In August 2010 they began teaching their first class of 13 students.

We need to go beyond “going green,” Pilloton says, and enlist a new generation of design activists. We need big hearts, a bigger business sense, and the bravery to take action now.

The Studio H website is loaded with photographs, videos, student reflections and great curriculum ideas. The site describes the curriculum as follows:

Studio H is a public high school “design/build” curriculum that sparks rural community development through real-world, built projects. By learning through a design sensibility, applied core subjects, and industry-relevant construction skills, students develop the creative capital, critical thinking, and citizenship necessary for their own success and for the future of their communities.


Over the course of one calendar year, students earn high school and college credit, and are paid a summer wage to build the community project they have spent the year designing and prototyping.

Studio H is a different kind of classroom. We design, build, and transform.

The Museum of Contemporary Craft is sponsoring a Craftperspective Lecture by Emily Pilloton at ZIBA Auditorium 810 NW Marshall Street in Portland Ore on Dec 2, 2011 at 6 PM. Arrive early – it will be packed! More info

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Note from Peter: I’ve had some discussions with the folks at MoCC about offering a January teacher’s workshop. “Studio H and Getting Started with Project-Based Learning.” Stop back for more information.

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Image credits:
High Five by Studio H
Farmers’ Market Complete and In Operation by Brad Feinknopf.
Prototype @MoCC by Peter Pappas.

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