More Tour Guide, Less Teacher

Well I Fixed the Feedback Loop and have begun to find more balance with the time consuming nature of delivering all courses online in a Distance Learning Model.  Some are still thinking…how could this be time consuming? You aren’t teaching in a classroom.  Ah, but I am. It is just that my classroom looks different.

Have you ever been on a really organized, interactive, and engaging trip where a tour guide led you through a city or museum?  

A truly excellent tour guide gives you…

  • Context for what you are looking at.  They give a little background…but not too much.  
  • A map or a framework to use and guide you as you analyze other key artifacts or points of interest in the area.  
  • Time and space to explore on your own so you can use the map and apply what you have learned.  
  • And if your lucky, that tour guide has booked lunch or dinner in an amazing location where you can share all that you saw and experienced during the day with your tour group.

Teaching online is a lot like that.  I build context for my students.  I want them to have a little background to set the scene.  Yet, I don’t give too much.  I don’t want to overwhelm them with the whole.

Before I send them off to explore on their own,  I usually give them a framework to help them analyze the topic.  Whether it is looking at the Economic, Social, and Political impacts (ESP) of an era, or 7 Characteristics of a Civilization, or maybe the 10 Stages of Genocide, students have a map to guide them in their analysis of their new topic.  They know what to look for as they travel around the landscape and explore. 

And I set up synchronous and asynchronous check-ins so they can share with me and their classmates some of the new discoveries they have made, their high and low points of their journey, and their advice to others for future learning.

As much as I have wanted to be that teacher in the physical classroom, many things have kept me from it. Content is king in a History course. Course outlines must be followed. Essays must be written.  But now that we have had to drastically scale down to what is most important that kids know and can do, the shackles of the content released, and we were allowed to rethink how and what we teach.  

Then there is the classroom management issue. How can 21 student be doing all different things? If I am meeting in a small group with these 5 kids over here, can I make sure the other 16 are on task and moving forward?

Planning is key. Having two weeks off at Spring Break allowed my team and I to redesign and reboot our courses.  For grade 6 we decided to focus on the key aspects of Ancient Greece, by giving students a learning journey.

We created a series of pages within our Learning Management System that had a series of tours through various highlights of Ancient Greece.  Athens, Sparta, Sculpture, Architecture, Philosophy, Sport, Religion, Drama.

Each tour starts with building knowledge, usually a section from their text. 

Then they are given 4 to 5 other sources to choose from. These are TED Ed videos, websites, Khan Academy lectures, or other multimedia resources. 

Then the final part of their journey is to share what they have learned.  They have 3-4 for choices for how to show their understanding.  This gives students to do more than just write what they know.  They can sculpt, build, design, write, record, video, animate, or act out.

The “Create” tasks are where we see the depth of their understanding. This is the work that makes us and our students the most excited.  Students are showing their understanding of Greek Architecture by building temples in Tinkercad or MineCraft.  Students are showing their understanding of Sculpture by creating figures with household supplies. Students are showing understanding by filming interviews with their family using the universal Philosopher questions like what is beauty or what is evidence?

At the end of the week students meet in small groups to share out what they have learned.  Sometimes these are mixed groups that allow opportunities for them to compare and contrast their learning.  And sometimes we meet in topical groups, to share about what was most meaningful to them or about thechallenges they faced in their creative tasks.

So far so good.  As you know the beginning was excruciating as I tried to manage who had completed what.  But after I figured out the feedback loop, it has been much more manageable.

The kids are happy and enjoying the choice they have and the pace they are allowed to take.  Some kids bust through the work and give themselves extra free time at the end of the week.  Some take it in bits every day.  And some are doing multiple topics each week and enjoying the fact that they no longer have to wait for others to finish before moving forward.

At the end of our Ancient Greece tour our students will reflect on which of the topics that they studied are most important to their lives today.  Whether Sport or Drama, Architecture or Religion, students have engaged in a more personal way with the content. 

They are more eager to share what they discovered and they are excited to show their creative projects.  They are proud of their work, much more proud than if they had gotten a top grade on a paper and pencil test. I can’t tell you how many times this week kids said, “Have you looked at my screencast yet of my temple?” or “Have you listened to my read aloud?”

Sharing in my student’s passionate discoveries these past few weeks has been the best therapy for this virus. I hope that as we return to the brick and mortar classroom we will continue being more tour guide than teacher.

Looking for more inspiration on giving students choice and voice in their learning?

5 Tips for Giving Students Choice and Voice in the Classroom-Me,

6 Ways to Move Beyond the Classwork/Homework Divide (And Never Look Back)-Susan Fine, Global Online Academy

Putting Students in Charge of Their Learning-Beth Pandolpho,

2 replies

  1. This is fascinating, Kathleen. Great job on managing all of this. I’m glad to see that the technology itself doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of learning. I think the schools that were already comfortable with online learning have had an easier transition–not easy, but easier.

    Take care and stay well.

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