Habits of Mind and PBL

Last week the focus of #ozengchat was ‘critical thinking’. I couldn’t participate in all of the chat (I was out walking my dogs in the dark, and yes – that did end up with poop on my shoes) but I did tweet out a few strategies/tools that I use in my PBL classroom to facilitate critical thinking. I suppose I could have been a brat and just said ‘PBL = critical thinking’ and left it at that. But that’d be a bit mean, huh? So the three things that I did contribute were this:

1. The KWL table. Every teacher has heard of this. Maybe you haven’t used one in a class, but you know what one is. My students use a KWL table at least once a week. Our projects are structured around them. What do I mean? Well the very first thing my students to when they are introduced to a new project is to determine ‘What I Know’ (this is testing for prior-knowledge to ensure we don’t repeat stuff unnecessarily), then after reading the project outline they ask ‘What do I Want to Know’. We usually play a fun game called ‘Speed KWLing’ that I made up. (I explain it at point 3 in this post here). At the end of the project students reflect on ‘What I Learned’ during the project. Of course, I often use this structure for each stage of a project too – that means students complete a minimum of THREE KWL tables for each project – one for the investigation, one for the product and one for the presentation.

2. Geoff Petty’s goals/medals/missions checklist. This is an idea that I discovered whilst researching for my Draft Research Proposal. I read Geoff Petty’s famous book Evidence Based Teaching and was really keen on this idea of structuring learning experiences using the Goals/Medals/Mission system. You can read about it here. I have my students set their learning goals at the beginning of each lesson and then they reflect on their learning at the end by giving themselves ‘medals’ and ‘missions’. I have embedded this structure into assessment handouts as well because I think it’s super important to give students a checklist of what is expected of them for each product. You can see some of the checklists I’ve created here and Petty has sample feedback proformas on his site here. Of course, we need to keep in mind that flexibility for creative interpretation of a task is needed.

3. Habits of Mind(HOM). When I was at ISTE last year one of the keynote speakers was Stephen Covey. If you don’t know who he is, you probably have heard of his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ – I hear it was a big seller in the 1990s, lolz. Well you may not know, but he recently wrote a book about education The Leader in Me—How Schools and Parents Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child at a Time. This was the focus of his keynote and it really was inspiring. It made me think about how I use Art Costa’s 16 Habits of Mind for the same purpose – to get students to think about their thinking! Having a good understanding of how you can control your own habits of mind is super important for students as they participate in project-learning experiences. For success in PBL students need to be fully conscious of their learning behaviours and how their habits of mind can hinder or help them succeed in the project. In my school my HT has chosen four of Costa’s 16 HOM to have our students focus on this term. I refer to these each lesson and students are starting to understand how something like ‘Listening with Empathy’ is important to master if you are going to be a great audience member, peer-assessor or speaker.

Cory MacDonald (@MrCoryMac) is a teacher from Newcastle who popped up on my twitter radar a few months back. He’s a man of mystery because he doesn’t tweet much and isn’t bothered about following too many people – he wants twitter to be useful and manageable and totally respect that. Cory came to my attention when he tweeted me his blog post about learning spaces – he had adapted some of the ideas I had posted here to make them work for him and his students. I must confess I am super envious of his space, it is just epic. So it’s not just the learning spaces that he has put to work, Cory has also adapted my use of edmodo, classDojo and Habits of Mind. To be honest, Cory has taken my ‘meh’ ideas and transformed them into complete, workable and beautiful ideas. His blog is like a secret treasure trove of AWESUM and I recommend you all read the posts he has written this year here.

The things I got the most excited about was Cory’s most recent post about learning management (I hate the expression ‘classroom management’ – for me ‘management’ is all about managing the projects well and using strong structures to enhance the potential for students’ success). You can read his post here.  My favourite quote is ‘Structure is about consistency not uniformity‘. This is very true! What I also love is how his focus is on personalising reward-systems to motivate students to develop better Habits of Mind. Just like me, he has selected a small number of Habits of Mind that his students will ‘master’ in Term 1. Like me he decided to use ClassDojo to award student points for demonstrating these positive Habits of Mind. Like me, he has linked the Dojo points to ‘awards’ that students can attain. Unlike me, he has personalised the award system to make them appealing, fun and relevant for his students. Unlike me, he has created beautiful posters that not only give visual cues for each Habit of Mind but he has also added a series of tools that students can use to ensure success at mastering this Habit of Mind. The man is a genius! I love that he has negotiated with his students the types of rewards they would like to work towards – Zombie Escape looks amazing! This is Student Voice at its best! I’m really looking forward to discussing with my students their chosen rewards – it could get crazy! I wish I could make pretty posters, I can’t. But I can set the task for my students to do it for me! Here are the first three of Cory’s Habits of Mind posters:

Please note that these posters belong entirely to him and it is super cool of him to share them with us. Please, feel free to use them in your classroom and in your school, but attribute him as the creator – attribution goes a long way in 2012!

That’s all from me – hope some of these strategies might come in handy at some point for you, even if you’re not doing PBL!