Podcast: Students Documenting Learning - Steve Barkley

Podcast: Students Documenting Learning

Students Documenting Learning

Explore how teachers and students can be empowered with the implementation of student documented learning. Jennifer D. Klein, teacher, administrator, and author of “The Landscape Model of Learning: Designing Student-Centered Experiences for Cognitive and Cultural Inclusion,” provides examples across grade levels. Her concrete examples illustrate the how as well as the “why” benefits. When students take accountability for documenting their learning, motivation often increases, and important life skills are practiced.

Connect with Jennifer to learn more and find her blogs, videos & books here.

Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:00.000] – Steve [Intro]

Hello, and welcome to the Teacher Edition of Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud. The complexity of teaching is both challenging and rewarding, and my curiosity has piqued whenever I explore with teachers the multiple pathways for facilitating student engagement in the exciting world of learning. This podcast looks to serve teachers as they motivate and support their learners. Thanks for listening. I’m delighted that you’re here.

[00:00:30.060] – Steve

Students Documenting Learning. Our podcast guest today is Jennifer D. Klein. She is an experienced teacher, school administrator, the author of “The Landscape Model of Learning: Designing Student-Centered Experiences for Cognitive and Cultural Inclusion,” and an educator workshop facilitator. Her work is focused on student-centered pedagogy that amplify student voice. I’ve asked her to join us and talk about how student responsibility for documenting their learning is empowering to both students and to teachers. Welcome, Jennifer.

[00:01:17.100] – Jennifer

Thank you so much, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here.

[00:01:20.080] – Steve

I’ve read that as a student, you were engaged in the type of high-engaged, empowering learning opportunities that you promote in your work today. Can you share a little bit of that background with us?

[00:01:33.610] – Jennifer

Absolutely. Well, I feel very fortunate because my parents recognized from a young age that I was one of those kids who would always have an answer that was outside of what the teacher was expecting. So anytime the teacher asked a question or I was handed a test or something like that with a limited number of options, I would immediately go after 15 other really good possible right answers with really strong logic. My IQ was high, I was a precocious kid. And my parents, actually, as creatives and intellectuals themselves, really didn’t want that to be crushed out of me. They didn’t want me to go to schools where teachers would say, that’s not the answer I’m looking for. I attended two schools in the course of my childhood. The first was the school in Rose Valley outside of Philadelphia, which is a wonderful little, I think they’re now Pre-K-8 private school or independent school doing a very student-centered holistic education. When we moved to Colorado, my sister and I were both enrolled in the Open Living School here in Colorado, or the Open School now, which is a public alternative school. It was the second public alternative school in the US, actually, to be doing student-centered and expeditionary, I guess you would call it, project-based learning.

[00:02:52.360] – Jennifer

We didn’t have those terms for it in the ’70s and ’80s, but that really was what we were doing. We were learning by being in a given place, by coming in high school, that thing, we did basically all of our own documentation of every project that we designed, and we designed them ourselves with the support of teachers. My college transcripts, just to give you an example, my high school transcripts to be able to get into college were 50 pages of written narrative that I had written about every learning experience that I had had in the years of high school. Of course, in 1986, there were two universities the US that would consider a kid with no grade point average, no grades of any kind. I also refused to take the SATs because I believe the SATs weren’t going to show me off very well and just because the learning I had wasn’t the learning that shows up on those sorts of tests, and because I could drive myself crazy with a million possible answers. And so I wrote my entrance essay for Bard College on the basis of why the SATs couldn’t capture the capacity of the an experiential student.

[00:04:01.760] – Jennifer

So, yeah, I feel really, really fortunate that my parents made those decisions. I’ve always been a learner for learning’s sake. The first time I ever received a number or a letter grade was university, and I’m deeply grateful for that.

[00:04:14.580] – Steve

That’s great. Then you go into teaching and school leadership. How did that reinforce the way that you went to school and the directions you took?

[00:04:28.200] – Jennifer

Well, I will say I There’s a little bit of a hiatus in there as I was doing my master’s degree. I was a student of literature and creative writing. That was my thing growing up. It’s actually a little bit unusual that I would have ended up becoming so in love with education. When I finished my master’s, I moved to Costa Rica, and I actually just recently wrote a chapter for a book on this topic for Barbara Brae’s new book about the moment that I entered my first high school classroom in Costa Rica, living in Central America. It was a fairly traditional school and I think what helped me to stand out was not just the fact that the English class is the place where you can talk about everything, but even more importantly, the fact that I really wanted to hear their voices. I wanted to know their experiences. I wanted them to be honest with themselves and each other and me and to come to understand themselves through the literature that we were reading. And so even back, this would have been ’95, ’96, ’97-ish, I was using portfolios, I was using creative presentation strategies, I had students tracking their own growth.

[00:05:39.790] – Jennifer

I think that helped me to stand apart from very early on in my career. I taught here in Denver also for about 11 years in an all girls high school. Again, very similar experiences. I know I have a lot of students, for example, who have said that my classroom was one of the safer places in school, one of the places where they knew they were seen for who they really were. But again, I found myself using all these strategies for my childhood. It felt very much very natural to have them have more voice to have them make more decisions. Every once in a while, it was a very special… it is still a very special school here in Denver, but every once in a while, I would hear students talk about a teacher who didn’t give them choices or who didn’t open up different pathways and avenues and possibilities, or who just had their own idea about how things needed to be done and just insisted on it, frankly, who took on the load of doing all the correcting and all the reviewing and all the feedback giving instead of leveraging the minds in the room and getting students to help each other.

[00:06:50.000] – Jennifer

I will say that I found it a little confounding initially as a teacher that there were so many teachers who kept such tight control over every single move. I guess understand it over time. As a leader, I definitely came to understand it. I left teaching in 2010. In 2017, actually, I’ve been consulting and writing and all of that for years. In 2017, I moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where I became a head of a school. That was a school that was trying to shift from a more traditional model, humanistic, but still more traditional model, toward a more project-based model. But in a country where the majority of what universities care about really are grades. It’s only within the last year or two that they’ve started opening up their minds to more than just grades and national exam scores and are looking at portfolios and considering other things. But it’s a system that’s very much an educational system that’s very much based on standardized checks and balances. To bring in the project based in that context was tricky. I think the biggest fear of teachers, and I see this everywhere in the world, Steve, is If I put them in charge, they’ll do less.

[00:08:04.910] – Jennifer

If I stay in charge, they’ll do more. And I can be assured of a certain level of quality if I force that level of quality. Again, I wouldn’t say a teacher would ever use the word force necessarily, but I think that’s what the mindset is. If I keep control over this, then great things will happen. If I let them make more decisions, then it’s going to be chaos, and they’re going to run loose, and nothing good is going to happen. And I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s actually the opposite. I think when we step back, and we have to scaffold the skills, we have to practice, we have to work on it, it’s not something that a third grader knows how to do instinctually on the first try. But when we take that step back and empower them to make more decisions and to be in charge of more of the elements of documentation and ideation and all of those things, I really do believe that we get more from them as opposed to less.

[00:08:58.220] – Steve

I discovered you through a video clip I found that you had done on student documentation. I’m wondering if you’d give listeners a definition of what you mean by student documentation.

[00:09:11.710] – Jennifer

Absolutely. Student-led documentation, and that video that you’re talking about is one that I did for what school could be, which is a wonderful organization I certainly recommend to your listeners with lots and lots of wonderful videos, student-led documentation is something we focus on in the sixth chapter of the Landscape Model of and it’s something that I’ve been teaching teachers how to do for decades already. The whole idea is that rather than assuming that the adult is the one who needs to do all evaluation and needs to see every single piece of homework and needs to see every single draft and all of that, student-led documentation is all about students being in charge of tracking their own learning. So this can include a wide variety of different elements. It can include things like students maintaining task logs for example, where they’re tracking within their given groups who’s doing what and what has gotten done and what still needs to get done. Those task logs can also be designed so that they set goals for the next day or the next work day, things like that, so that they’re really in charge of saying, Okay, what needs to get done?

[00:10:18.080] – Jennifer

What are the steps that need to be taken? Who’s in charge of what? They’re tracking it in a way that allows the teacher very easily to look and see what has gotten done, what hasn’t, who’s been responsible for what. Another element that I often recommend are things like agreements in the classroom. And agreements, of course, are a very valuable tool regardless. This is a replacement for what we used to refer to most of the time as rules in the classroom. Rules were normally imposed by the teacher. Here are my rules in my space. I even did this myself as a teacher for some reason, though my rules were really different from anybody else’s. But it was things like trust your instincts and things like that. But agreements are something that we come to with the students. We come together and make decisions about how we’re going to make sure that the work we’re doing is effective, that we’re effective as a community, as a classroom, that everyone is respected, not because the teacher said so, but because we came together and agreed that for this classroom to be a safe place for everyone to grow and learn and take risks, we need to function in a certain way, and we all agree that that’s true.

[00:11:29.590] – Jennifer

And students generally, when we ask the right questions, they have great answers about what a community needs to function. I’ve seen that at all ages. A kindergarten or a preschooler will say, we need to help each other. We need to be friends. We need to be kind. It’s not about age, their ability to intellectualize that. Lots of classrooms take it a step further, and they have students actually create contracts when they’re doing group work. Each time they’re in a new group, they would be reestablishing a contract together. Again, not just a list of things they have to agree to, but a list of questions they have to answer. How will we make sure that everyone’s listened to with respect? What will we do if that doesn’t happen? What are the steps that we need to take? What will we do if somebody is not doing their work? And what are the steps that we need to take if they are not doing it? Those kinds of questions elicit really high levels of metacognition for the students. They’re really incredible skill builders in terms of their autonomy. Perhaps most importantly, they take, again, a little bit of the work out of the hands of the teacher because, ideally, these contracts, the students have thought in advance as they were crafting these contracts about what their steps will be.

[00:12:44.130] – Jennifer

So the teacher doesn’t have to be involved from the moment something goes wrong. In fact, if the students come forward and say, oh, so and so is not doing their work, the response is, Well, what does your contract say? Have you taken your first step yet? And really put the onus back on them. It’s all of this. It’s also documentation. It’s in the sense of collecting evidence of my growth as a student. Portfolios are the big picture version of that. But even within a small experience or class or semester, students can be asked to track their growth, to collect their best evidence, to put that evidence into an effective order to show their growth, to explain their process as well as what they learned. Australian educator Guy Claxton talks about in his work about the power of teaching students to speak the language he calls “learnish,” which I love. I think that’s such a great way of framing metacognition. If everyone spoke learnish and could actually articulate, here’s what I’m good at, here’s what I’m still working on, here’s what I’m really not very good at yet, and I really need to put some more attention to that, and could be in charge of the kinds of decisions and steps that need to be taken, involved at the very least in a conversation with the teacher about what needs to come next, I really think it would make a huge, huge difference in terms of what they get out of education, but also their skills for adulthood.

[00:14:15.520] – Steve

I’m wondering if you could give me some examples of student documentation that are on a continuum. So a teacher who hasn’t been doing this and just starting out, what’s something they might be implementing? And then as they got further along, and then when you get to the highest complex level, what does that look like?

[00:14:36.740] – Jennifer

Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate that question because I often leap to the highest level. So very valuable to slow down and say that. I think some of the first steps might be something like task logging when they’re doing group work, that they keep a log during every work session that they have where they are writing down and documenting what’s happening, what’s being discussed, who’s in in charge of what. Those kinds of things, I think, can be really valuable. That’s, of course, for students who write already. I think we can do a lot in terms of student-led ideation and the documentation of their ideas, even with a very very young, through pictures, through conversations. It’s not going to be done through writing. Maybe it’s a short video of each student expressing what it is that I’m working on, what it is that I want to get better at. I think the idea of peer reviews is another area where, and again, this doesn’t necessarily obviously tie to the term documentation, but it is about this idea of moving more of the work to the students themselves. When I would do peer reviews in class, in my English classes, students would be reading each other’s work, providing feedback, and I had documentation of the conversation because they were using some a format that I’d put together.

[00:15:56.630] – Jennifer

If I had thought about it or had the time, I would have even maybe had the students involved in putting together that form. What are the things that we should work on? Or designing the rubric with me. That would be ideal. But for somebody who’s starting out, maybe it’s as simple as we do a couple of rounds of feedback and revision through peer review and students document as they’re going. Another easy one is a journal. I know that I, as a student of writing and literature, of course, I always love journaling. Not every student loves it, but it’s one of the easiest ways to give them low-stakes writing practice. A journal shouldn’t be graded. It doesn’t even need to be read entirely by the teacher. In fact, in my classroom, one of my strategies, and this connects more to inclusion, but one of my strategies was always that students were invited to fold the pages when they ended up writing about something that got too personal. But that documentation, what I would do is always ask a question about the literature and a question the reading from the night before and a question that connected the reading to them personally.

[00:17:02.870] – Jennifer

Sometimes it would get too personal, and they would fold the page and know that they were safe to not share certain things if they didn’t want to. But I could look at a glance and I could analyze writing skills. By looking at it, I could see pattern errors that I needed to work on with them. I could see whether they were reading and comprehending what they were reading. They were documenting their journey through the literature simply by having them journal a couple of times a week for 15 or 20 in minutes. Those are just a few examples, simple approaches.

[00:17:35.310] – Steve

I have to tell you a thought that you’re triggering for me in some writing that I’ve been doing. I’m looking at teacher autonomy I’ve been using the phrase, what can administrators and school leaders do to replace supervision with accountability? What’s the difference between between responsibility and accountability. As I’m listening to you, that accountable piece is ringing for me. The more the students designed in the creation of the process of the tracking of the rubric, the more likely the student is to be holding him or herself accountable to it rather than the teacher implementing it more from that supervisory evaluative role.

[00:18:31.790] – Jennifer

Absolutely, Steve. I think that’s a really important piece to all of this. I think it really is what shifts education from an external pressure to an internal desire. Because students, when they’re involved in that way, they’re owning their own experience. It’s not even about our giving them ownership, because that suggests that we have all the power and we hand a little bit to them when we feel like it. It’s more like they are truly in every regard, learners, and this is their journey. And so I think it’s certainly even in context where grades are really important, where there’s a culture of you’ve got to have the best grades all the time, which happens in a lot of schools, or that culture of, oh, my gosh, I’m always failing at everything, which is the other end of that spectrum. I think these kinds of strategies can really help to move the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing away from the teacher. The teacher is going to give me an F, or the teacher is going to give me an A, or my parents are going to give me an iPad for Christmas if I get A’s, or whatever that external motivator is, it moves it to the child.

[00:19:42.870] – Jennifer

Again, obviously, this is going to look different with a three-year-old than it looks with an 18-year-old, but I believe strongly that we can do it with all of them. As we look at the other end of that continuum, Steve, as you were requesting, I think we get students more and more and more involved in making decisions. I mentioned having them involved in designing a rubric, and I offer some strategies for how to do that in the landscape model. It includes things like students being able to make decisions about due dates, even for the things that are due in class. I ran an advanced creative writing class my last semester in the classroom, high school English or creative writing, but advanced creative writing. I had 18 extraordinary young writers in that space. What I did was I put together a calendar that was clipped. Today, I would do it digitally, but I had it clipped to the board. Basically, what I told the students was, okay, each of you is responsible at some point for doing a presentation on a writer none of us have heard of before, or most of us haven’t heard of before, who you love, and tell us about their work and teach us and get us excited about this writer.

[00:21:05.220] – Jennifer

Each of you needs to make sure that you bring a piece to workshop, a piece of your own to be workshoped by the class to receive feedback. I’m going to ask you to do each of those things once a quarter, twice a quarter. I don’t remember the details anymore. Then I put the calendar up. All I did was I identified workshop day and presentation days on the calendar. Then I told the students we shouldn’t do more than three per day. Then they would be the ones to go sign up. This might sound like a really small thing, but it actually was massive for them, especially for the kids who were doing theater, for the kids who were doing music for the kids who had athletics for three hours after class and games on the weekends. They could make decisions about when things were due based on that. I saw it happening. I saw them going up with their agendas in their hands, looking at my calendar, looking at theirs, and figuring out what was realistic. That’s true accountability in the adult sense of the word. Those are skills that they’ll be able to carry now in terms of time management that they can use throughout their lives.

[00:22:15.540] – Jennifer

They got it through something as simple as actually being the ones to decide when they were going to go. I think that’s a really powerful way of shifting our thinking about education.

[00:22:27.570] – Steve

As I’m listening through these pieces, I’m guessing somebody working in a school where this isn’t common practice and they begin to make their own classroom movement in this direction is is going to run into some resistance. I’m wondering if you just talk a little bit about maybe some strategies they need to keep in mind or some guidance to minimize that resistance so they don’t get shut down and get enough practice to prove themselves.

[00:23:04.100] – Jennifer

Right. Absolutely. Well, I think part of it is about communicating what you’re trying to do effectively. So it may be that you need to send a message home to parents and say, Listen, I’m going to be trying a strategy that I’ve read about this. I know that it’s got good science behind it. I know that there are teachers out there who have been able to make this work really powerfully. I want to see whether it can work for me. And so when you want updates on how your kiddo is doing ask them and let me know how they’re doing in terms of how they’re reporting back. So the parents are actually involved as opposed to surprised by it, because any parent, of course, whose child comes home and misinterprets what’s going on, “oh, we’re just doing our own thing now, and we’re in charge of everything,” is going to freak out, and understandably so. So I think involving the parents in that way, helping the parents figure out the difference between doing for them and coaching, so that when your child comes home and says, “nobody will collaborate with in my group. Nobody will listen to me in my group.”

[00:24:01.800] – Jennifer

You ask more interrogatory questions and find out more about what’s going on, as opposed to assuming everybody in this group is ignoring my child. 90% of the time when a student has reported that at home, it’s actually been them who’s been over-controlling the group. And they’re not listening because they’re tired of the fact that the student is constantly trying to control everyone else. So these are the things that we have to interrogate to understand better. And I think that’s an important piece. The other piece, I would say, I really do think that the agreements are probably the core of all of this. I even really encourage that at the beginning of the year that you do this as a class, that you have the students actually do whatever display you’re going to have in the classroom in their own handwriting, and when they’re younger, their own artwork to represent this is what respect looks like. That’s a really abstract concept, obviously. You’re going to get all sorts of funky things, but that’s cool. I I think it’s really powerful to walk into a room and not see a list of rules either from a store, those premade things, or a list of rules entirely in the handwriting of the teacher.

[00:25:12.390] – Jennifer

Again, I think it is more internalized when you see that students have actually been involved, not just in establishing what the agreements are going to be, but also in creating displays for the classroom with those agreements. I think those are some really great ways to help other people understand it then, too. So that when somebody walks into the classroom feeling resistant, I’m not talking about student resistance. Trust me, when I say students are not going to be resistant to having more of what they perceive to be freedom to make decisions, they’re going to love it. But if my boss walks in and sees the agreements are up, they’re just done differently, that opens an opportunity for me to have a conversation with my boss about why I’m doing it this way and the impact that I’m seeing. And I always encourage other teachers, leaders, parents to ask students, not the teacher, how is this working for you? How is this different? What do you like about it? What’s challenging about it? And find out that way, too.

[00:26:15.880] – Steve

Well, Jennifer, I appreciate the time you’ve given us and the thoughts and ideas. I’m wondering if you’d fill listeners in on a way that they might follow up with you with questions or to find out more about the work doing and the books that you’ve published.

[00:26:33.100] – Jennifer

Absolutely. I have a website which is Principled Learning Strategies. Principled as in to have principles, not to be a principle, just for the spelling there. Never occurred to me that that was a bad idea when I knew the company. But principledlearning.org is the website. All of my non-copyright writing is there. All of my blogs are there, translated into Spanish and French as well. Then anything that I’ve published online is there linked as well. Certainly, as somebody who studied writing, I love that my first calling card is always the writing that I’ve done from my perspective. Although these podcasts are super fun, too, of course. I love getting chances to talk about the ideas as well. But I think my writing is where I’ve put a lot of my focus in terms of leaving a legacy of work. On that website, you’ll find a for the Landscape Model of Learning, and there are links to buy it, and you’ll see reviews and testimonials and things like that. Same thing is true for the Global Education Guidebook, which was my first book in 2017. And once my third book is finished, you’ll see that on there as well.

[00:27:47.840] – Jennifer

There’s a contact form. There’s information about how to reach out to me. I certainly welcome the conversations, and I particularly welcome conversations with schools, school leaders that are really looking to shift some of the ways they do things in their communities. Again, with that encouragement that I gave at the beginning, that when we step back, students actually really do step up, and that that sense of trust in learners is actually what drives the best education that we can ever imagine and hope for. And so part of my work is about helping teachers know how to do it. But a lot of my work is about, even more probably, is about that mindset shift. What does it look like to really trust your learners, even when you know that they’re going to make mistakes, even when you know they’re going to make some bad decisions along the way because they’re kids? What does it look like to trust them and trust them to learn from their mistakes as much as their successes? I think that’s the most exciting and motivating part of education for me.

[00:28:46.620] – Steve

Well, it’s been a pleasure. Let me know when that third book gets published, and we’ll have you back on the podcast.

[00:28:55.650] – Jennifer

You got it.

[00:28:56.790] – Steve

In the meantime, I’ll be sure to put the link to your website in the lead-in. In case people missed it while they’re listening, they’ll be able to go back and find it there.

[00:29:07.650] – Jennifer

Excellent. Thank you so much, Steve.

[00:29:09.720] – Steve

Appreciate it. Bye-bye.

[00:29:10.770] – Jennifer


[00:29:14.050] – Steve [Outro]

Thanks for listening, folks. I’d love to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn at Steve Barkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.

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