I think that's all crap.
Am I anti-structure? No. I think you'll find that beneath the seeming-chaos in my room, there is a definite order and structure to what's happening. In the next few weeks, Andrew and I will be writing in depth about, and sharing all our resources/plans for our course. There has to be order for the chaos to function effectively. You will see a few of our resources at the end of this point so you have more of a framework to understand what our classes look like.
At one time, my ideal classroom looked a lot like an example from a Harry Wong book. Students were conditioned (some would say manipulated) to perform actions by rote to the point that class runs without teacher guidance.
It's funny how close the end result is to flipped class, while being on the complete opposite pedagogical scale. In a flipped class, students take responsibility for their LEARNING, which leads them to use behaviours that make the classroom function seamlessly, whereas in a Harry Wong class, students take responsibility for their actions, which is supposed to make the learning function seamlessly.
But what often happens is that students learn to act that way in one context, at one time. How many students sit in a classroom like that and by the end of the year permanently morph into compliant, disciplined learners? No, they go to the next class, and if the teacher has different structures, they start all over. Even if the teacher is similar, at some point, they will be expected to do more than show up, take notes, and follow procedures. And they won't know how to do it.
In a flipped class, the idea is that when you teach students the habits of mind, the skills, and the knowledge they need to be responsible for their own learning, they also start to learn that certain behaviours are more conducive to them reaching mastery, so they start regulating themselves without even thinking about it, in order to push themselves and their peers to learn more. This is exactly what happened in my class last year - they went from unmanageable to self-managing. In a matter of weeks.
So both Harry Wong and flipped class reach similar end results in terms of behaviour, but vastly different in terms of learning and attitude. And if we really think about it, as educators, which should we value? Should we value teaching students to be compliant, while explicitly managing their behaviour for them through the use of punishments and rewards?
Or should we be teaching our students how to engage in the messy and beautiful process where making mistakes, failing, trying again, and finding their own way out helps them find not only what they were looking for, but something that is far more valuable: the ability to find, manage, curate, and create information in any discipline, situation, or venue?
As someone who values backwards planning, I like to start with my desired end result before I know where to begin. If I want students who can think critically and creatively, who can build and use with skill a toolkit more vast than just the one used in my own discipline, and who refuse to give up when they fail, but instead reach out to find different solutions from the resources available to them, then starting the year with Harry Wong just won't cut it.
It's why I'm starting with Blank White Page, a project where students generate questions, then find answers to those questions. They can work on their own, or with peers (from their own school or from three others around the country). They can use any resources they can find. They have complete freedom on what to study, how to study it, and how to demonstrate their knowledge.
It's why I'm starting with a video introducing not only myself, but Andrew as well. Where we explain why we've decided to team-teach their class from 2,500 miles apart. Where we model what it looks like to have your ideas become something better than you ever could have imagined.
But most of all, it's why I flipped my class. I don't know of any other way to teach students to be who and what I want them to be...no, who they NEED to be to succeed in the "real world" outside my classroom.
There are lots of things I want my students to understand about me and about the class on the first day. But I'm not the centre of my classroom anymore. If I stand up and talk about my rules and policies on the first day, then I'm still trying to be the centre. I am communicating to them that what's really important is ME and them following MY rules, MY procedures, and fitting into MY world. I am telling them that I have all the answers.
That's why I'm not going to talk much on the first day. I am going to assess my students on the first day - who they are, what they know, what interests them, how they interact, what they expect from school, who they like/hate, etc. I am collecting evidence and making inferences...which is exactly what I'm teaching them how to do in the first unit. Because THEY are important. And the end goal is for THEM to learn, to grow, and to succeed.
I want them to see that NO ONE has all the answers. That there will always be blank white pages ahead of them, and it is their job to find ways of filling them in most effectively. I want their life to be a Blank White Page project - prompted by curiosity, driven by a constant search for answers, and always building towards becoming a life-long learner.
So as I plan for the first day, I ask myself if I'm backwards planning for that end goal. Will our students walk away equipped with a toolkit that will transfer from the content taught in our class to the content of the rest of their lives? Will they learn not just compliant behaviours, but habits of mind, skills, and how to be a critical and creative thinker?
First days are important, sure. But what's really important is the LAST day, and thinking forward to One Day, when they leave our class and go on to whatever comes next. The time when routines and structures are gone, and they are left facing their future. Will they see something that is chaotic because they have no one imposing structure on them? Or will they see a blank white page that is just waiting to be filled in and expanded and created?
I know which one I'd choose for them.
I linked to a few videos in the post, but here are some other resources for our first unit:
Mentor Mob Playlists for BWP and Strand 1
Video playlist for unit 1