What taking action in the classroom really means

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By Kelly Clark
kelly.clark@education.ky.gov

When exploring global education, many educators are very comfortable with the first three “big areas” of global competency – Investigate the World, Weighing Perspectives and Communicate Ideas.

These overarching ideas have visible and concrete alignment within the Kentucky Academic Standards. Investigation is embedded in the English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies standards to learn new concepts, experience how to investigate wisely both digitally and in print, and how to record and synthesize ideas gleaned from investigations.

It is the fourth area that confuses teachers and administrators alike – Taking Action. What does that mean for students? How do teachers facilitate students acting on their learning? What does it look like in the classroom and across the school?

Let’s take the concept and break down the expectations for K-12 students to take action. Taking informed action is a key piece of the C3 Framework for Social Studies, a national framework for social studies education in the United States. The C3 Framework follows how students learn through an embedded inquiry arc. The conclusion of the inquiry arc for any student is the idea of making or taking their learning “public.”

Authentic and engaged learning for students result in their being empowered to add meaningfully to the community and world conversation. Students work and learn deeply and with passion because it means something to them and others; rarely do they learn to that level for a grade or to pass a test.

“Active and responsible citizens identify and analyze public problems; deliberate with other people about how to define and address issues; take constructive, collaborative action; reflect on their actions; create and sustain groups; and influence institutions both large and small. They vote, serve on juries, follow the news and current events, and participate in voluntary groups and efforts. Teaching students to act in these ways – as citizens – significantly enhances preparation for college and career. Many of the same skills that are needed for active and responsible citizenship – working effectively with other people, deliberating and reasoning quantitatively about issues, following the news, and forming and sustaining groups – are also crucial to success in the 21st century workplace and in college. Individual mastery of content often no longer suffices; students should also develop the capacity to work together to apply knowledge to real problems.”

 – C3 Framework for Social Studies

As the C3 Framework points out, active and authentic learning that moves beyond the classroom walls and into the mainstream is not only engaging, but also provides deep substantial learning and teaches students the skills they need to succeed in life.

Here are some key points to remember as you try Taking Action:

  • Make student learning real, authentic and meaningful.

If student learning is built around authentic projects and problems that need to be solved, is it possible for one content area to “cover” global ideas? As research and trends toward constructivist education demonstrate, interdisciplinary teaching works on several levels for students and teachers.

An Education Northwest white paper on Integrated Curriculum states the case for integrated and connected teaching well:

There is a body of brain research that supports the notion that learning is best accomplished when information is presented in meaningful, connected patterns. This includes interdisciplinary studies that link multiple curricular areas. There are many examples in the literature of such efforts by K-12 teachers, as well as those teachers involved in vocational education and higher education. Another rationale for curriculum integration finds its basis in the commonsense wisdom of teachers, who are coping with an increased body of knowledge, large classes, and many mandates related to everything from drug awareness to AIDS to bus safety. When all of these requirements are added to the traditional body of knowledge for which teachers feel responsible, integration is seen as one way to meet both the needs of the students and the requirements of the state. The integration of curricular areas and concepts allows teachers to assist students as they prepare for the next century. Finally, the movement toward a global economy and international connections, as well as the rapid changes in technology, are pushing education toward integration. The ability to make connections, to solve problems by looking at multiple perspectives, and to incorporate information from different fields, will be an essential ingredient for success in the future.”

  • Learning is not separated into discrete subjects for students. Deliberate attempts should be made to intentionally connect learning as a way of solving meaningful problems.

So how do we start Taking Action right now in our classrooms? Look at your existing lesson and units and the summative assessments. How can you modify those so students can demonstrate their learning as a skill rather than a paper or multiple choice test?

The Kentucky Academic Standards and Program Reviews are increasingly asking students to show what they know and demonstrate several skills learned through bundling standards, rather than regurgitating a list of facts.

In a January 2013 article in Edutopia, 4th-grade teacher Nicole Silver said that you can take an existing unit and work to globalize it using a wider lens. Silver has had students move from just learning about winter holidays and through the lens of religious tolerance and critical thinking, start examining winter festivals to “raise questions through the inquiry process, conduct research and think critically about issues of religious tolerance.” Students reflect on a personal and universal feeling of “what is it to feel like you don’t belong” and complete the action step, “How do we welcome everyone?”

For those who are struggling with the connections and need more guidance in moving lessons to a more active and global format, consider exploring project-based learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education has many resources and lessons for teachers who want to implement a PBL model lesson before trying to create their own.

  • Work with existing model lessons or recreate your learning outcomes to include assessments that allow students to demonstrate skills learned in a public or shared way, either in the school, community or digital world.

For elementary students, have a project that results in changing a school culture, community action – picking up trash, planting trees, recycling – or raising awareness for certain issues in their school or community. Older students can also present to younger students about topics and 3rd-graders always feel empowered when helping inform the 1st-graders. Students of any age can share presentations or information in virtual exchange programs. The point is to take the learning outside of the four walls of that classroom and make the learning part of the world they live in every day.

  • Utilize statewide organizations, community members and businesses to create authentic culminating experiences for students. To create real-world learning, students and teachers must investigate and communicate in real-world settings.

Participation in local or state organizations in middle and high school model for teachers and students the concepts of interdisciplinary and project-based learning. Kentucky has several active and engaging possibilities for middle and high school students if your school does not already participate in events such as the Kentucky United Nations Assembly (KUNA) , Amazing Global Marketplace, Academic World Quest or the United States Student Youth Program. Please look at the linked websites for more information.

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