Saturday, July 30, 2011

"What if we mutiny?"

That was the question a graduate fellow asked me when a workshop we were doing in class took an unexpected turn. The fellows had been working in small groups to identify important information read in one of the course textbooks. Each group was assigned a different chapter, and they were preparing to share with their peers what they had gotten from their reading. When preparation time was up, however, I changed things up. Instead of having them share with the whole group, I asked that they stay in their small groups and develop a rubric for evaluating collegial sharing.

My request disrupted the anticipated flow of events - do assigned reading, plan in expert groups, and share with whole group. As I have said before, effective teaching is a lot like storytelling. And I wanted to shake up this "story" (lesson) in an effort to make it more memorable. I also knew the larger plot of this particular "story" and that it involved several opportunities to share these chapters, while incorporating more readings in future lessons.

It was not a surprise to me when the fellow asked, "What if we mutiny?" This is a group that is highly motivated and wants to know as much as they can about facilitating learning environments. The fellow's peers had important information that was expected to be shared with the group and that ought to happen now in the typical chain of classroom events.

When the fellow asked, "What if we mutiny?" I responded with something like, "I would love that!" But there was no mutiny and I went ahead with my own storyline anyway. The following day, I thought more about the exchange and decided that a mutiny fit well with the next lessons' theme - responsibility. So, I replaced a learning workshop dedicated to reading groups with time for a mutiny (what Daniel Pink has called "20% time").
The day arrived and I explained that for the next workshop how they spent the time was up to them. I reminded them of the goal of this particular journey (collaborating in development of effective learning environments) and then said, "I'll be in the brig." For the next forty minutes, the fellows took responsibility for their learning. They organized their time. They monitored their progress. And they negotiated their needs. As they worked, I took notes on their collegial efforts that I could use to evaluate their progress on this project.

At the end of the time, I broke free of the brig just before the fellows began a second round of sharing. I affirmed their efforts and said that I was pretty sure there would be another chance to mutiny during the next class. A fellow asked, "What if we mutiny now?" I smiled.

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