It’s probably the number one question that students ask. They get curious about the lesson, finish a task and are looking for more, or are just eagerly looking forward. Or maybe they were simply distracted or confused. It seems like the what’s next question is asked a hundred times a day.
But what the question is often really saying is this: we need you to direct or guide our learning. We can’t go on, individually or as a group, without your direction. My learning--and the whole class--is waiting for more.
How much time is spent on the what’s nexts of education? On waiting for students to follow direction in learning? For a long time, my teaching relied on what’s next--I directed students from one task to another, and I ran the show.
Over time, I’ve realized that to create the most meaningful experience for our students, it’s really about maximizing instructional time, engaging learners in meaningful learning, and empowering students to make decisions about their learning. We need to develop a culture and climate for continuous learning. For me, that’s not one where students are looking to me for direction; it’s a world that’s messy, complicated, and collaborative.
I’m tired of students waiting for me to learn. Here are three tech tips to designing lessons so that the learning never stops.
Ask Three Before Me
All of us are smarter than one of us. Students need to develop skills to learn from each other and to struggle in learning on their own. I love helping my students and answering questions, but we need to teach them them to problem solve, persevere, and to ask the best questions.
When a student can’t figure something out on their own, with a friend, or with a resource, then they know that they really need help. Of course, sometime students ask the complex questions right away, but often times they are waiting for teacher-directed answer to the “what next” instead of pushing for a higher level thought.
Both of these images are from Pinterest. I like the concept of the left image, but much prefer the 21st century take of 3B3Me. When we all have the power of the internet in our pockets, let’s use it to build our skills and knowledge.
Create a What’s Next? Routine
To maximize time, I always try to find more efficient practices for my classroom. Instead of wasting time answering the what if questions, why not give them a place to find out? For example, post a daily or weekly agenda for students so they always know where their learning is going. On our class website, english.aschoenbart.com, I add a daily agenda in a Google Doc. When I edit the doc, the site updates live, and students can follow the numbered activities for the lesson.
Come in late? Check the website. Done early? Check the website. Need clarification or resources? Check the website.
I assign work on Google Classroom and use this doc as a place to outline lesson plans, provide more context, and to help my students direct their own learning by always answering the what’s next question before it’s asked. Sometimes I'll schedule new Classroom posts in advance or provide links in a Google Form's responses to sequence the learning, too.
Provide Feedback & Extensions
If a student completes the lesson or activity faster than expected, it likely means one of three things. Option one is that the student did not spend the time and complete it well, because surely the activity was rigorous. Two, maybe the student did it well and is ready for an extension, feedback, or some independent time. Or three, maybe the activity or design was flawed so that it wasn’t rigorous or well-planned enough.
Option one is easy--provide feedback and redirect. Option three deserves a whole separate blog post. But option two is the hard one: how do we extend the learning for all learners?
In my best lessons, that means that specific feedback informs student decisions to direct their learning. For example, when reviewing literary elements, students chose from a range of options. All students were asked to study, using their notes, with friends, or on Quizlet. They could create a deck or use public ones. But then, they chose what to do--study more, play a review game, review their writing, or revise past work. They made the choice based on their past work and performance. All of these activities helped develop the literary element knowledge and analysis, no specific task was mandated, and all students learned and extended their knowledge.
It’s a simple but meaningful example of how choice can empower students in their learning. If we are expecting students to learn at different paces and in different ways, we have to provide them with specific and meaningful feedback and opportunities for more.
What (When, Why, Where, How, and More) Next?
What is important to maximize time and help students grow. But it only works well with why--along with how, when, and where. Students need to understand WHY they are learning the WHAT. And sometimes, the what’s next can’t or shouldn’t be answered right away. Often, tech isn’t the answer either. But when we are spending the time repeatedly answering the what’s, it makes it a lot harder to answer the hows, whys, and more.
How do you handle the what’s next questions in your practice? What are your strategies for maximizing instructional time to help students learn and grow? Share your thoughts in the comments on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.
cross posted at www.aschoenbart.com
Adam Schoenbart is a high school English teacher, Google Education Trainer, and EdD candidate in Educational Leadership. He teaches grades 10-12 in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom at Ossining High School in Westchester County, NY and received the 2014 LHRIC Teacher Pioneer Award for innovative uses of technology that change teaching and learning. Read more at The SchoenBlog and connect on Twitter @MrSchoenbart.