A Peek Inside T2T’s 90-Day Learning Project Pilot

Last spring, we announced the pilot of a new initiative called 90-Day Learning Projects (#T2T90DLP), and we want to share with this community all the behind-the-scenes learning and growth that came from this new project!

We brought together three teachers to develop solutions to a common problem of practice: how to increase student collaboration among all students in group activities. Teachers Orly Mondell, Ben Owens and Jorge Pacheco Jr. met virtually with our team members to collaborate through the stages of our first cycle – from identifying and analyzing their unique learning environments to carrying out “Plan-Do-Study-Act” (PDSA) cycles. Through video chats, a Facebook group, phone calls and email, the teachers worked together to develop and test possible solutions to issues related to uneven student collaboration they saw in their classroom – finding out what worked and what was less effective as a result. They then came together to share their learning. Orly, Jorge and Ben built on each other’s ideas, adapted strategies and approaches to try in their own contexts, offered feedback and supported each other along the way!

While our pilot learning group was small, our T2T community is big, and we’re so grateful to all of you who responded to our tweets, emails and Facebook posts about student collaboration. You shared approaches that have worked for you, ideas you wanted to see tested and problems you’ve encountered in your own practice. Thank you.

We’re also incredibly grateful to Orly, Ben and Jorge, our critical partners in launching this pilot. They offered feedback that shaped the next cycle of our 90-Day Learning Projects, which we are launching now! Curious to follow along with the new cohort of six educators? Follow #T2T90DLP on Twitter or subscribe for updates from Dan, Chanel, Tracey, Casey, Emily and Janelly by clicking here.

We look forward to continuing to learn with all of you! In the meantime, we’d love to know your questions and thoughts. Leave a comment below to join the conversation, and read on for a few reflections from Jorge, Ben and Orly!

The experience showed me how important student voice can be to collaboration and ownership.

Jorge Pacheco Jr. is a teacher in San Jose, California.

I have two eighth-grade classes. The first class has a history of struggling more with academics and behavior – including collaboration. I was looking for ways to assess my students’ collaboration in both classes, looking specifically for ways they’d want to be assessed. What would feel authentic? Should I just incorporate it into my rubric? Have them self-assess? Assess each other?

Before their final projects, I decided to have a long discussion with that class about how they define collaboration – what they see as the essential components, so we could start from there. We talked for about 30 minutes. It was a great conversation. I had initially intended to have a discussion like this with both eighth-grade classes, but just because of other time issues that came up, I didn’t end up having it with my second class. I took insights from the first class, used them to build out the rubric and shared it with both classes. I thought it would be fine to say, you know, “Your friends in the other class made this rubric, and that’s what we are going to use.”

What happened was eye-opening and there were outcomes I didn’t predict – which is the whole point of utilizing PDSA cycles.

The class that helped create the rubric worked so smoothly. I’ve never seen this class show such excellent collaboration all school year – or any other class, really. And keep in mind that this was the class that started off with more struggles. I think having that discussion about collaboration early on set the tone for the project. The students knew collaboration would be important, and they knew what I was looking for. It changed their level of ownership of the project. Just that extra talking session, which the other class didn’t get, seemed to make a big difference. It ended my year on a really great note and gave me ideas about how to start next year. The experience showed me how important student voice can be to collaboration and ownership. This year, from day one, I’ve been working on modeling collaboration with students in authentic ways. I think they’ll be more invested when they see that collaboration between teacher and student unfolding throughout the year.

It was so valuable to participate in this project– to have that extra push to really reflect on what I’m doing in my classroom. PDSA cycles are something teachers are probably already doing a version of. All teachers plan things for our classrooms, we implement it, we study it to see how it works, and we examine and observe our results to decide how to act after. This process gave me more support – I learned from Orly and Ben, and I learned about my own students and teaching. The project gave me new ideas to create new things – and gave me a stronger sense of community with other teachers.

[Students understand] that they will engage in collaborative learning for the rest of their lives.

Ben Owens is an educator in Murphy, North Carolina.

The 90-Day Learning Project pilot launched late in the school year and gave me a chance to have reflective individual conversations with my students. I got to ask them how they feel about the collaborative environment we’ve set up at our high school. It was very valuable to have this opportunity to get student input. Across the board, with no dissenters, I heard how much students love the collaborative environment at our school.

That was nice to hear, of course, but I also realized I had underestimated the degree to which students understand the way the world works: In the future, they won’t be asked to sit in desks and listen to someone talk – they will engage in collaborative learning for the rest of their lives.

In addition to giving me the opportunity to learn more about my students’ experiences, the project gave me a chance to revisit my own thoughts about collaboration. Early in the project, we had a hard time with definitions. What is collaboration? What does it look like in my classroom? My definition of strong, equal collaboration would be different from Orly’s, which would be different from Jorge’s. We had to develop standards and get on the same page to figure out where we were in our evolution from just beginning collaboration all the way to rockstar-new-paradigm-level collaboration. That was the biggest finding for us. We needed to develop a shared definition so we could have a clear path of how we could grow.

The Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle is, essentially, just a very intentional process of collaboration. It’s another version of a design process, where you enter into a body of work asking: What am I going to do? How will I know it’s successful? What are the things I want to measure and how do I need to iterate? Any time you enter into something like this, where you’re a little more intentional about what you’re doing, you grow. Teachers always plan for the elements that take place in their classroom, but when we elevate that, especially in collaboration, it pushes us to be more reflective and to document data and results in the classroom – things I may take for granted. The broader goal is to work on scaling our practice by looking inside each other’s classroom and sharing our strategies across schools. We were vulnerable with each other – sharing our successes and also our failures, and that’s how we grew.

Participating in the 90-Day Learning Project really changed the way I was looking at classroom routines.

Orly Mondell is an educator in Baltimore, Maryland.

At my school, we have a very diverse student population, and we have equity issues. My goal in the 90-Day Learning Project was to change my student groupings to encourage collaborative work in a way that would help build community across religious and racial groups.

I have a very laid-back classroom management style. The kids and I have a respect factor, and we don’t really mess with that. Participating in the PDSA cycles really changed the way I was looking at classroom routines. Routines I’d previously thought were helpful to giving kids voice and choice – letting them sit where they want and work with who they want – weren’t helping me achieve one of my other goals: to create an environment where all students interact with all their peers. I realized there were other processes that would still give my students choice and voice, but also ensure they were working with all kinds of kids.

I asked myself: How would productivity change if I grouped students in various ways – for example, by birthday or by ability level? Would their inclination to flock to the same people change over time? I found that, while students cooperated when I assigned them to new groups, they would gravitate back to the same old friends whenever they got a chance, like during breaks or between projects.

In the future, I want to create an environment in which students become comfortable working with all their peers from the beginning rather than forging smaller groups that are difficult to separate. While I still value giving students choices, I also see some moments when I would want to guide their choices from the beginning.

Without the PDSA cycles, I’m not sure I would have had the realization that led me to this change – so I’m really glad I had this experience. I would define the PDSA process as “trial and error on a tiny scale.” You try something, see what happens, reset, and try again. You learn, then you try something else and keep going.  I’m a big believer in this process – for teachers at any stage in their career. (I’ve already shared how PDSA cycles work with about 52 colleagues and started conversations with leaders in my school and district about bringing this process into more settings.) Ben, Jorge and I were all in different places because of where we are in our careers and because of the differences in the schools where we teach – but we all shared the desire to grow, so we learned a lot from each other.

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