The Story of Learning, Part 2

story of learningAs mentioned in my last post, I’ve struggled as I consider the question “What will be the story of learning in your classroom this year?” I’m a sucker for a good story. It’s why I love good books, great movies, and skilled teaching. All involve good storytelling, and I can get lost in a good story for hours and hours if time permits. I want our story of learning in my classroom to be a great story. It has to be a great story. My students deserve nothing less. But…I’m not sure I know exactly what that story should be yet. After all, I haven’t met most of my students yet. How can I possibly know what our story should be?

It’s important to develop my students’ voice. It’s important they have choice about their learning and have ownership of it. Their thinking matters. I know what skills, concepts, and dispositions they need to develop, but this isn’t really my story of learning. It’s theirs. As I’ve thought more about this question (while running 14 miles this past weekend), I’ve decided my students and I need to plot the story of our learning together.

Good stories don’t happen by chance. They have important elements that come together to create a powerful story. We need to consider those same elements as we plot the story of our learning. Here is a quick list of some questions I plan to work through with my classes as we develop the story of our learning together. We’ll start contemplating and discussing these together during the first few days of school.

Setting: Most of our story will take place in Room 218 at Presbyterian Day School in Memphis, Tennessee. Nevertheless, I want my students to consider the type of environment we want our classroom to be. What will be the tone and ethos of our room? What should we do to make the most of our space? What pledges do we need to make to each other to create the environment we want?

Character: What types of learners do we need to be? What attitudes and behaviors should we adopt to create a great learning story? How should we treat each other? What do you see as your strengths as a learner, as a reader? Where do you want to improve?

Conflict/Rising Action: What are the problems we want to solve? What questions should we explore? How will we handle disagreements among us? What are the internal and external conflicts that might get in the way of our learning? How should we address them? What will we do when we struggle or when things are hard?

Climax: What would be the greatest thing you could do this year individually? What do we want to accomplish as a group? What aspects of learning and school matter to us the most?

Falling Action/Resolution: What would need to happen in order for you to say you had a successful year in this class? When you look back at 6th grade, what do you think you’ll remember?

Theme: What is the main goal we want to achieve this year? What are the “throughlines” that tie all our learning together? What are the big questions about conflict (our grade level theme) we need to consider?

I’m out of time to write. Does any of this make sense? What other questions should my students and I consider as we “plot” our year together?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

Have I Somehow Underestimated My Students?

Have I Underestimated Them?Do I underestimate my students? Do I see them as capable learners, thinkers, and creators? Do I believe they are real problem solvers? Do I give them enough agency over the learning? Do I show them how much their voices truly matter? Have I empowered them? Do I really trust they can make a difference in our world? How do I know if I have underestimated them?

My students just wrapped up their project-based learning and made their in-class presentations on Friday. Many of them did extraordinary work, and we’ll be sharing it beyond our class walls when we get back from spring break. Having seen just a small part of what my students are capable, I have spent the past couple of days wondering if I somehow underestimated them. Many of their projects are amazing, and yet I’m wondering if something I did has held them back. Was the bar set high enough? Did I support them in the right ways?

My friend Amanda wrote a post a few months ago confessing she had underestimated her kids. She’d had some discipline issues and problems making for a tough year, and so she’d shied away from “trying ‘out of the box’ type stuff.” On the other hand, I’ve embraced the innovative stuff, allowed my students a ton of freedom (even when it’s made me crazy), and I’m still wondering whether I underestimated them.

This is my first experience with PBL so I’m still learning the process, but I’m curious whether other teachers who have tried PBL have had similar experiences in thinking they have underestimated their students. I’m away this week enjoying spring break with my family, but I’d love to hear your thoughts when it comes to underestimating kids.

In the meantime, check out this video of highlights from our student-faculty basketball game on Thursday. Note to self: Never underestimate Garrott B.

Students End 20 Year Streak and Win Student-Faculty Basketball Game on Controversial, Overturned Ruling from Presbyterian Day School on Vimeo.