How can I support educators in allowing students to be curators of their own learning instead of just supplying students with the resources they “need” and putting a ceiling on student learning? This is the question I sought to answer when I began to dig deeper into ISTE Student Standard 3: Knowledge Constructor. I began to think about all the times that I have worked with teachers on this project or that one hoping to empower and engage learners, only to have the teacher provide students with a list of “here are the resources you can use”. Then when the teacher gets back the work they often complain about how every student’s work looks the same. Well duh, that’s because they all had the same resources. I really wanted to know what it was that lead teachers to just provide the resources to students instead of allowing students to go out and find their own. Was it because teachers are afraid to give students too much freedom, do they not want to give up too much control, do they just believe that students are incapable of doing the research themselves, is it time, and the list goes on. I’m sure there are a million reasons why but I really wanted to take time to figure out, whatever the reason, how I can I support them in possibly trying something new and allowing students to become the curators.
As I really began to dig into this work I started to think more internally about my own feelings and beliefs. I began to examine how some of the same things I was wondering about were things that I often do or think about educators. So I needed to reevaluate my own personal beliefs. Part of that was thinking about this work through a growth mindset. As I was in my head I realized that a lot of what I was thinking or saying internally were fixed in a mindset of what teachers are not doing. Instead I need to refocus on what they are doing and what they can do. If I want teachers to view their students through a growth mindset then I need to have one too. In an article by Keith Heggart, he talks about the idea of helping teachers develop a growth mindset for themselves so that they can help students develop a growth mindset. There are four key components that are addressed in the article around this work; modeling, creating space for new ideas, self-reflection, and formative feedback. All four of these are important for achieving a growth mindset in teachers. I need to model a growth mindset so that teachers see it in action and can start to believe it. I also need to be open to allowing space for new ideas and be okay with things not going right the first time. It’s alright to fail as long as we get back up and try again. From that failure often comes self reflection and being sure to provide time for that in order to learn from our mistakes. I need to also be open to formative feedback and embrace it. If I can model all of these then teachers might start to shift their own ways of thinking. So I believe it is important to incorporate these four components into my everyday practice.
So what does this have to do with allowing students to be curators of their own learning, well everything. In order to shift some of the control from the teacher to the students one must first have a growth mindset, otherwise they’ll always tell themselves that it’s not worth the risk. Once that shift has occurred it can open up the learning for everyone. So why curation, well that is simple, it’s about creativity and passion. Think of your favorite subject in school, why was it your favorite? You probably liked it because the teacher was passionate about it and that passion can be infectious. We want our students to be passionate about learning. That means we need them to be able to critically engage with the world that they live in so that they can be inspired by the things they discover. However if we don’t ever let them engage and discover how are they going to find their passion? This however does not mean just letting students loose. John Spencer says,
“we live in a world of instant information, where ideas go viral without much thought regarding accuracy and validity. It’s a place where content is cheap. Cheap to make. Cheap to share. Cheap to consume. The traditional gatekeepers are gone, which is great for students. They can create and share their work in ways that were previously unimaginable. But there’s a cost. The best stuff doesn’t always rise to the top and, if we’re not careful, we mistake the speed of consumption for the depth of knowledge. This is why we need students to learn the art of curation.”– John Spencer, Getting Started with Content Curation in the Classroom
We need to teach the art of curation. So how I can help students become curators or constructors knowledge, well it goes back to modeling. It is important to model the process and not just assume that students or teachers know how to curate information. This is also something that takes time and should be given time. The more I can build this into my lessons and work the better students will get at it because they will have more time to engage in the process. One of Spencer’s steps to getting started with content curation is to begin earlier, “If you begin at the beginning of the year, they will slowly learn the art curation as the year progresses” (2017). I am inspired to try this in my own work. How can I start the year by using curation as a way to build community and relationships? I think one way is by creating opportunities for curation where the topics are not predetermined but are set by the students. This allows students to design a curated list based on their own personal interests. This can then be shared with others in the community as a means for everyone to learn about each other. One of the things for me to remember though is that in order to promote learning there needs to be an aspect of writing connected to the curation. According to Jennifer Gonzalez (2017), “the simplest way to do this is to require a written commentary with each item in the collection.” She goes on to describe this using the example of a museum collection. When visiting a museum, visitors see a description of the collection as a whole along with descriptions for each individual piece within the collection. So while students are creating their curated collection their needs to be a written component in order to increase learning. While this is one simple way to start the process I think by beginning the year this way it can help build trust and relationships among people. From this trust then comes an understanding that we are all in the work together and learning together. When we have trust and community we are more open to taking risks and trying new things even if that means we might fail. So I commit to continuing to build trust and relationships with those that I work with, fostering a growth mindset, and not just talking the talk but walking it as well. I plan on modeling this work and supporting so that we can all become better curators of knowledge.
Additional ideas for ways to incorporate student curation can be found in the following resources:
- Digital Building Blocks for Original Research by Brennan Keegan, Randolph College
- To Boost Higher-Order Thinking by Jennifer Gonzalez
- Teach Students to Curate a Project ‘Playlist’ with Primary Source Documents by Kate Harris
- Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff. (n.d.). Edutopia. Retrieved January 26, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/developing-growth-mindset-teachers-and-staff
- Harris, K. (2017, May 23). Teach students to curate a project ‘playlist’ with primary-source documents. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/In-the-classroom/Teach-students-to-curate-a-project-‘playlist’-with-primary-source-documents
- ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved from www.iste.org/standards/for-students
- Keegan, B., & Randolph College. (n.d.). Digital Building Blocks for Original Research. Retrieved from https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/digital-building-blocks-for-original-research/
- Spencer, J. (2017, November 18). Getting Started with Content Curation in the Classroom. John Spencer. http://www.spencerauthor.com/content-curation/
- To Boost Higher-Order Thinking, Try Curation. (2017, April 15). Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/curation/