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Empower Book: OWN This Book

Imagine you’re a senior in high school physics a week away from graduation.  In one reality, your culminating assessment will be a multiple choice test created by your teacher years ago. In a different reality, you will be sharing your study of how physics connects to a personal passion to a public audience for your final exam. Which reality asks students to own their learning? Which reality is more empowering?  

That’s the invitation and challenge John Spencer and A.J. Juliani put forward to us in their new book Empower. It is about several major shifts in learning environments.  The major shift, though, is moving students from the inaction of compliance to ownership and empowerment. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is the exact journey I am on in my classroom. This is everywhere I want to be. Whether you call it personalizing learning, student agency, ownership, or empowerment, this is the Kool Aid I want to be drinking.  

I got the book yesterday and have found it an amazing read so far. I have found the book to be extremely engaging and not a passive experience at all. It is not a “how to” book.  It’s a “how could” book. It is more dropping the gauntlet than spoon feeding.  So, I hope to blog about my thoughts in shorter bursts over the next week(s?).

The implementation of a passion project is something I’ve been able to bring to my classroom. But, Spencer and Juliani’s previous book LAUNCH pushed me to make sure to launch the final projects not just let them die a silent death. That’s why last year, I implemented our passion project night for all of my classes. In the image above, my former student James Steinhafel demonstrated wowed the audience with his passion for the martial arts.  

With Empower, they’re inviting us to take on a bigger challenge.  How can we make the freedom and ownership learners experience during 20% projects become a part of everyday classroom experience.  Why should we limit empowerment to 20% of our class periods? How can we make that 20% feel like 100%? That is the challenge I plan to wrestle with.

But, What Is Empowerment?
The authors point out that compliance is not engagement and engagement is not empowerment. It’s a continuum of freedom and purpose. A compliant student will do, but with little motivation. An engaged student may have high motivation to do.  But to do what? Exactly what the teacher wants them to do.  They are following the teacher’s sense of importance for the content and skills. An engaged student knows why this set of content and skills are important but only in the ways expressed by the teacher. An empowered student knows why what they are learning is important because they have been able to make it relevant to their own lives. In many cases, they have been given the freedom to choose the specifics of what the are studying. The purpose of learning is the understandings and skills they desire not simply the grade they want.

An empowered learner not only creates her own connections to the purpose, she creates her own path for learning with the teacher helping. She doesn’t simply consume assessments created by others. She creates products that tell the story of her learning. She doesn’t do it just once at the end of the school year. She is empowered every day. She is not just preparing to learn course content for the assessment. She is prepared to learn anything.

To quote from the book,
"Our job is not to prepare students for something; our job is to prepare themselves for anything."

A.J. and John, consider this my RSVP. I accept your invitation.

Please get the book and join the conversation using #EmpowerBook.

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