The power of a 'So...what?' protocol
Embedding student thinking and agency over their learning has its challenges when working within the constraints of a mandated curriculum.
In 2015, I learned from educator Lane Clark the concept of "So...What?" thinking. This protocol alone is something I tried out with students soon after. It quickly became an embedded part of every day and engagement visibly increased.
So - what is "So...What?" My interpretation into practice is as a thinking routine for finding and creating learning relevance. "So...What?" is more or less short for: "So...now that we've learned this...What can I/we now do that will make a difference in my life and/or in the lives of others?"
During my time teaching from that point on, some variations in practice included:
"So...we've learned [this]... What would we like to do next?'
"So...we've learned [this]... What could we do with that learning?'
'So...we've learned [this] which helps us with [that]...What do we need to learn next to achieve [our goal of...]?
Here are three examples of using the 'So...what?' protocol to create relevance in Year 3/4:
Adding relevance to Reader's Workshop lessons
Reader's Workshop was a whole-school approach to reading and there were various reading strategies that we learned, revised and practised.
Anchor charts (like this one -->) were developed to make a shared record of the focus strategy and 'anchor' it somewhere in the classroom for students.
The 'So...What?' protocol become a ritualised part of this process - a practice that invited reflective thinking about the usefulness of what we'd learned.
In this example, learning and practising strategies for summarising was the mandated focus.
'So...we've learned the BME strategy... What could we do with that learning?'
While we didn't use all, or even many, 'So...what?' ideas, the process was framed and seen as valuable. Being part of the anchor chart meant they were there and accessible if and when relevant to future work. I liked that the protocol made creative thinking a visible part of every day.
Exploring Digital Technologies
With access to laptops and iPads, computer programming using Scratch was an area they explored.
The exploration was one of those wonderful occasions where I found a couple of guides with which students put their reading skills into action - an authentic avenue for learning how to use the platform.
I roamed and learned from students, seeing the functionality they could get going and the digital products and games they started to create... noticing who was in their element as a programmer and connecting students as needed to peer coach or collaboratively troubleshoot programming issues.
In case of interest, here are a couple of resources for learning Scratch:
After exploring and learning the capability of Scratch, we took 5 minutes to think about how it could be leveraged in the future. Students shared various project ideas that related to other work we'd been doing or that was coming up. Some of these ideas were pursued.
'So...we've learned a lot of what's possible with Scratch... What could we do with that learning?'
Making a difference
'Stories for Uganda' was a project that sparked unexpectedly after the year 3/4 students I was working with had an opportunity to connect via Skype with students attending Jinja Christian School in Uganda.
Crowded around the computer in the Assistant Principal's office (Ian, who'd organised the call) students at both ends of the call took turns to ask a question.
The experience was powerful. We learned that the students there loved school and would walk for over an hour to get there. We learned that they had limited resources and that their place in school was possible through fundraising. We learned that they were at the end of term and about to head into holidays - something they weren't looking forward to, a key reason being that attending school each day guaranteed a meal. We learned how much they loved learning, particularly English.
After the call, it didn't take any prompting from me for the 3/4s to start thinking in 'so...what?' style. Once one student shared how he 'wished we could do something to help them', another exclaimed 'we could help them learn English!' A capacity and calling to do something of impact quickly became clear.
The impromptu 'so...what?' brainstorm developed into a discussion of ideas, considering whether and how they could:
1) fit into our curriculum requirements, and
2) allow us to do work that matters; that would make a positive difference
It was that Skype call which shaped Reader's and Writer's Workshop for the rest of the term, more or less. 'Stories for Uganda' was a project that, through email consultation with the schools' founders, was born and allowed us to meet various Year 3/4 English curriculum standards in a meaningful and authentic way - for a purpose; through which we served a very particular audience.
Through 'So...what?' thinking, students are led to see the value in collaborative brainstorming and divergent thinking. Through 'so...what?' thinking, we playfully remind ourselves and each other that many heads are better than one. We're inspired by each others' ideas and new ideas spark from the process itself.
'So...what?' is just one protocol for making divergent thinking a part of every day. How else can we bring student creativity and voice to the forefront of learning?