A look at Phase III

As I noted in a previous post, the schedule calls for a transition into Phase III sometime in week eight.  If you’re a bit behind schedule, that’s okay.  I am too.

They needed an extra day to organize how they’d like to share their research, and I want to have them update their issue maps, conduct a peer review on their Phase II papers, and run an after-action review.  All told, we’ll dig into Phase III about a week leaving me with about two weeks for Phase III.

That said, I believe it’s in your student’s best interest to make the transition as soon as possible.  Do not fall into the trap of curtailing Phase III for the sake of what you wanted to cover in Phase II.

The intent behind Phase III is making sure each student is ready for the final phase of the course. Don’t let this destroy your faith in humanity, but in a room with 21 students you’ll always have some that’ll ride the coat tails of their peers.  Some may look engaged (and even participate) but it’s all veneer.  They’ve hardly learned anything.

Now is the time to gently expose this “lack of preparedness” while there’s still time to fix it.  In this phase you are asking key questions:

  1. Do your students know how to ask effective questions?
  2. Do your students present their ideas well (in written and spoken form)?
  3. Do your students understand what it means to look at the problem from multiple perspectives?
  4. Do they understand issue mapping?

We’re not saying “ignore the students who are doing well,” but we are suggesting that you find creative ways to intervene with the students who are not.  Phase III allows me to spend more one-on-one time.

I will propose to my seminar that they break into small working groups – three or four to a group.  Each member of the team will do their own work – they will each practice inquiry and do so on their own guiding questions.

If my seminars agree to this strategy, I’ll ask them to look at their social contract to ensure that the three or four participants understand expectations and ground rules. They will not be accountable for any project but their own, but they should commit to helping each other through this rigorous process.

I envision the team working together both in and out of seminar.  I see them coming and going as necessary to work their projects, including hitting the library and doing off-site work when needed.

We’ll need accountability measures for this to protect the more disciplined members of the team from the, shall we say, less disciplined members of the team.  This effort will also help me identify who needs extra coaching.  (A word of caution: don’t assume it’ll be the quiet ones that need the extra help!)

Two weeks should be enough time.

When their products and research mature to a reasonable level, I’ll invite (a polite way of saying assign) them to present their work for the entire seminar’s benefit.  Note that I say their work, not their products.  I do not want them presenting their finished product for a briefing.  They will engage in a self-explanatory effort.

This shift will constitute the beginning of Phase IV – it’ll start around November 6th.  (This will also be the tentative due date on the Phase III formal paper.)

Students need to know this is coming so they’re ready for it as of all the things I’ve asked them to do, I expect this will be the hardest. They will be teaching and learning through their explication.  They will need to detail all of their choices – what they chose to include to not include, and why. They will have to be cognizant of all their steps so the group sees the development of their ideas, not merely the end result.

To do it right we’ll need people fully willing to make themselves vulnerable; we will need an environment of complete trust.

It’s also not a project we can rush. If someone is struggling, we cannot say “sorry, but we must stick to the schedule”.  I am allotting 15-minutes per student and I worry it won’t be enough.  (If it looks like we can curtail their small group work in Phase III to buy time for this, we will.)

These student-led workshops will lead right up to Thanksgiving break, meaning that each student must be responsible to improve their own thinking and develop their own products in time for the campus wide poster session.  I and their small groups can be a resource in this effort, but a best case scenario is that everyone is satisfied with their work before they leave campus.

One last thought…timely reminders about the knowledge economy and the reason we are inculcating this inquiry mindset matter!  You will always do well to tangibly associate these activities and their actions with the development of key critical thinking strategies, complex solving competencies, and the need to develop and share insights in a globalized society.



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