5 Things to Remember Before You Start #GeniusHour

It is a new school year and I’m so excited to see many teachers and schools starting Genius Hour or 20% Projects for the first time! As I mentioned to Joy Kirr on Twitter a few weeks ago, I sense a tidal wave of student choice being unleashed in K-12 schools around the world this year. As someone who is passionate about letting our students choose their own learning paths, this has me pumped to be a part of the movement!

I recently had a conversation with two teachers in my school district about start Genius Hour and wanted to share a few of the key takeaways from that talk. When you give students choice, amazing things happen. But it is also difficult as a teacher to support this type of learning. Here are five things to remember before you jump into Genius Hour:

1. Choice is an Action, Not an Option

Often when we allow for choice in our classrooms it is seen as freedom. It’s true that choice does present options for students, yet the difficult part about choice is actually making the choice. This is an action, not an option. With the action of choosing comes responsibility and ownership. There is no one to blame if you struggle, fail, or feel bored. As a teacher we have to set the expectation that not only is it “ok” to struggle, it is expected and needed for success! As a teacher we have to encourage students to feel free to change their project or choice if they do not feel intrinsically motivated anymore.

Quick Tip: Have an “Epic Failure Day” where students and teachers share their biggest failures with pride!

2. Interests and Passions Aren’t Quite the Same Thing

Students will often start a 20% time or Genius Hour project by choosing to go down a path based on their interests. Maybe they like playing video games. Or are into a particular sport. Or like a certain type of music. Given choice, this is usually the first avenue students take. It’s important as teachers to help students weed through their interests to find a passion that ignites creativity, curiosity, and imagination.

Quick Tip: Use this “March Madness” style graphic organizer for students to find what they are truly passionate about!

3. Intrinsic Motivation is Often a Foreign Concept in Schools

Don’t be surprised if many of your students feel uncomfortable with the idea of choice. In my book, Learning by Choice, I go into detail on how students will often struggle when given the opportunity to learn what they want to learn. Sometimes they will complain and ask for a regular worksheet where they can comfortably do work for a grade. Sometimes they will feel paralyzed by having to make a decision themselves. We forget that the majority of their schooling is planned for them, chosen for them, and scheduled for them. As a teacher we have to support those students who struggle with the concept of intrinsic motivation by helping students take small steps towards autonomy.

Quick Tip: I’ve got three easy ways to help students who struggle with choice in this article, “What to do when Genius Hour fails…”

4. Stay Out of the Waiting Place

Dr. Suess’ book “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” is a must read for any class starting Genius Hour. Specifically point out to students that they must stay out of the waiting place. Get active with their projects, get up and moving, make progress, and above all DO SOMETHING. Nothing will be perfect and there will be ups and downs to any Genius Hour project but you have to keep moving forward.

Quick Tip: Have weekly share out sessions, blog reads, or video time where students talk about what they’ve been doing with their project and where they are headed next!

5. What You Praise is What Matters

Students, like all of us, know what to focus on by cues provided by those in positions of power. As a teacher those cues are easily seen by what we praise in our classrooms. During Genius Hour make sure to praise the process, the effort, the follow-through, and the commitment to sharing with your students. Focus less on the final product and the following of procedures or guidelines. This will in turn have your students engaged in the process of learning instead of what they believe they should be doing to garner praise.

Quick Tip: Use the G.R.I.T. Rubric developed by College Track to praise students for their guts, resiliency, integrity, and tenacity during Genius Hour

And if you’d like more information on 20% Time or Genius Hour, check out the FREE Video Course I’ve put together that over 10,000 educators have taken in the last year! Can’t wait to see what your students do/make/create/learn 🙂

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