I quickly responded without much thought, “It’s like I’m building outside the blocks, but I don’t really know.” We spent the next four weeks in our half hour sessions unpacking what this thing I was doing was. By the end of the month, I realised that there were four aspects to every project experience I had created for over a decade and that I was, in fact, building skill, autonomy and community outside the blocks of the blocks of time and other school-related compartments. I also realised that it was an approach that I was using consistently, regardless of the grade or subject taught. With her encouragement, I began writing and presenting on the approach and creating more of these projects for myself and others. In many ways, the best description of who I am as a teach and what I offer education is encapsulated in the phrase Building Outside the Blocks. I call it BOB for short.
What makes BOB an Approach?
Time- Students complete a project (https://buildingoutsidetheblocks.com/bob-project-ideas), and they present it to their class on their chosen date, within teacher determined parameters. In class, after reviewing a BOB project outline, students are shown a calendar of possible presentation dates and they chose the one that best suits them in view of their learning needs and personal calendars. Students backwards design from their self determined presentation date with mini-deadlines to present a product that takes around 5 minutes of class time, even though students work for a very long time to prepare them as “home” work.
Choice- Students don’t just choose when they present, they choose how, as well. Within each BOB, there is room for choice of product that can include high and low tech options and the possibilities are only limited by their imaginations. Each project invited creativity that includes EdTech.
Community- All BOBs are presented to a class community who become an active audience of coaches providing feedback and next steps to the presenter. Through teacher facilitation, a positive, inclusive, nurturing and kind space for learners is created to support risk taking as students present pieces of themselves and learn skills through projects that are engaging and breed success.
Teacher as Facilitator- Teachers take notes, use rubrics and checklists to give feedback, take pictures or video tape presentations and organize the presentation flow. Beyond that, the teacher doesn’t give public feedback. The teacher communicates formative feedback with next steps in writing to the individual, and shows support and encouragement in class. This helps to foster a class culture where the onus for formative feedback is on all the learners in the class community. The teacher assists with transitions and classroom management.
Many good teachers do these things in their class. Each of these aspects working in tandem makes this a truly powerful and high yielding approach. The projects engage learners and gives them time to shine, from program to platform. Because of the role of voice and choice and an audience of their peers, students develop a bevy of skills, go on a journey of personal connection and reflection to know themselves even better, and share pieces of themselves that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to know and do. The impact is memorable and something to build from. Building Outside the Blocks is about constructing learning experiences that promote student voice and choice and propel engagement in authentic learning experiences that help students meet and surpass curriculum expectations as well as a bevy of ever-important and transferable learning skills.
BOBs allow students to go on a personal quest on their own time and in their own way. They get support from their teacher as a creative collaborator and accommodator, and they get support from their classes community who really become their best selves for each other through this process. Anyone can use the Building Outside the Blocks Approach with their students. Check out my projects or use one of your own. What makes it worth the effort is what it does for the the whole class culture. As R.J. Palacio wrote in Wonder, “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.” BOBs help to make that so for every learner in the room.