In addition to reading this reflection, please take a moment to view a video I created on my COVA reflections. View the video
If you are anything like me, you value education tremendously. You view education as a tool that can fix an array of problems humans face. Be those problems societal, political, medical, environmental, economic, or even personal, meaningful education can make our lives better.
But after 25 years in the public K-12 education system, I have found educators can lose sight of their purpose—their “Why,” if you will. Learning about and reflecting on the COVA approach to teaching and learning has awakened me to what we as educators should be facilitating during the seven hours a day and 180+ days per year students are in our charge…Our main purpose is not to force-feed students facts, statistics, and our own impressions. No, our sole objective should be to give students the freedom to engage in learning that is meaningful to their lives—it must be relevant—and for them to demonstrate that learning in ways of their choosing that encourages thoughtful reflection. This is how they will make new connections that will further their learning.
Early in my teaching career, before I knew the term COVA or the importance of giving my students choice, ownership and voice through authentic learning experiences, a student unwittingly introduced this concept to me. I was a ninth-grade ELA teacher dutifully trying to instill an appreciation for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Toward the end of the unit, I gave my students some choices about how they could demonstrate their learning. I believed myself to be very enlightened and cutting edge to give my students a choice between writing a paper or giving a class presentation on some element of Romeo and Juliet. One student, possibly sensing my willingness to allow him to demonstrate learning in a unique way, asked if he could write a computer program about the play. Hesitantly, I acquiesced, not knowing if his project would sufficiently regurgitate back to me all the wisdom I had imparted to the class about this drama.
What I received back blew me away. He created a 25-question trivia game about the play’s plot, literary elements, character analysis, and historical facts. The program was created in a rudimentary programming language. There were not a lot of flashy graphics (this was in the early 1990s). But the product he created made it clear to me that he was passionate about programming. He tapped into that passion to make my course (which if I’m honest with myself, I’d admit he was less passionate about) more relevant to his learning.
This was one of the proudest moments I experienced as a teacher. And really, I did nothing other than release the reigns ever so slightly and trust that he would use his choice ownership and voice to demonstrate learning.
Today, I am in a different role. I work with career and technical education teachers to ensure they have the facilities, equipment, curriculum, and industry support necessary to enable their students to enter the workforce prepared. Despite not working directly with high school students, I still have opportunities to espouse and advocate for a COVA approach to teaching and learning. It starts with personifying and setting an example of the Growth Mindset in action. When anyone—be they teachers or students—understand that through perseverance, trying new approaches, and soliciting the help of experts, we can all learn and grow.