Reflections on the LAUNCH Cycle

At the start of this year, I read the book LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A. J. Juliani. It was a useful read that built on my growing repertoire of readings that broaden and challenge my views on inquiry-based, interest-driven approaches to teaching and learning. I decided to trial the LAUNCH cycle with my Year 9 Language and Literature class.

I tend to begin the year with a more structured inquiry and move into open inquiry and project-based learning as my classes and I get to know each other. This gives me time to observe how my students learn, how they communicate to one another and how they work together as a class.

As we progress in the first couple of weeks, I introduce and then continually reinforce the phrase “you have the power of decision making here” in order to hand over choice and decision-making power to students and begin to encourage them to use their voice, apply how they learn best and reflect honestly on new approaches to learning. I’ve found that as students begin to exercise decision-making skills, they become more confident and learn to trust their own decisions when it comes to their learning. Providing opportunities for students to trust their own decision making is such an important part of increasing student agency.

I found the LAUNCH cycle fully supported our move from structured inquiry and the release of decision making from myself to the students, so much so that at the end of the first term we are now ready to launch into a much more open and less teacher-guided approach to learning.

The LAUNCH cycle is as follows:


The LAUNCH Cycle by John Spencer and AJ Juliani


Within Look, Listen, Learn we unpacked the statement of inquiry: The structure of one’s point of view can create purposeful and effective communication that empowers others, and our MYP global context: Fairness and development. We listened to and analyzed communicative pieces for a variety of purposes to begin the thinking process. Within this introductory phase, we also began to brainstorm and discuss local challenges our community is facing. I provided students with the opportunity to focus our unit on a challenge that is authentic, relevant and meaningful to them personally. Our guiding “big picture” questions were:

  • How can I empower and support others through research and advocacy?
  • How can I structure my point of view in such a way that my communication is purposeful and effective?
  • How can I communicate in order to empower?

We then moved into asking tons of questions. I used this opportunity to revise types of questions – factual, conceptual and debatable. We then learned the skill of prioritizing questions and creating a plan for how we can effectively gather information that can be used to communicate our point of view in a purposeful and effective manner.

I then just opened a week of lessons (3 hours and 20 minutes) for students to simply engage in research and develop an understanding of the local challenge they have chosen – the problems. It was lovely to observe students experiencing multiple ‘ah-ha moments’, getting a little bit angry about what they were discovering, sharpen and refine their point of view and for some, changing the direction of their point of view as a result of their research. A few felt they needed to change their challenge altogether, their preconceived ideas about the challenge they had chosen were proven inaccurate and they felt it best to focus their energy elsewhere.

  • One our students chose to explore the struggle small local businesses are having at present with the economic downturn in Darwin. Her family, in particular, is struggling and she wanted to find a way to understand the experiences her parents were having and the challenges they are currently up against. She was empowered to research, contact local businesses in similar situations and overall feel more empathy for her parent’s struggle and look for ways she can proactively support them at this time.
  • Another student had started the year off on a not-so-great footing and had been getting into a bit of trouble. He is a great kid, a fast, critical thinker and super active, but for the first couple of weeks, he continuously frustrated our Year 9 Wellbeing Coordinator by his poor decision-making. This student chose to look at juvenile crime in the NT – he actually decided on this during a day of internal suspension – and his questions revolved around why and how youth begin to display criminal behavior, the systems that create the conditions for this behavior and the current NT juvenile crime crisis. This actually led him in his own spare time to read the Royal Commission and Board Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Wow. He was shocked and troubled by the experiences his peers were having in detention centers. By the end of the unit, he was able to communicate his findings and articulate his ideas in a highly effective and multimodal manner. His behavior in class has turned around and he’s beginning to live up to his potential rather than make poor choices. A win.

Building on from this inquiry, research, and analysis, using all their new information and refined point of view, students developed their first formative task. I provided a simple foundational structure for them to use as the beginnings of an editorial that gave them an opportunity to further understand the process and navigate their ideas, organize their research and begin to communicate for purpose and impact. The structure was only a foundation – they were expected to take initiative and risks to communicate for purpose and impact beyond the structure. Students self-assessed each other’s work, gave meaningful feedback and learned some of the art of humility in receiving feedback on their work.

Students then created a prototype of a communication piece where they responded to our statement of inquiry by structuring their point of view in order to create purposeful and effective communication that empowers others. The focus needed to be on the related concept of structure from syntax to paragraph structure to an overall intentionally structured communicative piece with check-ins with myself and their peers in order to reflect on and discuss their structural choices.

Our school drafting process provided opportunities for students to then highlight and fix. We chose to use the 2 Stars and 1 Wish feedback model as the foundation for this and as students read or listened to their peers work, they would interject with ideas for improvement or encouragement of one another’s work. This critiquing process heightened students engagement in their work, taught them to actively contribute to their classmates learning and in turn critically and creatively think of how they can take feedback on board, further personalize this feedback and improve their own communication.

From here students did indeed launch, they presented their communication pieces to their peers, demonstrated active listening by giving specific 2 Stars and 1 Insight critiques for each presentation. Then those students who could, launched their communicative piece to an authentic audience and are awaiting responses in order to continue the dialogue. If they could not, they instead articulated how they can take principled action as a result of their learning.

I found the LAUNCH cycle was diverse enough that it can cater to both teacher guided inquiry and open inquiry. It is accessible and practical enough that students can navigate their way through this intuitive approach to independently and collaboratively construct meaning and create an authentic performance of understanding that extends beyond the classroom.

In our last lesson of the term, we reflected on the terms learning experiences. Our lovely, bubbly and super chatty Year 9’s were able to articulate that because the overall goal of the LAUNCH cycle was to create for the sole purpose of empowering others, they became empowered learners. A cycle emerged: As empowered learners, they were able to empower others. Through empowering others, they became empowered.

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