As I read this week about Connectivism, something very natural resonated within me, mostly as a student. The highlights of Connectivism that resonated within me include the idea that one can learn in a course that is without content (by design), not because there is no content, but because there is a surplus of content, and the instructor is leaving it up to me to go out and find the content that resonates with me- that works for me or that I am passionate about. As a student, I am drawn to learning experiences where I can create, share, and make connections. That is authentic learning in my eyes. Funny that I should make the distinction that Connectivism resonated within me as a student, and not necessarily as a teacher. Upon reflection I realized that I used to have Connectivist tendencies, but Education-ese and things like NCLB sucked the Connectivist tendencies right out of me. Almost to the point that I didn't recognize them anymore. And then I began this Master's program, and I have been enjoying a sensation in teaching during the last two weeks that feels as though someone has taken the lid off of a box that I had been stuck in, and the breathing is easier- the moving is easier. That is to say, that through some of the ideals and activities in the very short time I have been a student in this program (coinciding with the hiring of a brilliant new principal who has Connectivist tendencies at the school where I teach) have somehow given me permission to lift the lid off the box and experiment. The air is fresher now.
I teach independent study high school students, so this week's question regarding the challenges of independent learning is something I contemplate and live every day. I think the challenge is to remember that independent learning refers to students learning independently. It doesn't necessarily imply that they are working independently exclusively, but the learning takes place largely independently. So even if I have students working collaboratively on a project, the rate at which they learn and the learning styles they each employ, can be vastly different. I've written about this before, but it takes a dedicated amount of empathy and attention to detail in terms of getting to know each student and what makes them tick. We all know that what works for one student doesn't necessarily work for another student. The challenge with independent learning is getting to know what each student needs and is seeking, and making sure that resources and guidance are available to each student in a way that meets their needs. Everyday I work with students who are working with the same curriculum in a particular grade level. Some need very little guidance from me, and are naturally resourceful when they get stuck on a concept. Others I must hand-hold for a majority of the semester until they finally begin to gain some confidence and core understanding in what we are working on. And that is ok. Students come to us from so many different backgrounds and life experiences. I fill in the gaps where I need to- sometimes drawing on particular skills I didn't think I would ever need in my role as an English teacher. It really is more about Life than about School- so my job as a teacher is to dig into my bag of tricks and pull out whatever it is I need to to assist a student in making connections, creating, and sharing. This week's reading about Connectivism reminds me that it is less about remembering content, and more about authentically creating and making connections that are lasting and make an impression- ultimately changing the learner for the better- leading him or her to be the kind of person he or she really wants to be. It's about connection and growth.
It's nice to be let out of the box. I like the view from here.