It is the end of the semester, and what a journey it has been. I haven't blogged in awhile, as I have been working on my digital pedagogy project for this course. Working on this project has been a fantastic experience of blending what I have learned about pedagogy for the way today's students learn, with the selection of digital tools and methods for teaching and also for students to demonstrate their learning. I was able to collaborate with a colleague, Victoria Curtis, to actually develop a semester long integrated studies course for U.S. History and English 11, which focuses on American literature. This project gives a general overview of the course and models the opening unit we will teach. We will teach a modified version of this course beginning in January, with full implementation next Fall. We have also begun plans for the second semester of this course, which will be an American Teenager project. All of this is thought-provoking, authentic, and very exciting. Take a look at my project, which I have put into a Blendspace: Just press Play and you can walk through each element.
I love what Calvin says in the second box: "Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray." This reminded me of what I read about situated learning and legitimate peripheral participation. When we are situated in authentic learning environments, interacting with learners who are both newcomers and old timers in the learning environment, we do become aware of complexities and shades of gray. Those complexities and shades of gray are what provide the richness of our learning and provide real-world context and application for our learning. Of course, most of us don't run from that knowledge and see it as "paralyzing" the way Calvin does, but his dramatics never fail to make me laugh ;)
Quote: "Knowing is inherent in the growth and transformation of identities, and it is located in relations among practitioners, their practice, the artifacts of the practice, and social organizations and political economy of communities of practice." This quote is taken from the conclusion of our assigned reading, and for me it sums the reading up well, as any good conclusion should do. As each individual grows, changes, knowing - learning is inherent, or a given. As we grow and change as individuals, we will learn and know. But it doesn't happen just inside the individual autonomously. The learning and knowing occurs as a result of the interactions between the individual and others in the various communities of practice in which the individual participates.
Question: This reading brought up many questions for me. but an important one is: how can I create that community of practice for the learners I work with? Thanks to this course I am finally addressing that question with passion and an emerging "knowing." The community of practice we are participating in as a cohort in EDL630 is providing me with rich interactions that create awareness of all of those complexities and shades of gray I need to be aware of so I can apply it to the communities of practice I help to create for the learners I work with. It is challenging to create a sense of community in the setting where I teach, because I work with independent study high school students. The fact that they are independent study students does not negate the fact that they need a community of practice to learn within. It has been a frustration of mine for a long time, and now I am learning tools to help create that community for my students.
Connection: I connected immediately with the section of the text that discussed a learning curriculum vs. a teaching curriculum. For years it seemed we were entrenched in the practice of developing and engaging in the teaching curriculum as standard practice, as we were held to student performance on standardized tests. I am not proud of that. I am horrified by that, actually. Yes- during those years there were many moments of authentic learning in my classroom, despite the emphasis on testing, but that type of testing really did obstruct more authentic learning at times. Now I am endeavoring to create the learning curriculum that should be standard practice.
Epiphany: Learning and intentional instruction are not (by any means) the same thing. This is both a simple and complex concept. It seems like a no-brainer, but I think many times teachers think, "because I TEACH it, my students will LEARN it," and that is simply not the case. I am learning that too much intentional instruction can actually get in the way of learning. Learners learn by doing, by experiencing- not necessarily by being TAUGHT. Learning is not passive.
As we move away from what the cartoon below depicts, our own learning and that of the learners we work with are endowed with possibility and opportunity much richer than many of us have experienced before. I am, however, experiencing it now, and for that I am grateful.
That about sums it up.
Well, Jeff provided us with an aptly-timed humbling experience over our Thanksgiving break: a close read on Situated Learning.
I consider myself to be a good and experienced reader, and I struggled through this piece more than I have struggled through any reading in a long time. I found myself reading aloud, at times stopping to purposely process each word in a sentence just to put the meaning together. It didn't help that a few times I was trying to read it when my children were awake, and the interruptions threw a hilarious wrench into any kind of meaning I was trying to extract at the time. This is why I usually engage in this kind of work at 4am, when I know they will be quietly sleeping. So then I was reading THIS!! at 4am... coffee did not provide the miracle support I needed at that foggy hour. As tedious and painful as it was (sorry- I'm feeling dramatic after the experience), the experience was a great reminder of how difficult some of what we assign to our students is for them. It acted as a reminder to me as to what kinds of scaffolding and support my students may need.
What made it especially difficult for me is that the evidence supporting claims was tough to identify because the evidence was usually abstract and in the form of deductive reasoning. I have much more experience and a greater comfort level with identifying evidence in the form of concrete examples. My brain likes those. It actually took me forever to figure out that there was any "evidence" because my brain didn't register those abstract deductions as such.
All in all, I valued putting myself through the practice of marking the text and identifying content and purpose because I have my students, grades 9-11, doing this exact thing every week as I work to help them learn critical reading strategies to help them in making meaning from text. I usually dedicate the entire second semester of my English classes to this. Putting myself in the learner mindset in this particular way, by reading a text with this level of density and difficulty, refreshed my sense of empathy for the experience of my students and the types of struggling they potentially encounter. Thanks Jeff, for this crucial reminder. Always keeping it real :)
Now I look forward to reading the reflections of our Collective, as I purposely haven't read any yet, so as not to jade my reading experience.
Chapter 4: Learning In The Collective
Quote: "In communities, people learn in order to belong. In a collective, people belong in order to learn. Communities derive their strength from creating a sense of belonging, while collectives derive theirs from participation." (Location 618) This quote was very helpful for me in understanding the definition of a collective. The concepts of the collective makes sense to me, and seems like the concept that schools should move forward to establish. It's time to decentralize the learning in schools, and capitalize on learning in a collective where the participation of the group leads to learning that is greater than the sum of all of its separate parts.
Question: A question I have is how to go about leading change for schools to be able to reshape and reorganize to become collectives. It seems it will require a radical shift in thinking and mindset on behalf of many groups of stakeholders: school administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and politicians, just to name a few. But it is important enough to explore the answers.
Connection: The focus on the collective in chapter 4 connected seamlessly with the philosophies emerging from me as I participate in EDL630. This course is leading me to explore education and learning in refreshing ways that make sense in the world we live in right now. Honestly, I am looking at education and the experience I can help provide for my students in a very different way these days. The collective is an experience I would like for them to have.
Epiphany: Just like the old adage of giving a man a fish vs. teaching a man to fish, the creation of a collectives can help students know how to learn and keep learning for a lifetime. The collective experience doesn't end because a class ends. The collective offers spaces for learning that remain interesting and relevant- fluid and strong- for as long as they are helpful. The collective offers a way of personalized learning.
Chapter 5: The Personal With the Collective
Quote: "It (the collective) intensifies and heightens the process of learning by continuously relating it back to the personal." (Location 859) This quote reminds me of the importance of learning being personal. That is the only way for real learning to really happen. Learners allow their curiosity to lead them into learning, and they filter information, deciding what personally makes meaning and connection for them. It's personal, and it is the only path to authentic, deep learning.
Question: I still have the same question of how we reshape our school system- our classrooms, to be collectives.
Connection: I connected with the entire section in this chapter on blogging. It was a fascinating explanation of how the blog transformed authorship over time, recognizing the input and participation of others as a major part of the process. It was interesting to read about how the emergence of people with expertise from the collective has made it so that brand names aren't enough anymore for people or institutions, to establish credibility. The expertise and credibility is spread more evenly over the entire collective, allowing unknown people to rise to the top and be recognized as having voices and useful knowledge to add to the collective.
Epiphany: Honestly no giant epiphany for this chapter- just a whole lot that makes sense to me. I found the jazz metaphor the new culture of learning to be very interesting and helpful: "intimate, improvisational, and individual- but also inherently collective." (Location 847)
Chapter 6: We Know More Than We Can Say
Quote: "The twenty-first century, however, belongs to the tacit. In the digital world, we learn by doing, watching and experiencing." (Location 989) Learning by "absorption and making tacit connections" is the way we do it in 2014.
Question: How can I bring a more tacit dimension to the experience of my English classes?
Connection: My experience with our 20% project is a tacit one. Yes, I am doing some reading to learn, but I am mostly experiencing my learning, and am spurred on by my curiosity and sense of play. People can tell me how to pop up on a surfboard or how to look at a wave and determine if it is surfable, but I really only learn it by experiencing it. This model of learning has been powerful for me, and has me constantly thinking of how I can bring a more tacit dimension to my teaching of reading and writing.
Epiphany: Because the world is constantly changing, and at a very rapid pace, it doesn't make sense to focus only on explicit information anymore in educating our students. Amassing tacit knowledge as we move through the various modes and dimensions in our lives is a much more realistic method of learning than the expectation that learning only takes place in formal, specific places and times.
Chapter 1: Arc-of-Life Learning: Chapter 1 of this book lays the groundwork for the the new culture of learning by demonstrating that learning has changed drastically as the world has changed, and a new culture is already emerging. Several stories that demonstrate how learning has changed are shared, and they demonstrate how arc-of-life learning, which is made up of all of the interconnected activities that make up the learning and growing in our daily lives, is a much more fluid way to embrace learning than the isolated-content-in-classrooms model.
Quote: "Each of these stories is about a bridge between two worlds- one that is largely public and information based . . . and another that is intensely personal and structured." (Location 291) This quote captured the concept for me. It shows how that bridge IS the learning. People tap into their curiosity and imagination to pull these two worlds together and create something of personal meaning.
Question: How can traditional educational forums be re-imagined and re-shaped to facilitate this arc-of-life learning, knowing that much of what is learned now is learned outside of these traditional educational forums? How can we keep schools relevant?
Connection: The very structure of EDL630 demonstrates arc-of-life learning. I think I have learned more from this class about how to be an effective educator, than all my years of college in preparation to become a teacher and all my years as an educator combined. This course doesn't separate us out from our lives and compartmentalize our learning. We are plunked into the middle of our teaching lives and asked to learn from there. I am bridging the information from the new informational side and my personal world and constructing meaning that is absolutely useful and eye-opening for myself, my students, and the school where I teach. It is interconnected learning that feels refreshingly natural as a way to learn.
Epiphany: The epiphany for this chapter is that when authentic learning takes place, the learner can see and feel the difference between learning and being taught.(Location 306) Learning involves being curious enough to weave together resources from various areas of our lives until meaning is constructed. That meaning is the learning and is made up of discovery of the purpose, relevancy, and application of new knowledge. When we learn we ask ourselves, "How can I apply this? Where does this fit?"
Chapter 2: A Tale of Two Cultures:
Quote: "When individuals become part of a new culture, they are generally the ones who are transformed." (Location 355)
Question: How can educators create boundaries within the learning environments of schools that act as "catalysts for innovation" that help am organic culture of authentic learning emerge, rather than traditional constraints that limit innovation?
Connection: The philosophies we are embracing and exploring in EDL630, and the types of boundaries enlisted, are absolutely contributing to the emergence of a dynamic learning culture within our cohort. If the student in EDL630 is engaged in the experience of this course, he or she is, without a doubt, being transformed by this new culture that is emerging. I know I am. The learning is different here because our learning is taking place within the world. We are not sitting in the EDL630 classroom listening to our instructor tell us all about wonderful ways to engage with students. Instead, we are in our everyday environments of teaching, and those environments are being augmented with ideas, philosophies, and methods that we are able to interact with and apply immediately within our environments instead of just applying them to the quiz paper on our desks in the EDL630 classroom.
Epiphany: Seeing learning as an environment is a big, wonderful shift for me. Not schools where learning takes place within the walls of the classroom only. Learning is seen as an environment where the focus is on growing a culture where the learning emerges from interaction within the world, and not learning in a classroom about the world.
Chapter 3: Embracing Change:
Quote: "The challenge is to find a way to marry structure and freedom to create something altogether new." (Location 575)
Question: How can educators create schools as learning environments that strike the balance between the structure schools provide and the freedom that today's media of unlimited resources provides? And how can educators help reshape school's in doing this large-scale without losing all sense of purpose and direction?
Connection: The model we are embracing in EDL630 is doing exactly that, in my opinion. I sense structure for sure. I feel the boundaries of school and the class. But the freedom to personalize my learning experience and to express my learning authentically is also there- and it is priceless. My learning here is rich, layered, interconnected, absolutely relevant, and transformational. My learning is all that, and the school (institution) has not lost its purpose and direction. In my eyes, this school (or EDL630 specifically) is achieving the goal of marrying structure and freedom- it is succeeding in reshaping the learning environment in a way that makes our learning relevant in today's (right now) world. We have crossed over into A New Culture of Learning.
Epiphany: There were many epiphanies in this chapter, but one is the idea of our using play and imagination (much like children do) to make sense of our world that is rapidly and constantly changing. We can't wait to be trained and taught about every new change that occurs, because it is changing too rapidly for that to occur. We have to just jump in and play with it. We can activate our imaginations for how to use the rapid influx of new knowledge- play with it to see how it fits into our lives and why it is important. In schools today that is one of the biggest complaints I hear from teachers- that "they want us to use all of this new technology, but they don't give us any training." I tell people all the time: "Just get in there and play with it. Click around on the technology. You aren't going to break it- and you just might figure it out."
In The Global Achievement Gap Tony Wagner achieved laser precision with naming and explaining the seven vital skills today's students need in order succeed and live a rich, interconnected life. He devoted years of his life to the research and practice that led to his distilled seven skills. As I pondered his list and was charged by my own professor with deciding on seven survival skills that I fully embrace (either Wagner's, my own, or a mashup of both), I could not get rid of any of Wagner's seven skills. From what I read, what I perceive of the world now, what I see in my students, and what I am constantly learning from my own children, Wagner is spot on with his list of seven vital survival skills:
As for my added eighth skill of Empathy, it is vital because we live in a diverse and interconnected world where, in addition to being able to communicate effectively to solve problems, and to adapt to the ever-changing conditions, one needs to be able to empathize with conditions, problems, emotions, structures, that arise in the world in order to even begin to collaborate in solving issues. One needs to be able to tap into that sense of putting him or herself into other people's shoes, especially when the issue at hand is a foreign or unfamiliar one. Empathy involves opening up one's inner space so as to try to understand the person or the situation, not from only an analytical perspective wholly or necessarily, but from a human perspective, with the purpose of trying to see the situation at hand through the eyes of the people affected by the situation. This is a complicated skill to teach, especially since many situations demand empathy from many different angles- but it is vital. Empathy leads to understanding of big picture and small picture together. True empathy reduces fragmentation and invites comprehensive understanding. Empathy reminds us that our problems are HUMAN problems. Modeling and teaching empathy is as vital as teaching any other skill if we are to prepare students to, not only survive in this world, but to live a rich life and to contribute to the world in a way that helps others to do the same.
Tony Wagner's book is a gem: honest, direct, transparent, researched, and valid. These seven- make that eight- skills are ingrained in me as my directive: Go forth and make sure students are able to add these skills to their tool belts! Every lesson I create will address these skills. What is really cool is that since I have read this book and begun this program of study, some of my old lessons and units don't sit right with me anymore, and I realize it is because the skills those particular lessons focus on are not on my list of Eight Life Skills. Those lessons don't sit right with me anymore because I no longer find value in them when viewed through the lens of my eight skills. When this happens (and it happens regularly now), I have one of two reactions: