Mimicry-Ya Got That?

As I’ve been working on thinking about “LEARNING”  for the project at Thinking About Words Through Images,  my camera has been my constant companion at school.  That’s not unusual, for me to pull out my camera and snap pictures of my students working, but the difference is that I have told them WHY I am taking pictures and some of what I am thinking.  I have shared the link to that wiki, and it’s been interesting–knowing that I am collaborating with educators from all over the world seems to have had an impact on my students. I notice them commenting on each others’ wikis more, offering strategies in class more explicitly and asking each other questions that imply accountability to the community (like, have you finished your  geometry wiki page, I’ll call you tonight to remind you to bring in your iPod, etc.)

But, I wonder– am I seeing these things more because I am looking for specific instances of learning to photograph?

I have learned a lot in the first week of January, trying to take pictures of “learning.” First, it’s HARD trying to capture a still picture of the active learning in which my kids engage. I find myself wanting to describe the pictures, to explain what’s going on, to share the amazing thinking I see in my kids. While the images can capture some of what is going on, I need words as well.  I find myself posting my lessons (both adult and student ones) to the web, describing what happened and what I was hoping to happen. It’ll be interesting to see what I think and how I’m looking at the world through the lens of my camera at the end of the month.

What else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter what age kids are, they still mimic their teacher.

In teaching kindergarten, one of the funniest things to watch was when kids were in “free choice” time and they chose to play school.  I would hear my words coming out of their mouths, just as in housekeeping, I would hear their parents’ words.  It was eye-opening in both situations, and I often changed the ways I worded things based on the feedback I received watching my kids mimic me. (In parent conferences, I often told parents I wouldn’t believe half of what their kid told me about them if they’d promise me the same–because we ALL know that age also has a very active imagination!)

Yesterday was a hoot–the mimicry happened with fifth graders. In my class, when students are explaining their thinking, I often play confused so they have to be more explicit in their explanation and they learn how to explain their thinking more logically, sequentially and in depth.  I check for understanding with the group listening frequently by stopping the explainer periodically and asking the group things like, “Do you understand what s/he is saying?”  or “Did you get that?”  or “Does everybody know what s/he means when s/he says. .. ?”   I guess my most used is, “Did you get that?” Kids in my class don’t hesitate to ask for more explanation because this is part of our day-to-day conversations, AND they see me model confusion and asking clarifying questions.

Ms. White, Tzstchr

In a lesson where these pictures were taken, I was playing my confused self.  I had been taking pictures, but sat down at a table to probe a student who was making an assumption she shouldn’t have been making. Setting my camera on the table, I began asking the child to show me her thinking. After several minutes of interaction, another student picked up my camera and began taking pictures of our interactions. I paid no attention to that and continued with my questions.  She put the camera down, and throughout the next 5-10 minutes, several students took turns picking it up and taking pics as others gathered around to hear the conversation and support the child being questioned if they could. watchingThe pictures they got were pretty good (I had to leave out two because they have students whose pictures may not be put on the web.)

However, the funniest part was Toria taking over the explanation for the child I had begun with and explaining to me the way she saw to work the problem.  (She describes class on her wiki page, MathIDidToday.)   She was showing me her way, and I made her do it three different ways, apparently not understanding each time. (I asked her to, NOT because she didn’t get it, but because she was so adroit at thinking flexibly, choosing various shapes and changing her approach and modeling descriptive language for the others watching.)  By the third time, she was getting a wee bit frustrated with my lack of “getting it”, so she finished and, (truly) standing up, with a hand flourish, asked,  “Ya got that?”

The class erupted in HOWLING laughter. . .that’s why they all left with the red faces Toria describes!

UPDATE: the kid who picked up the camera first just wiki-mailed me and asked if I had ever figured out whether S4 was half of S5 (which was the problem we were working on that’s described in this blog.). I wrote her back this message:

Hanna, I’ll share a secret that you cannot share.
Please read this: http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/mimicry

PW

Her response back to me was simply priceless:

wow that is so cool i have never known but i did notice that you ALLWAYS didn’t get what we were telling you

Shifting Frustrations

WOW!  I had a busy week last week attending two conferences (VASCD and VSTE) and working with a student who presented at a UVA mini-summit on children’s engineering. Learned lots, have a ton to think about, but wanted to share my story about my substitute in the context of trying to teach differently and help my students learn differently.

So I left my gifted students lesson plans on their wiki. I often do this in class and so they are used to it, and very self-directed with it.  I left sub plans that said each day they would have the same routine–two kids go get 4 laptops for 12 kids, they split into groups of three and work through the math tutorials on the designated pages listed here:  Crozet 5th Math 0910.

I had also carefully designed a growing dependence on doing it online, that you can see in the plans. I felt pretty good about leaving my kids doing this–they were studying content they needed some review on, but could also handle independently in groups.  I had set up the routine so they were doing activities familiar to them, and the sub had little to do. In fact I said in my plans, “You will simply have to monitor that they stay on task.” I left her NO teaching, NO homework, NO grading, just behavior monitoring of  HIGHLY motivated, well-behaved kids.

The sub experience was a disaster.  In trying to be helpful and do school as she knows it, she changed  my lesson plans substantially to the point my kids began wiki-mailing me the second day from their iPods, complaining. They were not allowed to work collaboratively, the online activities were changed to worksheets, and they had no time to do the higher level thinking pieces I had left in my plans–so they spent three days doing worksheets on skills where they needed only some review.

My principal and I have had conversations about whether to get a sub when I need to be out, knowing that subs cannot run my classroom as I do. However, I also realize that as a resource teacher when my kids are unexpectedly back in the classroom, it does cause some issues for the classroom teacher, so we have hesitantly decided to get me a sub.

I am going in Monday asking for NOT getting me a sub.  My kids would have been better off in their own classrooms, using the classroom computers to follow the directions on the wiki quietly in the back or corner of the room. They would have been self-directed, gotten the work done, thought about the skills at a high level in evaluating themselves and their own learning, and been monitored by teachers who KNOW them!

PLUS, if they are allowed to work like this in their own classrooms, perhaps I can, as David Truss suggests in his post, Shifting Education,  “Nurture your colleagues like you nurture your students in your class.” I can nurture through examples–because I KNOW the teachers will look at the wiki.  I KNOW they will monitor what the kids are doing and perhaps get some ideas for their own classrooms! And, I also know they will see their kids being more self-directed than they see in their classrooms, because they are not allowed to direct their own learning there.

For an example of how I am trying to help students better understand learning processes, see an independent study group’s work for this week at The Four Question Strategy wiki.

Perhaps, if I set kids up in their classrooms to do “real” work, as described by Chris Lehmann in his recent post, “Shifting Ground” teachers will have new pictures painted for them of the possibilities in school.  Perhaps teachers will begin to understand that “It is time to stop thinking of school as preparation for real life and instead show students that the time they spend in school can be a vital and enriching part of their very real and very important lives.” (Chris in Shifting Ground).

Perhaps, then, my style of teaching and honoring kids’ desires to direct their own learning will spread beyond my classroom and teachers will shift to “take advantage of tools to help them and their students find their way.” ( a slight rewording from David Truss)

Losing Our Minds

Everyone should read Deborah Ruf’s book, Losing Our Minds.  Not only does she do an EXCELLENT job of describing giftedness in many different ways, but she also describes different KINDS of giftedness and different ways of meeting those needs in the classroom.  She addresses push in and pull out models, the need for independent studies and when that isn’t necessary. She really makes the delivery of services for meeting the various needs of gifted kids just make sense.

I also love the book, “Young, Gifted and Black,” by Theresa Perry, Asa Hilliard III, and Claude Steele, as they describe the cultural and democratic aspects to be considered when looking at educating blacks in America.  They make the point that REALLY we have only been experimenting democratically with truly educating African Americans for a short period of time. MANY folks, as African Americans were “integrated” into society in the 1900s –and many still today–question the mental capacity, the intellectual competence of black people, looking at historical academic achievement as “proof”. This book argues that “since learning is fundamentally contextual, there are extra social, emotional, cognitive and political competencies required of African Americans precisely because they ARE African Americans.” (See Ira Socal’s recent post, Crossing America: An Education for a better explanation than I am giving here.)

BUT, what brought this topic to mind is a recent article, “No Gifted Minority Left Behind” in the Richmond (VA) Times that @JonBecker and @mwacker (Michael Wacker) posted.  Our county is currently (as many are) examining the discrepancy between membership group populations and enrollment in special programs such as Gifted, Special Education, Advanced Placement/Honors courses, technical programs, etc.)

So, I asked Michael and Jon: Do you believe that just because say, 70% of your student population is white, 70% of your gifted (or SPED) population should be?

Their responses included the following comments and questions:

becker@paulawhite no, but we should be within a much tighter confidence interval than we are now; extreme disproportionality is problematic.

Me-> 2 years ago our Gifted Advisory Committee did a study on that discrepancy, Jon, and my school was the ONLY one near to that tight confidence interval. However, it isn’t anymore, as I moved schools, and the GTs who came after didn’t continue ID of minorities. (I’ve now been gone from that one 5 years and the kids I identified are mostly gone.)


wacker@jonbecker @paulawhite agreed, its not that clean, but it is an issue, has anyone addressed cultural bias in the tests themselves?

becker@mwacker @paulawhite yes, and most LEAs have moved away from a single test for ID purposes, but that hasn’t made much of a difference.

Me->BECAUSE most people still look at the test score (no matter what test) as most important–behaviors and class work is incidental, and the one snapshot test “MUST” be more valid.

wacker@paulawhite @jonbecker do you use a triangulation data collection method for determining giftedness? Is it just one test or a B.O.E.?

So I responded:

Part of the discrepancy in identification IS cultural in that (and this goes back to my K blog) some cultures ENCOURAGE movement and calling out. Have either of you ever been to a southern black Baptist church? Calling out, responding aloud in group, NOT raising hands and moving is all part of their ritual–so ESPECIALLY kids with those experiences have to be indoctrinated to the hidden curriculum of school (sit down, be quiet and listen)–and teachers see those active, calling-out kids as “misbehaving” so therefore, they CAN’T be really smart. GTs often aren’t aware of cultural differences in behaviors, and most teachers DEFINITELY aren’t!

In fact, I go looking for those calling out/active kids cause it’s a GREAT sign of engagement.

I have a 5th grader right now (NOT minority)whose behavior has interfered with ANY teacher seeing his absolute BRILLIANCE…cause he refuses to “play school.” He wants to learn and he wants his questions answered–and he wants to know WHY he has to do stupid busy work, so he constantly challenges the teachers, which gets him sent to a safe spot. I’m trying to get them to give him a laptop AT the safe spot and see what he does with it. He recently embedded a WHOLE middle school math book on his wiki so others could read it and learn “as much as I did.”

I have another, a 2nd grade minority girl who did the most sophisticated sort of dominoes last year in a class lesson–when I pointed it out to the teacher, her response was “she must have copied.” This year’s teacher is noticing her novel responses.

Then, Samantha Melvin joined in:

melvinauthentic differentiated learning can only take place with authentic differentiated TEACHING –so glad you are sharing this!!

Me->Teachers have to understand that it is not about assembly line work or making everyone part of a melting pot, but separate and distinct individuals with specific strengths and passions. It’s not about conforming but honoring and providing opps for differences and personal strengths to be used and grow.

YES!  about process, not product! Amelvinre we giving them the skills they need to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways? (serving the individual learner)

Great question! Here’s where (IMHO) tech plays a SERIOUS part and meets a HUGE need!

So, when you read the article, what do you think?  ARE we leaving no gifted minorities behind, or are we losing our minds?



Tools/Schmools

I stole that title from this post: http://jonorech.blogspot.com/2008/12/tools-schmools.html Jon wrote this post a year ago, and it is one we need to keep in front of all of us educators at all times.  It’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning!

So, in that vein, let me say that I have really, really been wanting to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring. Too many times we find a cool tool and then force the learning into the use of the tool.

As @bengrey says (http://bit.ly/z5iMg),

bengrey We absolutely must stop focusing on teaching technology and move instead to learning through it.10:09 PM Oct 2nd from TweetDeck

So, does it help to have sites like “iPod Ideas” or “Ways to use Wikis”?  Or should  we instead be talking about and sharing specific ways to teach fractions and decimals or quotation marks or the seven continents? Okay, maybe that’s too skill-driven–too centered on minute discrete skills…

So,  would it help for us each to post a favorite/best carried out/most-learning-happened lesson for others to see and learn from? Okay, maybe that’s too activity driven…

Do we want to share websites that help us craft amazing essential questions, or enduring understandings or desired outcomes?  Or is working on those too cerebral for many of us? (Do we use those in our lessons?)

We do a lot of “just found this” on twitter, and people have bookmarked and favorited THOUSANDS of websites on social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Diigo–but how often do we go back to those? (I’ll be honest here–organization of things like this is NOT my forte–I learned a LONG time ago I could just ask my colleagues things like, “What was that site that allowed you to put text in and then it would turn the words into a visual representation of the words used in that text?” and 5 people would respond “wordle.com” within 24 hours or shorter. . . so why spend my time maintaining a website of links, when there are people who enjoy doing that?) Instead, I remember the names of people who do that well already–@jacatlett, @kellyhines, @keisawilliams, OR I utilize the brain of all brains, IMHO, @mtechman, who, if she can’t immediately name it and the URL or doesn’t know exactly where to put her finger on the resource you’re asking about, will hunt until she finds it, because she enjoys the SEARCH and the joy of being successful at finding it!!

For Melissa, It’s not about power–or getting recognition for being the one who found it for you–it’s about successfully providing a service she sees as necessary and that a teacher/librarian does for people. It’s about using the technology to do her job and do it well, and be helpful at the same time. She’s intrinsically driven to help people find what they need. Melissa does what Ben talks about–she learns through the use of technology ALL the time, and then shares that knowledge with us all on Twitter.

So if I really, really want to engage in conversations about important learning episodes where technology is used/needed, but is also simply a tool to support the engagement, learning and skill improvement that is occurring, I guess I’ll start by sharing some of MY stories and seeing if anyone reacts to them. Anyone want to share theirs, too? If so, tag it with #sharing on Twitter.  🙂

World Peace Game-And An Example Of Big Picture Thinking

Week before last I listened to an interview with a teaching friend, John Hunter, about the premier of a documentary being made around him and a game he invented called World Peace. (See the You Tube Video here: John Hunter explaining his World Peace game. ) John is  a gifted resource teacher in my division and he described his job as one where he “sets up a situation so students have to stumble through the unknown and discover for themselves how to do it.”

His game is one that has evolved over the 30+ years he’s been teaching and he clearly is a teacher who doesn’t mind the students being in control of their learning. Heck, he even talks in this interview about supporting that, and that once the game begins, it is out of his hands. John is an amazing teacher, thinker and colleague and it’s a great pleasure to work in a system where I have relatively regular contact with him, even though he’s in a another school. If you are in Charlottesville, VA on February 21, 2010, please attend the premier of this documentary at the Paramount Theatre. I guarantee it will amaze and astound you and give you food for thought.

In this interview, John also speaks to the ease/relief/ability to be this creative because he works with kids who have already learned the minimum state standards, so they can explore these bigger questions of life. I think all gifted teachers have some of this feeling in us. Because of the students’ abilities with whom we work, we DO have more latitude in what we teach in many situations. That’s both a good and a bad thing.

It’s good because we can meet these very, very bright kids at the level at which they think without them being slowed down by thinkers who may not make the intuitive leaps they do, who may not have the background of information they do, and who may not have the confidence to challenge them as they think aloud. This experience isn’t about elitism, but about allowing students the opportunities to think with others who think at their speed, at the depth they do, and who question the world as they often do.

It’s bad because all teachers do not feel they have the latitude to teach this way with all students–to explore big questions of life and tie their lessons into essential questions that support students making those connections between topics, between concepts and between understandings that are universal and that deepen their understanding of the world.

I have a teacher in my  school, though, who is attempting to teach to that level with ALL of her students in math. This teacher has developed a structure that is based on the ideas behind the “Daily Five” in literacy. She has created a pie, divided into three pieces, which, after brainstorming with several folks, she decided on the categories Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73) suggested, which were strategy, fluency and numeracy.

Of course these overlap, but by looking at each of these each day, and helping kids thinking metacognitively about these skills, they become more aware of their mathematical thinking and in turn, become better at it. She devises a set of three problems that revolve around big ideas in math and then the children self-select which of the three problem solving tasks they will work on for the week. By Friday they create a poster describing their thinking and explaining the way the solved the problem. That’s the numeracy piece of her pie.

The fluency piece is the arithmetical part of math–direct teaching and practice of basic skills, based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 4th grade.

The strategy piece of her pie is worked on in several ways–through the posters the students create to show their thinking, the work they do as the week goes along and the classroom conversations that occur around their work. Students love the structure, they are free to develop their own strategies to solve the problems, they talk about the connections between the various problems and they self-select into the groups that sometimes stretch them, sometimes allow them practice and sometimes allow them to lead the problem solving process.

Big picture thinking and teaching and learning–why doesn’t it happen in more classrooms? How can we restructure our schools so that it can be pervasive and the norm rather than the outlier?

Following Followers and Thinking

Yesterday, Milton Ramirez, (@tonnet) re-tweeted a comment about inconsistency that intrigued me (which he often does), so I began tracing the conversation back to see the context.  Through doing that, I found @monedays, @TalkDoc2 and @JohnDMcClung having a conversation that was right up my alley–but I came late to the party due to my wonky  nTelos air card, so wasn’t in time to join in. However, I filled a whole page marking many of their comments as favorites!

I think these folks MUST have read the book, Lift, and they live it. . . their tweets are inspiring and thought-provoking. I know these favorites will give me much food for thought.  Hope  they do for  you as well!

(I just copied them from my favorites, so read from the bottom up if you want to read them in order.)

Enjoy!

  1. JohnDMcClung RT @MarkOOakes: Everyone 1 of us is called to LEADERSHIP, whether to lead ourselves, a great cause or lend a helping hand to just 1 person!9:44 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  2. John McClungJohnDMcClung RT @TalkDoc2: @JohnDMcClung There actually would be more peace in the world w/o dichotic thinking. Good sometimes, but not usually.9:36 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  3. Monica Diazmonedays @JohnDMcClung @TalkDoc2 If there is truth, we cannot grasp it, only our perceptions of it. So comparing notes, gives us a broader pic!9:29 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  4. John McClungJohnDMcClung @TalkDoc2 Too many times we work on the assumption that because “X” is true, “Y” cannot be. Both could co-exist as “truth.”9:28 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  5. John McClungJohnDMcClung @TalkDoc2 Hypothesis testing in debate theory allows a “truth” to be examined on it’s own merits. It’s “truth” doesn’t discredit others9:26 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  6. Monica Diazmonedays RT @EdieGalley: Your past can be used as a great foundation of learning….just remember it is not a box to get trapped in.9:25 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  7. John McClungJohnDMcClung RT @TalkDoc2: @JohnDMcClung There are many “truths” that evolve over time…thankfully. <Exactly! Why hypothesis testing is appropriate9:24 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  8. Mike MorganTalkDoc2 RT @JohnDMcClung: @TalkDoc2 To get at truth, you need to look at an issue from all angles, not just fully support from one. – True9:20 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck
    RT

  9. Monica Diazmonedays RT @JohnDMcClung: @TalkDoc2 To get at truth, you need to look at an issue from all angles, not just fully support from one.9:15 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  10. Monica Diazmonedays RT @thehrgoddess: RT @wallybock “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” ~ Daniel Patrick Moynihan9:13 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  11. Monica Diazmonedays RT @LeadToday: People in leadership positions that don’t care about their people forfeit the opportunity to truly lead. #BeOrginal9:13 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  12. Monica Diazmonedays So true! A challenge to attract them! RT @TalkDoc2: Deeper truths are discovered through open discussion with others who are not like you.9:09 AM Oct 10th from Tweetie
    RT

  13. Mike MorganTalkDoc2 Deeper truths are discovered through open discussion with others who are not like you.9:07 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck

    RT

  14. Mike MorganTalkDoc2 You cannot fully receive the gifts of love and laughter unless you give them away.9:04 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck

    RT

  15. Mike MorganTalkDoc2 @LollyDaskal Good friends expect genuineness, not perfection. Good morning Lolly.9:02 AM Oct 10th from TweetDeck

    RT

  16. Monica Diazmonedays RT @MarkOOakes: Leadership Skills Inventory: Listening, Empathy, Attitude, Vision, Effectiveness, Resilience, Purpo (cont) http://tl.gd/kupo
RT

LOTS to think about here! If you read one of these and a story comes to mind, would you share it with us, please?

Thanks again, Milton, for helping me find these folks to follow! When I tweeted Milton yesterday, I sent @tonnet Thanks for the new people to follow this morning. Will blog later about the conversation I followed thanks to your RTs! :-),  he responded with these tweets:

tonnet @paulawhite I try to catch up with the immensity of information we have to deal with on a daily basis. Thanks 4 your kindly words & support
tonnet

tonnet @paulawhite@celfoster @ ritasimsan @Katjewave @Mrs_Fuller Read this piece and it will show u why I appreciate ur retweets

which led me to Bit Rebels. . . another great thinking resource for me.
My PLN ROCKS!

“I Live Teaching As My Doing.” (Chapter 2)

I live teaching as my doing.

Been thinking about that a lot this morning, as there is a team of teachers at my school that I am working with to understand just what my job is as a gifted resource teacher, and that I am struggling to find a happy medium with as we try to meet the needs of the gifted kids in their group.

These teachers are all very good, if not great, teachers.  They work hard, care about the kids, constantly seek out new learnings for themselves, and thoughtfully implement plans they believe will meet their students’ learning needs. These are NOT worksheet driven classes; they are active classrooms where kids learn and teachers know what their kids know and what they don’t. The kids are happy, the parents are happy, and they have great track records with state tests as well. Lots to celebrate with this team and their work.

However, there are some highly gifted math thinkers in this group that I worry about, and my worry seems to offend the teachers. What they don’t seem to get is that it is my job to worry about those kids and to advocate for their thinking to be highly challenged regularly. When I ask questions, it’s not to be critical, but to make sure the gifted kids’ needs are being met, AND to help me know more about how the teachers are differentiating for them.  It’s not because I think I can do it and they can’t. It’s not because I think they’re not meeting the learning needs. It’s because I want to learn from them and think about how we can all get better at this differentiation thing. My job is to help them differentiate better—not to do the academically challenging work with the kids for them.

For me, teaching IS learning.  I don’t know how many times I have been questioning kids, discussing a situation or problem or describing mathematical thinking and strategies and when finished, I realize that I learned just as much, if not more, than my students. Yes, I can say, as Jackie Gerstein does, that “I live teaching as my doing.”

I also live learning as my doing.

“I Live Teaching As My Doing.” (Chapter 1)

I live teaching as my doing.

What a great statement.

It came from a Twitter buddy’s bio—her name is Jackie Gerstein.

I have only met Jackie Gerstein briefly at a tweet-up at NECC in DC. I know she has a doctorate in education, I know she is an educator, but I don’t know where she is or what she does daily as a job. What I do know about this lady, though, is that she is a thinker, a believer in children’s abilities to make decisions, an advocate for realistic and meaningful education, and that she shares thought-provoking tweets regularly on Twitter. Her bio there says, “I don’t do teaching for a living, I live teaching as my doing, and technology has AMPLIFIED the passion.”

I live teaching as my doing.

What a great statement.

And what I know about myself is that at ISTE2010 in Denver next year, I’ll be looking for her, because I want to have a face to go with this name I see daily on Twitter. I want to talk with her and find out more about what she does and where she works and how and why she finds and tweets the thought-provoking links she constantly puts out there. I want her to know the impact her tweets have on me and the people I share them with, and I’d like to have some face to face time to listen to her and question her and have a real conversation with her. She’s one of my twitter friends that I would count as a MUST FOLLOW. . . because she makes ME think, and what she shares resonates with me on a regular basis. As a deep thinker myself, I have connected with this lady in ways I don’t connect with folks I see everyday because of the topics she chooses to read about, think about and share.

Thanks, Jackie! I am looking forward to TALKING with you!

(By the way, I could write this post about a BUNCH of my Twitter friends. You folks simply don’t know what a lifeline you have given me!)

Public or Private?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’ve had some great opportunities to learn recently. (See What I Did On My Summer Vacation).  I’ve also read some great books and am busy trying to assimilate all of that, along with the many conversations I have had with many, many educators! So as I’m thinking (and thinking and thinking and thinking. . . ), I’m trying to figure how all of this is going to fit into my classroom, my school, my behaviors with peers, etc. for this new school year. My main struggle right now is with microblogging, or setting up a community online.

Let me explain. . .

I use Twitter daily for professional networking and have learned a tremendous amount through it as well as met many people I now consider colleagues and friends.  For me, Twitter does indeed allow me to participate in the groundswell, and it feeds my need to “connect, create, stay in touch and help each other.” (Groundswell, p. 49.)  I have, as stated in my blog, Twitter Makes Me, become more world-wise through my connections with people all over the world.

Our local school system has embraced Twitter in many ways, and we have had a very quick influx of our educators join.  Some have found it incredibly useful, others have found it confusing. It is clear that our Superintendent and School Board expect us to teach using today’s technologies,and they have supported us doing so by opening social networking sites (such as wikis and Twitter.) That’s not to say anything is mandated or forced–just encouraged through modeling and usage.  So, a fair number of us use Twitter for building/maintaining parts of our PLN.

Yesterday an instructional coach started a Yammer group for our district. I can’t figure out whether that’s necessary or not–not whether it’s good or bad, but whether it’s necessary.  See, we already have SchoolNet established in our district. SchoolNet provides us a place to set up groups, have threaded conversations, follow people and be followed (they’re called colleagues) and  do much of what I think my limited exposure to Yammer  shows it can do. We’re literally one day before teachers return–and invitations are being sent out to folks to join Yammer–rather than encouraging folks to get involved more deeply in the many resources we already have on SchoolNet.

Here is a {SOMEWHAT EDITED} part of an email I sent to a buddy today talking this one through with some of my questions:

A question asked over Twitter the other day (from an Alan November talk Kevin Jarrett was sitting in, I think) was “What does a Lifelong Learner in the 21st century look like?”

Do our teachers know?

I think you do, because you see the power of Twitter—which is simply ONE tool for engaging us in conversations with educators and others ALL OVER THE WORLD.  You have spent time building a PLN that encompasses ppl outside of your tiny world of our school system.

And, what bothers me the absolute MOST about responses to my questions about Yammer? It wasn’t the defensiveness (or perceived defensiveness).  It was the response that this was SAFE—it was all about being in a situation with people you already know—one said-”I like this better because I know you guys.”  another:—”It’s NOT a closed system—anyone in K-12 can join and invite others”  (Unsaid—BUT ONLY FROM our school system. How is that NOT closed?)

Someone else then goes on to ask-”who knew you could use schoolnet this way?”  DID ANYONE START A CONVERSATION ASKING SOMETHING LIKE: Hey, guys, if we were to get teachers on a smaller scale using something like twitter, what tools are out there? How can we get out teachers involved in social networking on a smaller scale for those whom Twitter will overwhelm?

Once again, leaders have thrown something out there that could overwhelm. . . Yeah, I understand experimentation—but as coaches—as leaders in our division, who looked at the BIG picture here? And who is thinking about how to transfer ppl over to Schoolnet, now that you (collective “you”, NOT you personally) KNOW Schoolnet does this?

PLUS, Schoolnet allows me, as a teacher, to join (or lurk on) a conversation about the “Daily 5” with my local peers and when I hear something, I can go to Twitter to ask @Linda704 or @AngelaStockman, both of whom I know know a LOT about literacy, to join our conversation—or say to another Twitter buddy, “hey, we’re talking about those kind of resources here—can you join us?”  Then I can slowly introduce others to our teachers and SHOW them the power of a world wide PLN.

Yammer does not allow that-it IS closed . . .

I go back to my question—because I have taken it from Alan and made it mine—What does a lifelong learner look like in the 21st century?  I say she’s NOT looking for closed communities. I say she’s not looking for safety in her local peers.  I say she’s not looking ONLY to learn from local people.  I say he IS looking to connect and contribute, looking for learning and wanting to know how to do that safely on the WWW, and needing to feel honored and respected by more than a local community.  I believe our learners are looking to “connect, create, stay in touch and help each other.” (Groundswell, p. 49.)

What have you said about Twitter? It validates your thinking, it has helped you grow, etc.

Does Yammer do that?  Yes, on a small scale—but does it allow us as teacher leaders to paint pictures of global connectedness through modeling and bringing those others in?  No—but Schoolnet does.

Did anyone explore Edmodo?  It’s another microblogging tool that also could be used with kids—so we could be modeling as well as sharing a tool teachers could then use with kids.  Can Yammer be used for microblogging or grouping conversations with kids?  Can Schoolnet?

I don’t know the answer to either, but my guess is Yammer, NO–SchoolNet, possibly.

These are the kinds of things we, as teacher leaders, need to think through before we jump into something. . .

Am I advocating jumping ship on Yammer?  Absolutely not—it looks like it’s growing quickly, and that’s a good thing– but slowing down and having some conversations—honest conversations–about what we want and looking at purpose FIRST, not letting it emerge, may be necessary. Then guiding invitations on Yammer may (or may not) be helpful.

Thoughts?

For me, it’s not an either/or. . . or good/bad–it’s a matter of making life manageable and trying to minimize all the different ways it pulls us. . .and if we already have an avenue for teachers talking to one another, why are we encouraging the use of yet a different tool rather than involve them more deeply in the one we have and share the potential?  As the teacher above said, “Who knew SchoolNet could do that?”

And, the proponents of Yammer say that involving teachers FIRST in a private network may be the stepping stone some need to then try a larger network such as Twitter. That sounds logical, but is there any research to support that, or even anyone’s experience?

I can’t find any. Do any of you have any research OR personal stories that say that’s true?

The power of MY PLN is the diversity–the various viewpoints coming from all grades, all countries, all kinds of schools–it’s often the differences that make me think the most. .  not the like-minded folks using the same curriculum and same materials who are in situations similar to mine. . .

So,

YOU, my readers, see my confusion, my questions, my wonderings. . .

When we introduce/encourage the use of social networking to adults, in an organized, big way, what questions should we ask ourselves? Is “public or private” one of them?