Oh, MY! Brilliant Thoughts–by others. . .

Recently, I opened Twitter to see Wesley Fryer, Clay Burell and Ryan Bretag talking about using web2.0 tools in a web 1.0 way. I tweeted them the link to my blog about Collaboration or Parallel Play and that began an interesting spate of responses, both on the blog and on twitter. Clay’s tweets always intrigue me, and his response to my blog was no different. Both Ryan’s response about how we set up collaboration in our classrooms and Angela Stockman’s thinking about our student’s engagement in the tasks we bring to the table have had me thinking pretty much all day. Then, Will Richardson shared his blog, where he quotes Ira Socol (whom I happen to think is one of THE most brilliant thinkers I know!) I’m currently reading “Schooling By Design” in preparation for Edustat and being the official tweeter during Jay McTighe‘s keynote.

So here goes my mashup of their thinking and mine. . .

One of the things that so engages me with my PLN is that I have connected with people who are interested in some of the same things I am.  I have connected with people who make me think and I have connected with significant others who may NOT have common interests, but who are passionate–and I have CHOSEN these people to be part of my PLN by following them on Twitter.  Some have chosen to follow me back, some haven’t, but that doesn’t matter to me.  I can still engage with the tweets, blogs and thinking though the conversations I have over Twitter.

The important piece here is that I have connected through MY interests, through MY passions, and through MY need to learn/engage/think/share/collaborate. When we set up collaborative ventures for kids, do they get to choose topics/activities of their interest, their passions, their need to learn/engage/think/share/collaborate?  I think not.

Ira says, “Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.

WOW! How many of us ever think of school–or our classes as a path to something else? We have our grade level curriculum we have to “cover” and we have those end of year tests on which our students have to be proficient. In our PLCs, (just as the DuFours tell us to) we look at how kids do on the most recent assessment and we remediate those who need it so they can indeed pass the make up test. PLC work (as cited on the Solution Tree site) is all about “collaborative teamwork and interdependence among teachers and administrators is a great way to continuously improve your school or district.” It’s about the adults and their learning/teamwork/interdependence.  What do the kids learn?  Well, they usually, in this case, learn “school.”

We DO teach kids to “play school.”  WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD do you EVER raise your hand to talk? Can we not teach kids conversational turn taking?  WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD do you EVER walk in a straight line silently?  Can we not teach kids they need to be respectful in the hall without a straight line?  WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD does everyone in a group get punished (everyone put your heads down on your desk/recess is shorter today because we wasted 5 minutes getting quiet in the hall) because of the behavior of a few?  WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD do you need permission to eat, get a drink of water or go to the bathroom?

Ryan brings up how we often put pedagogy aside  when we bring a new tech tool into the classroom-we are so consumed with integrating the new tool that we don’t use what we know about cooperation and collaboration. Angela speaks to how she’s been thinking about passion and interest and how that engages students in learning. Will cites Ira’s statement “Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.” Jay McTighe (and the other authors in Schooling by Design) talk about basing school experiences around enduring intellectual accomplishments, and teaching so that children SEE the connections between what they are doing and important work. EVERYONE knows we need to infuse and use technology in our classrooms, but do we do it thoughtfully, or do we grab onto those new websites/gadgets/tools and bring them in so that students use them, but don’t necessarily learn in deep and meaningful ways? When I was talking with Becky Fisher about what I was reading in Schooling By Design, her comment back to me was something like, “For me, it’s not about the curriculum.  It’s what teachers DO with the curriculum and how they approach it.”

How do we make our classrooms, our learning environments, our learning activities utilize the tools kids have at their hands today in ways that allow them to pursue THEIR passions, THEIR interests, THEIR needs, yet learn the state mandated curriculum at the same time? How do we use the pedagogy we know to leverage the tools of today for deep learning?  How do we make our learning activities more than just an activity? And how do we incite passion in our students, even in the face of that mandated curriculum?

I think we begin by looking at OUR work as the path. . . NOT to the end of year tests, but to supporting students being lifelong learners, learning habits of mind and dispositions that allow them to access information, apply that knowledge in real and meaningful ways, study some more and transfer that knowledge to a situation that is novel and that gives them a chance to use their skills and knowledge to create, to synthesize, to make a difference. That means making our work with students more open, more collaborative and connected, and, as Angela said, involving the students in work that incites their passions and interests.

Brilliant thoughts by lots of others. . . helping me along a path to more learning and deeper understanding. Let’s do that for our kids as well by allowing and supporting THEM to connect, collaborate and create, just as we do.

7 thoughts on “Oh, MY! Brilliant Thoughts–by others. . .

  1. Great mashup of different ideas.

    Makes me think about my graduate class called “Systematic Instructional Design”. We had to create what was called “Systematic Instruction” – in other words a scripted, flowcharted, completely planned-out lesson that took into account not only every scenario, but also was designed so that every learner got the same knowledge from each step in the process. This was part of my Instructional Technology program, believe it or not… designing instruction with the idea that any Joe off the street could teach it to anyone else.

    There was no taking into account the learner’s interests or passions. We didn’t need to know what knowledge they possessed before our instruction – because what we needed to design was self-contained (dumbed down for anyone). And the whole course really disengaged the teachers and students from any meaningful conversation, as all of the content was in written form. It was a horrible project (although I got an A) because it was so unrealistic in today’s society. But unfortunately colleges are still teaching this sort of course as a part of Educational Tech.

    That said, remember that technology is simply a tool – something designed to change the way humans interact with the world or one another. Tools are versatile – they can be used to support state- or federal-required programs just as easily as they can be used to teach rocket science to NASA engineers. There is plenty of space in class to allow the students to work on something they enjoy yet still be meeting a state requirement – have them use similes to compare/contrast one of their interests to a topic that you’re studying, for example. I’m always surprised how far they carry their similes (usually well beyond where I would stop recognizing similarities or differences).

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  3. What a great post for me to read on a Monday morning!

    I think a big piece of this puzzle has to do with leadership, of course. What do our boards, central offices, and principals want learning experiences to look like throughout the day, semester, years? Are those leaders a truly integral part of the instructional flow, or are they building and human resource managers? Do they have high expectations for all staff (including themselves) as well as students?

    As a concrete step, I think it’s time these “higher-order” conversations, back channel reflections, etc. are what becomes the norm in schools. I think tech coordinator types like me, need to add to our professional development efforts, some simple “reflection consultations” in addition to our “Come learn about blogs” workshops. I don’t see anything wrong with those, but they serve a more mechanical purpose – which is fine at times. However, I think a bigger part of our prof. dev. efforts needs to some simple sit-down times with individual teachers where we ask some of those “tell me about the students in your room” and “what does the typical flow look like” or “who do you sense isn’t as engaged as you’d like.” Then, as a team, what can we do about it…? Some of the best learning experiences I’ve seen (or A-HAs) have been where a teacher has said to me “Well, I don’t really care about blogs, those are silly, but I’d love something in which students could journal and they could all support and read each others’ work in an ongoing way! 😉

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  5. Hi Paula,

    At the heart of your post are the contradictions between learning and schooling. I wrote about this recently—http://www.ericmacknight.com/wordpress/?p=141—with regard to writing instruction. Whereas real writers collaborate with editors, in school students are expected to produce work that is ENTIRELY THEIR OWN so that teachers can grade them. But this is only one point at which these two contradictory forces—learning and schooling—collide. Schooling’s main purpose is to produce compliant, homogenous workers and citizens. Learning, on the other hand, has to do with our individual needs and desires for understanding, enlightenment, and personal growth. Like oil and water, yet we keep trying to make them work together.

  6. Thanks for your post, Paula. I think another consequence of only learning “school” is that students may not learn how to learn. If you only learn “school” and learn it well, your expectation is to always be led by the hand “step by step” into all new knowledge and skills. Todays reality is that technology changes so rapidly that we, as educators, do not have that luxury. Nor will most of our students in their future endeavors. Angela Myers recently mentioned that we must “model learning” to our students. In order to do that, we have to know how to learn ourselves. We are at a point where teachers and administrators must become life-long learners and self-educators. A group of educators with this mind-set can begin to lay out a plan encompassing your vision.

  7. Thanks Paula! I follow you on Twitter and appreciate all you share. I love the passionate way that you describe how kids should be using tools to pursue their interests, passions and strengths through the tools available to them. I think that as you and your many contributors point out, there are many creative ways to incorporate kids interests into the subjects/standards we are mandated to teach. You are right.. our work in education is the path. Thanks for getting me thinking.

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