thinking aloud

Starting Over

Posted on October 12, 2013. Filed under: leadership related, thinking aloud, Working together | Tags: |

What a great fall carnival!  I loved seeing so many families there.  A number of the families were made up of you: our teachers and our staff members.peace I think the whole preschool team might have been there with their children! So many volunteers and so many of the volunteers were young people, recent graduates of Vista La Mesa.  For me, the whole event matched perfectly with our recent Wednesday staff meeting.

wallAt our staff meeting It was exciting to listen to the VLMA stories.  I am sure there are better artifacts that I could have found for our discussion, maybe there are some that other folks can bring forth in the future.  Nevertheless, the artifacts that we examined led me to some interesting larger themes:

I noticed a recurring theme about community.  We talked of our links to the past and the present.  stoneOur connections to VLMA as a Cheetah Community, our ideas about VLMA as part of the larger picture of military families, our choice to create connection to the outside through perhaps a community garden and/or other forms of community service and connection.

covI heard us meander around a theme about raising children with social conscience, embracing the idea of social values as part of schooling, teaching children to be “peace builders” and “covenant signers” by way of pledges, promises, and practice.

cheetahA smaller theme that emerged was one of student-leadership, through the cheetah logo, through the summer seminars in leadership, through the idea of sharing a garden with the community beyond.

photo

Perhaps this is my own slant on the activity, I was thinking kindness, connection, and good humor were present in each artifact’s description.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.marley

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Relationships and Interaction

Posted on September 26, 2011. Filed under: thinking aloud |

Over the last decade, I have become increasingly convinced that relationships are the key to growth and learning.  Oh sure, I can pick up a book and learn something new.  Usually, however, it is when I feel an affinity toward the author that I learn the most.  In a course, the more student talk there is around the content (not just collegial talk around the cooler), the more I learn from the course.  Twitter has seemingly exploded my learning at times.

What does this correlation of relationships to learning mean for the classroom and for online learning?  How can an online course foster and build on the student need for interaction? How can we have the interaction without becoming overwhelmed with the reading of comments and replies?

So many questions.  Still waiting for answers.

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Course on Student Engagement

Posted on September 18, 2011. Filed under: thinking aloud |

I have been working on an online course on student engagement for the open-source learning site P2PU. The content of the course keeps exploding as I realize how far-reaching and ultimately all-encompassing the topic of engagement is to education.  This process has led to some interesting conversations in my head.

Who is responsible for student engagement? I find myself thinking about where engagement and teaching differ.  I mean, if we are not engaging students, can we even call it teaching?  I know many people believe that the responsibility for learning lands on the learner, but I still wonder at the role of the teacher and what a teacher can influence that would lead to better student engagement.  I am sure I think about this incessantly because I am in elementary education, where blaming the 5 year old for not taking responsibility for their learning, seems, well, ridiculous.

So, what is an educator’s responsibility in regards to engagement? And what, if anything, can we say is the learner’s responsibility? This is a bigger question that goes beyond my course and speaks to everything from the history of education to cultural norms about schooling. As an avid learner, I believe people can and should seek out what they want to learn and remain continuously active in the process.  I believe that is the most powerful form of learning. On the other hand, as an elementary educator and a person who is in this profession because she wants to serve those with less opportunity, how can I abandon my students to their own devices when they have not had the opportunity to develop those devices?  Is that what a teacher does?

Another consideration that haunts me as I work on this course is relationship.  Research grows regarding the importance of relationship in the learning environment.  This makes sense to me as I look back on teachers that had influence over me as well as my own experiences as a teacher.  I even remember poorly-skilled teachers who, because they built relationships, were able to move students along a strong trajectory of learning. Relationship is not the same as engagement, and yet it seems foundational to engagement and learning. It is as if a learner shuts down in an environment where they do not feel wanted, appreciated, and welcomed.  Shutting down would be the opposite of engagement, so relationship is essential to engagement. Wow, but there is not enough room in a 6 week course to fully explore relationship in the learning environment. Relationship is most definitely a rich and complicated topic of its own. So I find I will have to merely touch on it as an element to consider within engagement and move along. Frustrating.

I am also finding myself examining this idea of how instructional design leads to different sorts of engagement strategies.  I am in a district and school where direct instruction has become the norm.  For a standards-based environment, direct instruction is the most efficient way to help children learn.  In an educational world measured by standards-based testing it is a necessity. Engagement in a direct-instruction, standards-based environment is all about attention and participation. The teacher has chosen the learning path (through the standards) and therefore the job of the teacher is to move the students along a path by getting and keeping student attention through the participation of all students. In a different environment, like project-based instruction (I have had the opportunity to teach in other sorts of environments), the instructional design would be fluid and students would have more say in direction.  In this environment engagement becomes about developing student skills with planning, asking engaging sorts of questions, and self-monitoring. Participation takes a back seat to other engagement considerations. So when we discuss engagement in education, we are really matching apples to oranges if we do not consider the instructional design in our thinking.

Finally, what about this big idea of motivation?  Could we have more opposing opinions on a single topic? Classroom management, teacher training, sheer common sense tell us we need to use bells and whistles, rewards and consequences, lots of praise, and a treasure box filled with prizes to keep students on task and moving ahead.  On the other hand, behavioral research, psychologists, and others are begging teachers to stop and reconsider the importance of intrinsic motivation.  Furthermore, they are pointing at extrinsic bells and whistles as the teaching strategy that undermines intrinsic  motivation. What does a teacher do with that?  How do we move ahead in a classroom of 25-45 students without the treasure box?  Talk about the road less traveled.

So there it is, a line-up of questions raised by considering the phrase “student engagement.”  I have realized that in all my years of teaching I have learned the tip of the iceberg on engagement, and I look forward to learning much more as I work with participants in the P2PU course.

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What is our Purpose?

Posted on November 22, 2010. Filed under: thinking aloud |

We have not agreed.  We not only disagree about the who, how, and what of education, we also disagree about the why.  We argue a great deal from different mountaintops.

Right now the national focus is on education equity, a cause I can truly get behind as a person that believes in opportunity for all.  But the question becomes equity of what?  If we all take the same tests and study exactly the same material, what kind of equity do we get? Does every person want and need to get the same amount of math, science, geography and home economics? As I have explained to my parents at back to school night each year, equity is not about getting the same or even the same amount.  Boys, for instance, would not generally find it fair for me as the teacher to order pink pencils and pink notebooks for every student.  Most students that have learned their times tables would not find it fair to have to repeat them indefinitely just because others have not yet learned them. A student with incredible music or arts abilities does not find it fair that the daily focus should be on math or reading. Equity recognizes differences in wants, needs, and aspirations. Equity is about fair opportunity and fair funding; it is about social justice; it is not about everything being the same.

Is our purpose in US educational reform “equity-of-coverage?” And does equity-of-coverage thereby eliminate the guilt of the wealthy and middle class toward those of  the disadvantaged class? “Hey, we gave them all the information we have…now they need to go do something with it.” If information produces equity, I would suggest we all just go out read wikipedia and be done with schooling altogether.

Equity-of-coverage certainly does not provide for equitable futures.  Learning scads of material does not prepare anyone for a promising future in a world where top careers are in constant flux and employees to fill those careers will need flexibility, creativity, connections, and problem solving skills.  Future employees do not need the skills to find a single right answer from a set of choices, the top skill our equity-of-coverage schooling provides. Perhaps we do not want to mislead children into believing they have a chance at a thinking, creating sort of career?  Perhaps we want our children to grow into compliant factory workers, in which case perhaps equity-of-coverage is  a very effective schooling choice. But I wonder, will we really have the factories available to employ all these folks in a future certain to be fully automated?

Is it equity of democratic ideals that we pursue?  We want all children to have the chance to become literate, thinking members of society and active participants in democracy?  If that is the case, a very different educational system would be our focus than the track we are presently upon. This standards/testing track is not about equitable access to thinking, understanding, learning from the great thinkers, and independent reasoning. Very little of that can take place in a system articulated by a ladder thick with standards, each rung tested by a thin, bubble-in-format and accessible only at the age predetermined by the ladder makers. Furthermore, this ladder is easiest to climb if using a subscribed set of dull books that attempt to cover rather than illuminate, challenge, and inspire. How does such a system support democratic thinking and understanding?

Is our purpose perhaps about equity of funding? If so, we should look very closely at the costs of this test and textbook driven direction.  What if that same money were spent to attract top-thinkers into teaching (rather than into testing and textbook companies)? What if that money were spent decreasing class size so that every child could be listened to? Creating open, flexible learning spaces that encourage students in writing, arguing, thinking, creating, and developing reason? What if we could once again afford arts education, a conduit to some of the best in critical and creative thinking? Or technological connections allowing children to speak and discuss important issues with each other across towns, cities, and countries? Would that not be a better way to spend money? Does the huge cost of testing and textbooks help us to arrive more quickly at our preferred destination? To the place where we want to be? Or are there better options?  Could we decrease our testing costs, test a little less, decrease our textbooks costs, make them look more like reading/learning material and less like glossy advertising brochures? What would that mean for funding for other elements of education?

Perhaps we are not working toward equity at all.  Maybe our present schooling system is working toward global competitiveness on international tests?  The argument of being competitive with the world falls flat on this point.  The top countries that we are supposedly racing-to-the-top against do not adhere to the testing/textbook frenzy of the USA.  Finland? Japan?  Hong Kong?  They think our endless testing is out of control and bizarre.  They believe in quality teaching with ongoing formative (not bubble-in) assessment, esteem and admiration of the teaching profession, thoughtful slow changes to curriculum, reflective and ongoing professional development from teacher-to-teacher, and a focused thin curriculum. Go figure.  How utterly foreign. Depth not breadth…so difficult in a country that moves fast and buys everything.

As you can see, I am not inclined to think our educational system is going to lead to the our desired outcomes, unless…

Perhaps our purpose is really to hold children until they are adults.  If our goal is to produce equal holding tanks (so that parents may go to work unencumbered) with the illusion we are providing opportunity for their children.  Then I think perhaps we are achieving our purpose quite nicely. We require attendance.  We have hoops children must jump through each year, giving the illusion of growth toward a goal, and we have a full plate of required things to learn, keeping everyone busy each year. Teachers are trained in controlling a room, rather than inspiring a thought.  We schedule vacations at convenient times for parent work calendars. And we convince parents through archaic report cards that we are doing our jobs nicely–so they needn’t worry while at work.  Furthermore, no one needs to hear the opinions of teachers as they are merely the holders of the keys to the holding tanks. Why do we need their opinions to build better holding tanks? Better that we listen to people good at building tanks, like politicians and CEOs.  It makes sense that the purpose of schooling is best aligned at present to schools-as-holding-tanks for children.

If we can agree this is the purpose, it will be much easier to select effective reforms. Now, let’s get started!

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I Choose Test-based Education?

Posted on October 2, 2010. Filed under: thinking aloud |

Usually I balk at test data.  I probably fit well with what web20classroom describes in his blog:  http://is.gd/fGxxt . Yesterday my position on more holistic educational approaches was deeply challenged. I observed a data meeting between teachers at a nearby elementary school.  This is a school that has raised test scores significantly and now claims zero “Far Below Basic” and only a handful of “Below Basic” CST students (these are the lowest bands in the California testing system).  The school also has so many children qualified as “GATE” through double advanced status on the California test, that once wonders if such a GATE percentage is possible.  This school is not in a wealthy California suburb.  It is a school 90% Hispanic, 17% English learners, and more than half the students have high socio-economic need.  This school houses the Special Day Class (SDC-Special Ed) population for the district (and yes, SDC numbers are included in those test results).

For many educators that I follow, read, listen to, and admire, the very idea of a “data session” with teachers is anathema to a quality learning environment and to teacher professionalism.  They would say to me, “over reliance on testing is bad for American education,” and “teachers need to be thinking about the whole child.”  They would say increasing the test results of students is simply too-thin a margin for judging educational quality. They would tell me that because these teachers were focused on results from bubble-in tests, they were accidentally overlooking the more important responsibilities of education: the needs of the whole child, problem-based learning, the arts, and joy in learning  (and normally I would agree.)

Nevertheless, I sat in upon a meeting of dedicated, sincere educators who carefully analyzed what the test scores might mean for their students, which test items may or may not answer their questions about each student, and how they could adjust their teaching (and the test-itself) to help. Students weren’t numbers.These teachers used names. They talked of issues confronting Michael and Sarah and how those issues could be addressed.  They worried about every child and every group of children. They worked together tightly as a team supporting each other, rather than comparing. They made plans and timelines and committed to making changes right away. They sharpened what they were going to teach and how they were going to teach it.  It felt real.  It felt effective.  It felt empowering of teachers.  I felt proud to be a member of their profession.

As I crossed the campus, wondering whether I had been hoodwinked by the shiny gloss of test data, I heard a group of students giggling on the lawn and another group of students joking with a teacher in the hallway.  I knew they had just returned from the arts classes they receive while their teachers are heavily vested in data discussion.  All I could think is that my daughters would have chosen this school.  I probably would have chosen it as well. Those teachers truly care about children and work hard on behalf of every child. They remain positive and upbeat. They are a team.

Perhaps implementation is the real debate?

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Danger of Passion

Posted on May 20, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, leadership related, thinking aloud |

To converse with my husband, you must desire a straight shooter, a born and bred New Yorker who does not soften his honesty to suit the audience. Often, Joe is relied on by folks in his industry.  They ask him his opinion because they know they will get exactly what they asked for and no less. He speaks what he thinks and feels, and  you know he means it by the way his neck clenches and his eyes light up. My daughters rely on their father’s honest approach as well.  If they really want to know whether a dress, haircut, or set of shoes work, they ask Dad.  (If they need a softer, gentler approach that might be stuffed in diplomatic cotton, they ask me.)

You might be asking what does this have to do with passion? And what does this have to do with education? Here is what I am thinking:

When we feel passionately about what we are saying (and so by default what we are teaching), it comes across as a frank sort of honesty. It FEELS more believable, trustworthy, and real. Have you noticed when we begin to talk about “engaging” students inevitably emotion-laden words enter the conversation: belief, charged, excited, drama, and so on? Emotions connect and bind us together.  A passionate person is much more likely to speak with emotion and thus keep us interested and connected AND ENGAGED (though sometimes they might make us feel challenged and angry during our engagement).

Passion is also scarier. People who talk with (and teach with) emotion can sound like ideologues, over-attached to their own ideas, unable to see a new idea, and too fired up to listen to others.  The present political climate is filled with passionate people who do not seem to know what they are talking about, their evidence is often emotion-built, not facts. Over time, this approach can beat you down, make you tired of talking.

On the other end of things, academics rely on facts and evidence.  Not a bad thing, and it keeps them from falling into passionate ideology.  It tends to help them see and present the gray areas, understand the different points of view to an argument, and demand evidence. It is more diplomatic, and provides safer haven for easier dialogue. Nevertheless, academic talk is dry, and boring, and people do not trust that you mean what you say. Academ-eeze is not engaging. It lacks passion.

I believe in education we need to recognize the need for passion and emotion in what we do, but we cannot allow our passion to undermine the need for evidence and reason.  How can we build the skills to do both?

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10 Ways Edu-folk Know How to Mess Up a Good Thing

Posted on May 15, 2010. Filed under: assessment, classroom related, leadership related, testing, thinking aloud |

If it is good then…

…we should do it more often. Ice cream is good, folks.  That does not mean I (in particular)  should be doing it more often.  There is an educational quality to something that is NOVEL.  Novelty sparks interest, curiosity, motivation.  Not all good things need to be done in large amounts and some good things are absolutely ruined by being done in large amounts.

…we should do it in more depth.  Some things are meant to be short and simple. I once knew a teacher who had 29 rules for behavior that she interspersed throughout her walls, curriculum, and speeches.  I have no idea how she had time to teach.  Some things are best done in limited ways and do not require more.

…we should require everyone to do it. Honestly, no one needs to see me in the latest fashion inspired by Lady Gaga.  Not all good things are a good fit everywhere and on everyone. First graders do not have the developmental milestones that allow them to do what fifth graders do.  Students in the city may not connect as well with literature that draws in the rural crowd. We are a diverse people and I would hope educators embrace and promote that.

…we should require fidelity in implementation. Ok.  Implementation is the stumbling block of every educational reform.  We all know about the “teachers close their doors and do their thing” stumbling block.  Does anyone really believe requiring fidelity to any implementation fixes teacher autonomy?  Fidelity wreaks of blind loyalty.  I want my teachers understanding and believing in what they are doing. Without teacher belief, fidelity to implementation is meaningless.  Students can FEEL the disbelief; can’t everyone?

…we should market it. Seems like we want to reduce things to something we can do/say in a 30 second commercial spot.  Everything needs a catchy name, that name must be trademarked so no one else can use it, and then an entire consulting firm needs to grow out of it.

…we should give it an acronym. It is as if education were the precursor to Twitter; everything is renamed with an Acronym.  We are even starting to develop Acronyms with heightened spelling issues (RtI??). I once had to take a quiz on acronyms during a professional development (PD).  Here are a few: SDAIE, IDEA, RSP, SDC, DI, PBL, PLC, POI, ELD, CELDT, GATE, SPT, LDS, etc.  I begin to think: WTF?

…If it is good, it will need to be tested with a standardized test. Student integrity is unlikely to be testable in a Multiple Choice format. Student writing is best assessed when read. Persistence of effort may be assessable, but not through bubbles. I could go on and on.  Do these things matter to us?

…we should quickly spread the innovation. Spreading means diluting, and that is usually what happens to quickly growing enterprises in education.  How about we let them percolate and grow, instead of multiply and spread? The reform pendulum has done so much more damage than good.  Patience is a virtue and we in education need to embrace that a bit more.  I understand that the Japanese developed lesson study over DECADES.  They do not switch curriculums every seven years, they wait TEN years and then they only switch out parts. Why can’t we do that?

…we should convince the politicians. How about we stop engaging the political machinations, and start working with each other to make change?  When we use politicians and political movements to make change it seems to me to reduce what we do to cliche.  Can’t we trust ourselves and have the important conversations on a local level where it counts? Are we too afraid to talk about what needs to be done with each other?  Our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and students?  Our local universities, our teachers, our parents, all talking about what we need to do to make education count? This is likely to be more real, more powerful, and more persuasive than any platform from elected folk.

…we should not change it. Sometimes good things have to move over for great things to get started.

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Right Brain vs. Left?

Posted on May 1, 2010. Filed under: art and creativity, classroom related, right-brained, thinking aloud |

Is it just me?  Or do folks in education tend to espouse extremes on edu-issues? I am thinking whole language versus phonics, arithmetic versus “new math,” and now standards&testing versus whole-child&inquiry. Once the end of these false continuums have been selected, they get bifurcated into our two political parties: Republican and Democratic (does that happen in other countries, too). Lest you think I am exaggerating, try this completely unscientific test for which side of these education ideas are Republican versus Democrat. Select below which party you think is best identified with the following edu-practices/issues:

  • Phonics?
  • Whole Language?
  • Math Concepts?
  • Arithmetic?
  • Grammar?
  • Creative Writing?
  • Whole Child?
  • Content Standards?

I am guessing, perhaps incorrectly, that folks placed Phonics, Arithmetic, Grammar, and Content Standards in the Republican camp and Whole Language, Math Concepts, Creative Writing, and Whole Child in the Democratic Camp.  Although today, given the ed-policies of our current federal government, perhaps people found the division less distinct, more muddy than they would have 4 years ago.

In any case, it is the “either” “or” of splitting these ideas that drives me a bit bonkers.  I call these false continuums: whole language vs. phonics; math concepts vs. math procedures; grammar vs. expression; and so on.  I am unclear why I am advised to pick one or the other as if these edu-topics are sides in an issue or ends of a continuum, when I know they are parts to a whole, an integrated universe in the classroom. I would never want to participate in a writing class that spends every moment identifying parts-of-speech and where to put commas.  Nor would I want to participate in a writing class that ignored the role of grammar in my ability to express myself. Is higher math accessible to children who learn only concepts or who learn only calculation?

I bring this up because right now the bifurcation appears to be testing vs. learning.  Really?

  • Does testing mean we do not bother learning anything but what is on the test?  Everything important will be on the page?
  • Learning?  Really?  Students cannot really do any deeper learning if testing is included? Testing somehow removes our ability to teach creative and critical thinking?

Frankly, I do not see these as polar, and I become worn on the debate.  I guess they need to appear polar to make the discussion clear?  Is that it? Maybe I am just too obtuse to see why these are sides.

It reminds me of a decade back when I was really “into” right brain versus left brain reading materials.  Being an art major turned math methods instructor, I was probably trying to figure myself out.  I finally ran into some brain reading that stated that the splitting of these two brain regions into “artistic/creative” versus “linear/traditional” were very incorrect ways to perceive the two roles of the brain hemispheres.  The left brain is better equipped to deal with logic, sequence, and calculating, and the right brain is better equipped for spatial awareness, music, and facial recognition.  But the point is, these two hemispheres work together to allow us to create, express, learn, and so on. They do not, and really cannot, work alone, not even in the minds of creative people.

I suppose critical and creative thinking in the classroom can happen without tests, so I am choosing an inadequate comparison here.

I am also reminded of the qualitative versus quantitative research in my doctoral classes. Both forms of research together, constructed over time and in various sites and studies, were much more convincing and powerful to me than either form of research alone. Of course, scientifically-based has somehow come to mean quantitative, so I am back to the same conundrum.

Why do we polarize? Maybe that is my real question?

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Content ?Versus? Pedagogy

Posted on April 25, 2010. Filed under: classroom related, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, thinking aloud | Tags: , , |

I am struggling with  a teacher’s need to know the content.  Does it get in the way of good teaching?  Does it help make teaching better?  Seems an obvious” yes,” content knowledge is important.  On the other hand, when we begin to deal with issues of inquiry and constructivism, should teacher content knowledge matter?  I was having a recent twit-talk with a couple of ed regulars: tomwhitby and jerridkruse, and they (or one of them) had proposed that teachers should be experts in learning, not content.  They should learn beside the kids.  Here a few thought-provoking tweets from them:

tomwhitby Wouldn’t it be reasoned if we thoroughly understand learning and teaching methods,we could aquire content as needed?

jerridkruse sometimes when I’m unsure of content my teaching more authentically models real learning cause kids & i in it together

And I was going to answer the following: Pedagogy, content, and learning are tied together, as each progresses, so go the others.

Then I deleted my comment and decided to examine whether I really mean that. Here is where my thoughts took me:

Pedagogical Content Knowledge or Content Pedagogical Knowledge (depending on how you want to prioritize) is a solid concept being examined by leading researchers.*1 and *2 My own dissertation process was tied to this idea of content and pedagogy being linked into a new type of teacher knowledge, PCK.  It is a type of knowledge that develops as a teacher develops.  It allows a good math teacher to recognize misconceptions as students fall into them; it allows a social studies teacher to know the perfect graphic organizer that will lead students to a deeper understanding of a particular historical perspective;  it helps a science teacher to hone student questions to a place where they have the materials and tools to pursue true answers. PCK says content knowledge does matter for pedagogy to be at its best, and PCK says that pedagogy does matter for content to be at its best.

I have seen this PCK in action when I see a teacher versed in history, extremely well read, but not versed in pedagogy–the result being a lecture that seldom engages the students.  Or the teacher versed in pedagogy who loves to do cooperative grouping, organizes her students beautifully, brings out the math manipulatives, but has no idea how to engage the students in productive math talk because her content knowledge is weak and she does not know where to begin or the right questions that might provoke student inquiry.

Ironically, concurrent with the twit-talk, one of my listservs on math was having a similar discussion about whether the text or the teacher should be in control of the math content provoking Michael Goldenberg to write a blog here and say:

“And that’s why ultimately it must be the combination of the PCK of the author [textbook author] tempered by that of the teacher that rules.”

And so I am back, in a way, to my original idea that “Yes, content knowledge matters.”  But I still get what jerridkruse and tomwhitby are saying about how learning about learning is the key to inquiry. Where teachers fail in inquiry is often at the point where we choose not to re-learn what we think we know–right beside the students.  I also believe we cannot use inquiry to have students entirely relearn all knowledge that exists in each discipline.  I know students do not need to know everything in a given discipline, but must not a core be solidified for students to make discoveries that move ahead of the discoveries that have already been made?  It is a delicate balance, the inquiry versus knowledge-giving role of educators.  It is why I think good teaching is much, much harder than most people (many teachers included) believe.

🙂 Bonita DeAmicis

** thinking here of Deborah Ball http://www-personal.umich.edu/~dball/ and Shulman http://www.intime.uni.edu/model/teacher/teac2summary.html

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What if…

Posted on January 1, 2010. Filed under: interesting reading, leadership related, technology, thinking aloud | Tags: , , , , , |

What if I could recreate schools the way I want them to be?  Places where children experience the excitement and energy of working on that which most interests them for as long as their hearts desire. Places where curriculum, schedules, and resources bend to the whim of the learner, and not the other way around. Places where teachers learn beside students. Places where students read, write, and do math because the value of all of it is so obvious it takes no persuasion. Those are the kinds of schools I would like to see. Technology would be part of the rich underbelly of resources that make such an environment possible, not the driving force, just the enabling partner. Why not do this?

Whenever I have tried to pursue such aims in a traditional school, it has been a mishmash of half tries, and a crashing of opposing ideas.  The bells, whistles, tests, and grades of the educational establishment proceeded around and over my students as if they were standing still in their tracks.  Parents panicked at the possibility that  their child’s test scores would be harmed.  Other teachers panicked that students would come to them “unprepared” for the rigor of the next grade level. Our experiments in exploration were inevitably sidetracked by the realities of traditional school demands.  Trying to unpack constructivist practices in traditional school environments is like trying to fit an octopus into blue jeans.  Sure you can stuff its eight tentacles into the two pant legs using various implements and force, but the ocotopus’s fluid movements would be constricted beyond recognition; and why would you want to do this anyway?

Today I read a paper from Gary Stager that described exactly how I want schools to be.  I was surprised to learn that he had been lucky enough to have worked with Seymour Papert,  and yet not surprised at the results they saw through their Constructivist Learning Laboratory (CLL).  Using all the methods I describe in the first paragraph, they seemingly transformed learning for children in juvenile detention centers.  If disenfranchised children experience such dramatic changes of engagement in a constructivist environment, then I imagine all children would love having that same opportunity.  Of course, to give all children that opportunity would mean asking educational stake-holders to turn a blinds-eye to almost all the instructional practices that are presently held in high esteem.  Such an environment does not occur in the rampant bell-test-grade-rank-standards world of schools today.  Teachers wouldn’t even know how to begin to work under such free wheeling conditions as the CLL.  Where have they been trained for this sort of freedom?

We need to create some CLL experiences for teachers, full inquiry that allows teachers to experience the engagement that occurs when you have rich resources at your feet and pressing questions in your mind. To transform practice you need to first give practitioners a vision and a feeling for the real thing. They need to be learners in such a constructivist environment, or they will be doomed to fail at constructivism. They cannot be blind to where they are leading.

Unfortunately, little of professional development has truly moved teachers in this direction. Even my beloved PLCs are only a mere shadow of what true constructivist professional development should look like.

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