Since my last post, I’ve been working on my thesis.
Read the full version here.
Or, for a quick overview, read the abstract here; or view the video summary below.
never stop learning
If I take on cognitive responsibility, I will work very closely with the content to be learned, and work hard to communicate that content effectively to my students. Unfortunately, I will engage deeply with the content, instead of my students. If I can give up some cognitive responsibility, but still retain control over short and long term goals in the classroom, (specific expectations that all students must achieve), I move a little more toward where I’d like to be as a teacher. If I facilitate learning environments where students can fully take on collective cognitive responsibility, they will take ownership of their learning, and genuinely see their roles as including helping others to learn. This is when group activities have the potential to flourish.
I think some students will naturally gravitate toward this, if given the opportunity. An example concerns my daughter’s reader’s theatre presentation about Easter chocolate which happened today. Her partner was not engaged in the project, and although she tried to give him ideas for participation he did not seem to want to make an effort. Undaunted, she practiced on her own, and planned actions to go along with the reading that she would perform. She took her stuffed animal that looks like a chocolate bunny to school, and gave it to him to “play with” during the reading. While she knew he was not interested in the reading, or in performing it dramatically, she wanted to involve him, and give him something that she thought he would enjoy, or “get”, and thereby be able to enter in. She was interacting with him in his ZPD.
“When students say they are totally lost, they are probably expressing the feeling of being outside their zone. When students sit back and obviously disengage, it means they have probably lost the link, the relationship of one idea to the other” (Boettcher, 2007). I have felt lost many times, during the readings for this course, and I have continually backed up to re-engage at the level of my understanding, and then moved forward again, each time with a deeper understanding.
I continue to see the ZPD at work in my private piano lessons. Students claim they cannot play a song when they have tried it at home on their own. Then, with me sitting beside them, they play it. Sometimes all I do is nod and say mmhmm throughout. Knowing I am there in case they get stuck, and knowing that I will redirect them if they go wrong is enough to get them through the piece, i.e. to get them to the next learning level.
Web 2.0 massively expands the concept of distributed cognition. The cognitive load is shared by people, worldwide, and by artifacts they have created, which can be accessed online. While learning basic skills is important, forcing learners to attempt to solve problems without the knowledge and resources contained in the people, artifacts, and tools around them, is artificial, and perhaps even a bit cruel. If I want to learn about something, I Google it, send a tweet, have conversations with my friends and family, and maybe even look in books. Learners who are only allowed to work in isolation, and to only use books, are being limited from accessing the multifaceted benefits of distributed cognition. Being aware of the distributed mind leads me to to advocate for things like “Bring Your Own Device” – Peel DSB Statement, March, 2012. Being convinced of the value of distributed cognition leads me to consider flexible age and interest classroom groupings, as well as formal and informal apprenticeships at all ages.
Learning is doing. When I was asked to help a group of four students practice subtraction strategies last week, we had one hour. We spent half an hour cutting out and decorating dollar bills, and creating a candy store with bins full of manipulatives. The other half hour was spent shopping, and taking turns buying and selling candy. When the candy store owners counted out the change they owed their customers, they were subtracting.
Before thinking deeply about learning in situ, I would not have thought to allow half of our time to prepare the environment for learning. Instead I would have thought it most important to get subtracting quickly, and to do as much of it as possible. Situated learning leads me to consider how, in my private piano lessons, I can use flipped classroom strategies to maximize student learning. Students will have more time to play the piano during lesson time if, outside of lesson time, they watch personal, interesting videos about music history, theory, and technique, created by me.
My definition includes: systems thinking, problem solving, collaborating, decision-making, social responsibility, sharing, thinking creatively, lifelong learning, and searching for, analyzing and evaluating information. This leads me to value gamification in the classroom, as well as online technology such as wikis, blogs, social networking sites, simulations, information aggregators, and search tools designed for educational endeavours. My goal is to create environments where learners can construct their own understanding of the world, in the context of their own experiences.
As a reviewer for the Ontario Educational Research Exchange, representing practitioners, I engaged in my first review this week. I read a research summary and had some initial thoughts. I wanted to post those thoughts in a forum, have twenty others read the same summary, and dialogue with them. Then, after about a week of hearing others’ ideas, asking them questions, and having some of my questions answered, I would be ready to submit my review. But this is not what happens, of course. I am on my own to read, analyze and then review. After I submitted my review, I wished for a review of my review. Can I get some timely feedback letting me know if my review was helpful? Did the researchers have any questions about my review comments? I may never know. It seems quite clear to me that if the review process was collaborative, instead of done in isolation, it would be more effective. Apparently each summary is reviewed by one practitioner in order to determine if it is practically useful to them as a teacher. It is also reviewed by one researcher. What about a conversation at least between those two reviewers? Maybe this would not work as a mandatory part of the process, but what about an optional part? I would definitely take that option!
My daughter came home from school and announced that a prize had been awarded to students who never asked questions. I called her teacher immediately. That supposed award criteria turned out not to be true, but I am still fuzzy on what happened to make her even consider that such a thing could be true.
I heard about some PD for Kindergarten teachers which advocated against having students raise their hands to answer questions, but instead, to allow students to speak whenever they have something to say. This gets more ideas out into the open for everyone to hear, instead of just one at a time.
Then I read this about teacher questioning: ”A typical exchange will start with the teacher asking a question, followed by a response from a student, and terminated by a remark by the teacher, often followed immediately by the initiation of a new exchange; e.g., ‘Right. And what did the British do then?’ With such a discourse structure, it should not be surprising that all the higher-level control of the discourse is exercised by the teacher. The students are cast into a perpetually reactive and receptive role” (Scardamalia, 2002, 4).
These three things have me thinking a lot about questions – questions that students ask, and questions that I ask students, and how learning is best facilitated through each.
In one of my online courses, a lot of my posts seem to be going unanswered. The first time it happened, I contacted the five members of my group privately and asked for feedback on my posts, to see if they might have any helpful insight. Two of them messaged back to tell me not to worry, and said they were sure my posts were fine. It has continued to happen fairly regularly in this course, and so I’ve tried altering my posts in different ways to try to illicit responses. This is strange, since I’ve never had to do this before. Usually I just contribute to the discussion and end up naturally becoming part of it.
Different strategies I’ve tried are: ending with an open-ended question, avoiding ending with an open-ended question, using interesting subject headings such as “Faker” and “Imaginary Children,” and writing posts that are caricatures of what I might normally write, upping the devil’s advocate ante, for example, or honing in on controversial points instead of more salient ones. In one way this feels unfortunate, since I much prefer to be myself in an online course. And everywhere online, for that matter. On the other hand, this is an intriguing learning experience for me – to consciously think about crafting my notes online in a specific way. It would be fascinating to know how I am perceived by my colleagues in that course, as opposed to others. How does my online identity change when I alter my writing style? Do others make a habit of writing notes which truly capture their personal thoughts and feelings? Or how many of them are creating online personas which do not accurately reflect who they really are?
Yes, I keep mentioning Alexandra in all of my posts. I can’t help it! I have to ask myself why at this point. Others in my courses are smart, well-read, well-travelled, wise and interesting like her.
Some of my classmates bring unique perspectives which provide huge learning opportunities for the rest of us, such as jobs in medicine, early childhood, special needs, and business. Some are experts at crafting posts in the forum which draw me to respond every single time.
Some ask great questions and some provide excellent summaries of what is happening in our discussions. But I do not mention all of these colleagues so frequently. I think it must be a combination of Alexandra’s ability to think deeply about specific issues, while at the same time seeing the big picture. She does this in an academic, thought-provoking way which simultaneously exudes an openness and honesty that is very personal.
And so, I feel it is a high honour to get to work with Alexandra on the final assignment for 1608. I warned her before she agreed to this partnership, letting her know that I didn’t understand a word of her final assignment in last semester’s course. But she didn’t seem to mind that. The fact that she liked the idea I proposed for the final paper is making me smile right now. I am looking forward to learning a massive amount through this collaboration, and contributing experiences and ideas which will help make the paper great.
I keep on hearing this word–intersection. Unfortunately, the first time, I had almost completely no understanding. Why could I not relate to the concept of ideas intersecting? Is it because I’m trying to make a connection with roads, and because I’m not a great driver, do not enjoy driving, and frequently get lost while driving, so the word has a negative connotation for me? I’m not sure, but I definitely was not ready for understanding when I read “Intersections: Social Presence and Impression Management in Online Learning Environment,” written by the super trio of Eveline, Heather-Lynne, and Alexandra. I do plan to go back and read this paper again, confident that I will have more understanding than the first time. The picture of T-PACK’s intersection was a key step in my grasping the concept, as well as an online video conversation with Alexandra when she said something about two ideas, put her two hands toward one another and meshed her fingers together and said, “That’s an intersection.” Do I attribute this to the fact that I am a visual learner, then? I don’t, really. To understand, I believe I needed a variety of experiences in social contexts — being in traffic at an intersection, being puzzled by the concept in a paper by my classmates, experiencing an example of it that I could relate to and instantly think of several concrete examples to explain, and then hearing the voice of someone I respect, show it to me. I get it!
I’m very glad someone mentioned T-PACK in passing in the “Change and Curriculum Implementation” course forum, and that I asked for more information. Often graphic representations are difficult for me to understand at first. I need to look at each element and think about it carefully, and then consider why each thing was drawn where. In 1608, when Alexandra challenged us to create a diagram to represent our understanding of a complex concept, I almost started to cry. I think I actually did cry when I looked at my colleagues’ responses. How did they come up with those?? But this T-PACK diagram, depicting the intersection of technological, pedagogical and content knowledge is simple, and it makes so much sense. This intersection is where I want to live.
I said to myself yesterday, “I am in a room with the some of the smartest people in Canada. I am eating cinammon hearts with some of the smartest people anywhere.” I do not take lightly the privileged, elite, intellectually stimulating experience of being able to study at UofT. It is luxurious to be around greatness, around these world-changers, and to have time to sit and listen to them, and read what they are reading, and stretch my brain to take in all that they are saying. I am in awe of how they communicate perfectly formed, deeply developed thoughts. They do not hesitate. It is not that they never ask questions, or pretend to know everything, but when they speak, they are confident and convincing. I have two friends with phd’s, my friend Rebecca, and my piano student/friend Barbra. They speak this way, too. I don’t know them in the context of academia, but whatever they say, you want to listen carefully, because it always seems to be something very important, even if it’s just about their favourite song, or what they did on their birthday. I am extremely thankful for brilliant people who focus, study, and write.
Howard Gardner is alive!
One of the most memorable things I learned at teacher’s college was Gardner’s MI Theory. No one mentioned this was a relatively new idea, so I assumed that theory had been around for a while, and that likely, Gardner’s work had outlasted him. I have just watched him refer to his theory of seven multiple intelligences here, and apparently it all came about in the 80′s. (Good times!) This prompts me to re-think my learning and document the top ten things I can remember as I worked toward my Bachelor of Education. These are ideas I distinctly remember teachers in my courses conveying, either because they repeated them, or delivered them with grave intensity, or because I found them hilarious. The list is honestly representative of my experience, because even though this was a while ago, I have a very good memory. I cannot explain the weirdness of some of these, except to say, it was an year during which I had a few instances of learning what not to do as an educator.
Did my teachers value constructivism?
No, in the sense that they delivered lectures on how to teach a specific subject area, describing multiple lessons and ideas which they had implemented in their own classrooms. No, in the sense that we had to copy the style of these teachers in creating our own lesson plans, and then hand them in. No, in the sense that much of our Language Arts course was spent becoming familiar with children’s books so that we would have some ideas of what to read to our students.
But yes, when they asked us to actually implement our lesson plans, record what happened, reflect, and revise. This was tough to do if your lesson was designed for five year olds, and you were trying it out on your fellow teacher candidates. But it was the way we forged a path toward being teachers – by doing it. Of course, our teaching practicums were full of this type of constructivist learning in all subject areas. But then I would have thought that our courses would have focused more on things like learning theory, politics in education, group dynamics in boards/staff teams, and philosophy of education, and not on how to make a great bulletin board.