I’ve been thinking a lot (again) about where we’re at with all of this from a student perspective and wondering (again) why it is that there aren’t more examples of kids using blogs (in particular) to make their thinking and learning transparent. I mean there is no doubt that more and more teachers are using the tools with their students, and that there is some residual learning that happens by that mere fact. But I’m hearkening back (once again) to something Tom March said in that interview at NECC about “where are the real best practices with kids using these tools?”
What got me started on this, actually, was the work that Jeff’s kids were posting to YouTube. Now before I go any further, I’m in no way demeaning that effort; I think it’s a great start down the road. But there has to be more here. At some point, I’m hoping Jeff will scaffold up from “the same-old-report in a different format that has a big audience” work to more “critical analysis of the content that we’re producing to test our ideas” work. I mean that, at it’s core, is what is powerful about these technologies. They allow us to take risks with our ideas, to test them in authentic ways with real audiences, and learn from the process. (In many ways, this post is a risk.) Why shouldn’t we be asking students to do the same?
Take the IBM video for example. What if next, that student does a second video (or writes a blog post) that deconstructs the marketing efforts of the company, shows how the brand is manufactured and sold in China, and includes personal responses to the advertising? Something that involves risking his ideas or interpretation with the payoff that the viewer (or reader ) will learn something absolutely unique, something that can’t be found at Wikipedia, and may, if done in a provocative enough way, motivate that viewer to respond. Something that genuinely teaches something new.
Now I know there are those who will suggest that for this scenario to truly play out, we need to open up student work to audiences in ways that we may not be comfortable with. But I look at the links to student work that Clarence posted today, think about how that content is “exposed” to open commentors (though I will guess they are moderated), and wonder how much more his kids are understanding the potential because of it. I mean, there is some nascent blogging (the verb) actually happening in those posts. It’s closer…
The shift with doing something like this is more than just safety, however. The real shift is with the stance of the teacher. This idea forces us to move away from delivering content as we have for 100+ years and instead move toward assisting students to discover content on their own. What are the ideas, concepts and examples that can be woven together to create meaning in the context of our class goals and outcomes? What personal learning can be made transparent that informs a larger discussion of the curriculum? It’s not our (the teacher) answer that is important.
We learn when we take risks. We learn when we fail. That’s one of the most difficult lessons I’m trying to help my own kids learn. It’s fourth grade, and for Tess, now the onslaught of grades really begins. Everything is a 97 or a 84 or (god forbid) a 75. Nowhere on those sheets is even an implied message that says “Congratulations! You got stuff wrong! What an opportunity to LEARN!” And so my daughter continues and will continue to look to the teacher in the room to deliver to her what’s important instead being compelled to discover, through managed risk-taking and safe failure, what learning may await her.
This is difficult work. Just ask Konrad and Barbara (and others,) both of whom continue to inspire me with the depth of their reflections about their practice and how disruptive these shifts are in their own work. But at some point, we have to get to it in ways that push our students farther down the same road we in this community are traveling. At some point, we have to see it more manifest in front of us.
technorati tags:teaching, learning, education, blogging, weblogg-ed, shifthappens
Clarence Fisher says
Actually, the comments on my kids blogs aren’t moderated…. Remembering that my kids are 13 and 14 years old and that they have been blogging for approximately 3 weeks, I have been impressed by some of their work. They are beginning to understand how blogging is different from other types of writing they have completed in other classrooms in the past. The ability to build in images, to include links for readers to delve more deeply into the information, and the beginnings of community that I am seeing emerge are valuable signs for me at this point in the school year. I’ve been thinking of these same questions as the school year has begun. We have the tools. We have the basic experience using them. How do we change our classrooms to use them to their full ability? How do we spend our time in our classrooms?
Chris Craft says
I too have fallen victim to the trap of “same old report with a new medium with a larger audience” frankly because I have not been able to come up with a new way to incorporate “critical analysis of the content that weâ€™re producing to test our ideas” in dealing with sixth graders who are 11 years old. Now I admit this is my own shortcoming, and we have only been blogging since the beginning of this year, and I get an entire new crop of students in the middle of October. So, considering I have 9 weeks classes, requiring me to teach the technology as much as my content area (Spanish or Latin), it’s been tough to fit it all in. I am absolutely open to ideas, and am dedicated to making this work!
Thanks for the help!
http://www.christophercraft.com (click on kids blog site)
Jeff Utecht says
Thanks Will for pushing my thinking. I’ve been thinking about this a little and here is where the shift comes in. We do not teach students to learn, we teach them content. I wish I could spend that much time developing the stories, interacting with the world here in China in which these students live. But the issue is content. I have to get through x amount by 1st quarter, by 2nd quarter, etc. Our school systems are not built around learning, instead they are built around content and assessing the learning that takes place within that content or context. What you are talking about, as I see it, is switching this to where we build schools around learning and then report the content that was covered. Does that makes sense? We’re still in the 100+ year model of we have to teach students content instead of teaching students how to create, contribute, and learn. How do you make that change? How do you ‘sell’ this to principals and parents when they walk in and ask, so what have you covered? Instead of asking, what did my student create, contribute and learn?
Bud Hunt says
There’s at least one podcast brewing here, if not more. Your post is one of several that sticks in my head right now as I think about where I want to go as a teacher.
Brian Crosby says
I agree with Jeff – we are set up around covering A LOT of content, so it is near impossible to cover much or any in-depth. Another way to think of it is that we are not set up around doing “messy” learning – where kids have a chance to tinker and make mistakes, analyze what worked and what didn’t, re-plan, try again and then not only put out a final polished product, but an analysis or story of how we got TO the final product. If you buck the system and take a chance of being reprimanded for not following policy … if you even have the guts to do that, you can only do it once or twice per year for short intervals.
Learning Is Messy!
First, Will, Jeff Clarence et all, thank you for keeping the conversation going. Everyday when I get to my bloglines account there are multiple contributions from all of you…I do not know how you have time to think so deeply and be so prolific.
As for Will’s post..it is messy and we are confined by content issues but we are also constrained by our students who are also used to the status quo. The biggest discussion among our faculty right now is how do we move the students from being passive recievers to active , responsible learners. They are more comfortable if they are spoon fed the information and can spit it back out for a test. Today at the faculty meeting the primary teachers shared about training their students for something called “universal access” time. It requires the teachers to work with small groups while the rest of the class works truely independently. They describe it as telling the kids the teacher is invisible during this time. It is a start but the next question is what activites are they engaged in..more drill and practice…or inquiry?
All of this raises a condrum about what base knowledge (or skill) is necessary and where exploration begins.
I don’t know how we make that change, but I know it’s not going to happen (or at least not easily) in our public schools with the current obsession with NCLB and standardized tests. I work in a great school district that has some amazing resources and faculty with wonderful ideas but nonetheless the schools have been designated as ‘needing improvement’ 🙁 With the focus on improving test scores I see few faculty being prepared to go out on a limb and make radical changes in what they do. One or two, yes, but not the majority when we’re being told to buckle down and focus on the tests.
Thought provoking and excellent discussion:
Jeff says â€¦.â€™ We do not teach students to learn, we teach them content.â€™ â€¦.â€™ Our school systems are not built around learning, instead they are built around content and assessing the learning that takes place within that content or context.â€™
Barbara says â€¦â€¦â€™ how do we move the students from being passive receivers to active , responsible learners. They are more comfortable if they are spoon fed the information and can spit it back out for a test.â€™
We are grappling with some of these issues in my school here in the UK.
How often have we heard ..â€™If our results are good why should we change our methodologies?â€™ We all feel safer/happier in our comfort zone and this applies to students as well as teachers.
Do we avoid taking risks because of fear of failure or fear of failing our students? Does studentsâ€™ clamour for information on tap (the teacher) and demand for the â€˜rightâ€™ answers reflect their fear of failure if challenged and encouraged to learn independently.
Kathy Sierraâ€™s recent post â€˜why donâ€™t they upgradeâ€™ can be readily applied to schools, teachers and learners. May be we should also note her post from some time ago where she commented on the over-emphasis on â€˜areas of improvementâ€™ rather than focusing on â€˜areas where you are (or can be) fâ€™n amazingâ€™.