A couple of vignettes from the road last week that I wanted to capture briefly. Both have had me thinking over this very enjoyable holiday weekend.
I often show FanFiction.net in my presentations as an example of passionate participation. I happen to know a couple of kids (here’s one) who do fanfic on a fairly regular basis, and every now and then I check in and dig around for some good stuff to read. It’s usually not too hard to find. Anyway, Tucker has been checking out the Percy Jackson stories fairly regularly since after the fifth time through the series, I think the books are finally starting to lose their luster. Some of the Fanfic stories he likes more than others, but the cool thing is that he’s been thinking of trying his hand at writing something himself. But at almost 11, he’s still a little nervous about putting something up there for everyone to see, regardless of his own anonymity in the process.
Last week when I told this story, a tech director raised her hand and said “You know, I think it’s interesting that your son is nervous about sharing his writing. Does he ever get nervous about his writing for school?” I thought for a second and said “Um, no…you know you’re right. He hardly thinks twice about that stuff.” She said “I’m guessing he’d be more motivated to work on his Percy Jackson story to make it good than he is his homework.” And ever since I’ve been wondering why we can’t instill a healthy nervousness every now and then into our writing process, now that we have these ready made audiences (or at least easily found audiences). All it would take is a willingness on our parts to let kids write about the things they truly love from time to time and connect that to an audience larger than the classroom. Shouldn’t be too hard these days…
The other story is less hopeful. At a collection of school leaders and IT people, one of the participants told the group that his school had bought a number of iPads for teachers and that they had scheduled a chunk of training on how to use them. Unfortunately for him, I had just read an exchange on Twitter where Gary Stager had made the point that I quickly made to the group: “You know, something like 1.3 million people have bought an iPad and I doubt any of them have gotten any “training” on how to use it.” The people in the room half chuckled, but one woman said “Our teachers won’t do anything with technology unless we give them training.”
We’ve done the same thing to our teachers that we’re doing to our kids, namely conditioned them to wait for direction on what to learn, how to learn it, and how to show they’ve learned it.
It’s called learned helplessness and is insidious and pervasive although not all teachers succumb to it. Is it unique to the teaching profession – does the nature of the required job skills suck the energy, enthusiasm and confidence right out of our classroom teachers?
Instead, it’s time to highlight the resourceful teachers who take the initiative to create their own PD and apply what they’ve learned in their classrooms. I follow many of them as part of my PLN and would love to give them a national audience.
Sean Musselman says
Social networking tools like Twitter and nings have become a critical tool for bringing the “resourceful teachers” Karen indicated together to “create their own PD.” If learned helplessness is a behavior that has been trained over generations, is it unreasonable to believe more active learning and development can be instilled instead? Karen is on point identifying the need to give them a larger audience, the larger question remains how.
Folks engaged in active learning and PD are connecting with one another everyday… how do we extend this to our colleagues who are less inclined or simply unexposed to this form of PD?
Will Richardson says
I think it’s the nature of our expectations for the students that sucks the energy out or classroom teachers. One-size-fits-all doesn’t leave a lot of room for self-direction from either the teacher or the student.
Which is why Lisa Parisi’s blog post from today is to timely. http://bit.ly/bHxITF
It highlights universal design from a classroom teacher’s perspective and recommends strategies well beyond the one size fits all approach. This sounds like active teaching and learning to me.
Heather Mason says
I disagree that the comment is a sign of learned helplessness. Instead it is a rather sad commentary on how that paticular person views teachers…that without her expertise, teachers are helpless. Teachers who want to use tech use it when it is available. Teachers who are looking for new ways to do things, watch the teachers who are using tech and then try it out for themselves. The teachers who want to stay the way they are do so…regardless of training. Training is a way of justifying the cost of the equipment.
That being said, maybe it’s time to look at other ways to encourage teachers to embrace technology other than just district mandated training sessions.
Tom Hoffman says
To be fair, while it doesn’t take any training to use an iPad for yourself, if you expect to teachers to do something to justify its expense in the classroom, that might take some discussion and/or training.
In fact, it isn’t at all clear to me what one would hope to accomplish by giving teachers iPads out of context.
The district already had the iPads available. (and there is no easier device to use)
An alternative concept – give them to the teachers to explore and then return in one week and share what they discover.
Allows teachers to take initiative and “own” the device and apply it to their own unique teaching situation. Then they reassemble and learn from each other.
I think this model respects teacher resourcefulness and knowledge about their craft.
Beth Knittle says
This is what we have done in our district. We have about 10 iPads. We loaded them with a variety of apps and left in a school for a couple of weeks and then bring it to the next. We are asking teachers & specialist for their opinions of how they might be used. Teachers are innovated and creative, they are happy to be part of our mini research project.
Though a few have asked for training before they take them. I have said we have not had time to play/explore with them ourselves, go have fun and let us know what you think. They are having a blast and we are getting great feed back.
Will Richardson says
@Beth…Exactly. Why can’t we do that with most of this stuff?
Will Richardson says
What do we hope to accomplish (if anything) with iPads in our own learning? I agree with Karen that by letting teachers explore and play on their own, any direction or sharing of resources we might then provide (not “training”) would be more valuable.
Gary Stager says
Discussion, collaboration, deliberation, consultation, planning are NOT what educators mean when they say, “training.”
I would agree. I’ve seen PD done very effectively, even offering Masters level credit through colleges for taking the training. Most schools, however, tend to shortcut trainings with collaboration and peer teachings. While many of my colleagues have a wealth of information to share, none of the peer-to-peer ‘trainings’ have measured up to PD offerings that have been done by experts in their fields and were brought in to specifically train teachers.
Roderick Vesper says
Thanks for this post. It has me thinking about what I might be “training” my students to do. Good seeds for summer cultivating.
Karen Szymusiak says
I think your post addresses a pervasive sense of passiveness in our schools. I value initiative in our school – when students take on a learning challenge or follow an interest on their own with no prompting from an all-knowing teacher – when teachers continue to take risks in their own learning – when a staff member steps forward to head up a new initiative or takes on a leadership role, when students demonstrate their own leadership in our school community. Passivity (by teachers, students and administrators) is creating a culture in our schools that builds barriers to innovation. We need risk takers, dreamers, inventors to reinvent our schools.
Dean Shareski says
Training and PD have been lumped together for so long and it’s causing confusion. Tom’s point is well taken. I doubt if you would call the work of PLP “training”. The learning that moves smoothly between “why would I do that” and ” how can I do that” is where we need to move. Currently, like most things in life we want everything to be compartmentalized. That’s very hard to do in most quality learning environments.
Will Richardson says
No, I wouldn’t call PLP training. If anything, it’s anti training. It’s about exploration, which isn’t what most PD is about.
Maryann M says
The little ones will write anywhere, anytime, about anything! They will try any tech. tool and won’t wait for help unless you tell them to (and then not always). The older the child gets, the less “free” they feel. And teachers, well they’re just way old!!!
Solution: Don’t get old 🙂
I offer another possibility for Tucker’s reluctance. The proverbial red X continues to loom large. Our students are conditioned to expect criticism. Rarely are tasks designed so that they are not graded or critiqued. Students need to create more material that is appreciated for its overall value. It takes away from their sense of accomplishment when the nit-picking reduces the project’s worth to some integer between 1 and 100 or some letter from A to F. I don’t oppose traditional grading, but sometimes teachers feel they haven’t done their jobs if they can’t find mistakes. I know adults who have a lot of fear of publishing their own writing because they are so critical of themselves. Ironically, many of them are teachers. As we try to move education forward, this is an area that needs work.
Brian Crosby says
I know this year I thought I’d be leveraging what I had learned the last 3 years of doing a 1:1 classroom. But what I found was that we had more required pieces to do (interventions, for example), and so less time to do project based, “learner based” activities. This led (I hate to admit) to keeping students on track and getting things done -more a being productive NOW kind of an environment. Not as conducive to getting there your own way, making mistakes and learning from them, then being excited because you figured it out and/or got a great result.
We used to have time during Reading for students to research and write about things they wanted to know more about, which I found invaluable because at risk kids often come with that “don’t know enough about things to get excited about much” kind of attitude, and by giving them some direction and letting them pick topics this activity became their favorite. The excitement about being able to go learn something important to you changed students attitudes about school in some important ways. I need to re-read my own posts about this again. : )
The upshot is … we haven’t done that one time all year and it took doing it numerous times (3 – 5 times for most) before it really sunk in and took off. 🙁
I do have this same class next year … we’ll see what happens.
Andrew Forgrave says
Perhaps it would be instrumental to make some distinction between “training someone how to use an iPad” (!!!) and “working with educators to see how they might collectively define the key ways in which that/a particular technology might assist with learning for their students.”
I’d hazard a guess that many of Apple’s 2 million (announced today) adopters of the iPad were already familiar with the iTouch/iPhone interface, and have required (as Gary Stager so emphatically clarified) virtually NO training in the use of the device. Heck, the iPad has (essentially) ONE button, and the instruction card in the box was no more than an index card with a picture of the device and a few labels.
Perhaps the issue is less with the particular technology, and more with the comfort with which educators approach their own learning in the context of their organizations. If we, as educators, are expected to march lock-step in line with the top-down directives, then we are not unlike Tucker who writes one way for his school teachers and perhaps with a bit more enthusiasm (and hence self-invested trepidation) for himself. If, on the other hand, we are encouraged and motivated to question our practice, collaborate and share with one another to problem solve and work to anticipate how we can improve learning for our charges, then we are actively engaged in the process as a result — and more likely to be already using technology where it works, because we’ve seen the potential solution it offers in some instances.
Call it PD or PLC or PA or NI — either it’s something that someone else manages FOR you (in which case, over time, you have to deal with it in one way or another), or it’s something you manage FOR YOURSELF, in which case you (and thus, you with your co-learners!) take responsibility and dive in. Finding authenticity in what you do for your required audiences is perhaps just as challenging as managing your own path when you have the opportunity.
Gary Stager says
Another wrinkle is that someone away from the classroom decided, “iPad!” Then everyone else is expected to jump-to and find a way to justify that decision – often in the most trivial and superficial fashion.
This is less the case when a more fully-realized intervention like “every child will have a full-function multimedia laptop” is initiated.
The jury is still out on the iPad.
Now, when you talk about teacher fear/approach/reticence/comfort regarding “technology,” that’s a whole other matter that makes me increasingly impatient as I approach 30 years of begging, bribing, cajoling, threatening, seducing, tricking teachers to use computers.
We may be facing a disorder, like oppositional defiance, when those charged with teaching others to learn, refuse to learn themselves.
teachers feel the need to have their fingers in everything, we love to create rubrics a mile long to evaluate student writing. There is great joy in blog writing when you know someone will appreciate it, the chance of having someone dissect your writing style is low. I plan to use fanfiction a ton next year, I heard about it in Saskatoon at your keynote.
Steve Ransom says
â€œOur teachers wonâ€™t do anything with technology unless we give them training.â€
Yes, on the surface this is a sad statement. But, think a little more deeply in terms of the historical track record of how new technologies (and other new initiatives) have been handled and managed (mangled?) in schools. Teachers have evolved with this evolutionary (not revolutionary) protective exoskeleton around them. Before significant change in this regard is going to happen for many teachers, that layer of self-preservation needs to be peeled away in a way that feels safe and empowering rather than painful and threatening. To me, this is a reflection (indictment) on the culture of school at large and its leadership.
As you say, Will, “Weâ€™ve done the same thing to our teachers that weâ€™re doing to our kids…” So, let’s stop doing it. I think the stopping of the massive oil leak in the Gulf is more easily done.
Stu Hasic says
Here are a couple of cartoons my son put together for my blog post on this topic:
Great insight! It is true that as teachers I think we pass these habits onto our own students. It is funny that most teachers will not try something out without some formal training. With this in mind, if as teachers we are doing this then we are definitely modeling this as well.
The key here is to model open writing to students and walk them through what it is like to open up to a public forum. After all, my students are the natives and I am the non-native, why not give them the upper hand for once?
Bill Farren says
I just watched my 5 year old nephew use an iPad last weekend. It was the first time he had ever seen one. He never asked to be “trained” before using it. He seemed to manage just fine. Sure, he wasn’t helping others do wonderful things with it, but he was “training” himself about its possibilities. Mostly unschooled, he doesn’t expect others to manage his learning for him. Yet. I’m sure there are many passive educators out there that can’t wait to get their hands on his active learning style and hammer down all the sharp edges.
Bothers me enough to blog about it. http://www.ed4wb.org/?p=426
I think that there are a couple of different issues in the case of teachers using iPads without training. One is use of the technology itself. I have not used Apple products either personally or in my profession, but because I feel very comfortable with technology, I would not hesitate to explore and learn how to use an iPad on my own. There are, however, many teachers out there who seem to be intimidated by technology and wouldn’t know where to begin. It relates to the concept of the generational gap that exists in technology, where many of the older generation teachers do not have the same kind of technological fluency as the younger generation. Of course, this is merely a generalization, but it seems to be research-based from what I’ve read.
Then there is the issue of integration of that technology into the classroom. That in itself presents challenges to many teachers.
I don’t necessarily think that formal training is required (although it couldn’t hurt), but I like the idea of teachers sharing with one another both how to use the technology, and how to integrate it. What about setting up blogs in districts for teachers to share ideas? I think that would be a good way to encourage collaboration among teachers who may often feel isolated anyway.
Cira Siso says
The motivation shown through some children by writing fanfiction is founded in interest–they do it for fun! And I just wonder that if we allowed students the chance to publish creative writing assignments on venues such as blogs, if they wouldn’t be more motivated. I agree with you–it definitely is not hard to share writing pieces with a wide audience nowadays because of the internet! 🙂
And the last point on your post is so true. I truly believe that people have to learn to try things for themselves in order to develop individualistic perspectives, rather than relying on the direction of another and thus the perspective of another.