One of the themes that’s been on my brain quite a bit of late is this undercurrent of reinvention that seems to be running through so many blogs and books of late. John Pederson brings it to life in his New Year’s post describing why he up and quit his day job, and I must admit that much of what he writes resonates profoundly. (See the “Change is not
death; fear of change is death” card…) Meanwhile, over the break I read “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink which has me taking a whole new look at the state of the world. (Longer post about that shortly…) And my god, even Tom Hoffman now has a blog that takes comments! (Something about payback seems appropriate here…) Change is in the air, and the powerful stories or reinvention are starting to take center stage.
We need to leave behind ideas of incrementally increasing our understanding, and incrementally changing our
teaching methods, slowly bringing people up to speed. This idea worked fine when ideas of literacy and education were not rapidly changing; but they are. We need to be be able to leap – frog in our understandings, in our methods, and in our tools,
allowing us to move to where the kids are. If we do not become leaders to our students, we will be followers, seen as irrelevant, and left to cry in our books while the kids are off setting the agenda.
Recently I was explaining to another teacher how the scribe post works in my classes. I heard myself say, without
realizing it, “The students are writing the textbook for the course together; one day at a time.”
My blog started as a personal journal of my experiences with blogging in my classroom. I soon realized, however, that it was becoming more than a journal. I found other blogs and I became interested in what other educators had to say. I found myself following the posts of a group of individuals whose interests aligned very well with my own. I gradually started seeing my own blog as part of that group. I started reading different stories and realized that they all intersected, that our voices brought this group into existence.
I struggle to find the balance between all the pieces, all the responsibilities facing us as teachers of writing. This semester my students made huge leaps in their writing; the visual, connected nature of the blog helped–they could see their progress and that of their peers; the podcasts, the image work–it all worked very well indeed. Read Hana’s final reflection to see how she consulted the work of her peers for guidance, inspiration, and a roadmap. And today I received an email from one of these students, already home for the break, who was showing his old teacher his blog. How powerful. But I did not teach them the grammar and purpose of connecting to one another in conversation, through comments, trackbacks, tagging and blog discussions–I just let that magnificent and central aspect of classroom blogging slip right by us for the first time since I’ve taught with blogs. In part, I wanted to see what would happen without it. And yes, they progressed very nicely as individual writers without the connection–as they should– as they have, though more slowly, without computers. In the past, that would have been enough. But not anymore. It can’t be. They did not discover the whys and hows of connective writing, not really, and how feathering into the world and into one another’s writing online would have given them an entirely new sense of an academic community, of writing, of the the future and their place in it.
Then there are the weeks or months when I’ve failed to write every day — life intrudes, the topic of the blog runs a little dry, I lose track of the ways to recharge by listening to what others are saying, etc. Students had these problems, too, this semester. Perhaps the one thing I’d change the next time around would be to assign fewer tasks in order to make time for all of us to spend more time reading and commenting on all the class blogs. We’d be a more active audience for each classmate’s blog.
The notion of teacher as DJ may have been implied when people started applying the “rip-mix-burn” metaphor to education, but lately I can’t seem to get it out of my head. The similarities were there even when teachers worked primarily with paper textbooks and printed research articles, but is even more pronounced now in the era of digitized resources. There are the obvious similarities… Both start with a collection of existing materials — acoustic resources like songs, sound effects, and samples, and educational resources like simulations, tutorials, and articles. Both sequence and blend these materials in interesting ways. Both do quite a bit of planning (think syllabus as playlist), perform in discrete blocks of time (think course meeting as set); and both have to make meaningful connections between the resources they choose to employ (think lecturing and discussion leading as beat matching).
It all still feels glacial, this unlearning, reinvention stage that we’re in. I still wish there were more voices engaging in the conversation. And I’m not sure that 2006 or 2007 or even 2008 will bring us to the point where the system itself will be undergoing a similar transformation. But there’s no doubt there is an energy around all of this right now, an urgency even. I’m feeling it in my own life, not just in the education sense but in a more global sense. What difference do I really want to make? What contribution?
I’ve learned much since I started blogging, but what I am facing up to now is that the power and potential of these conversations and connections are making much of what I once held dear seem very disconnected. And that just makes the pull toward reinvention (once more) that much more acute. Could be an interesting year.