‘We’re all doomed, I tell ye’. ‘We’re all doomed!’

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Just found this post from a while back which I started writing after the announcement about CoLs and CoOLs.  I never finished it as plenty of others responded in a similar vein to me and in a much more eloquent way.  See this post ‘Keeping our cool about CoOLs’ from Claire Amos.  There was a lot of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ and cries that ‘the sky is falling’ about online learning. Things have gone quiet since then and we have seen the introduction of the new Digital Technologies|Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum and, of course a new government. The reason that I have come back to this post is, partly because I found it in my drafts, and having found it, it resonated with me as I am currently reading “Different Schools for a Different World” by Dean Sharesku and Scott McLeod. Now I don’t think that, for many of us who are steeped in the NZ education system with our flexible and forward thinking curriculum, they say anything particularly groundbreaking. Much of their commentary is of US schools and school system. But despite seeing plenty of excellent contemporary, collaborative, student centred learning happening in schools, I also know that there is plenty of mediocre teaching and learning happening which is not meeting the needs of all our learners. 

In the book, the authors offer 6 arguments for why schools need to be different. As I read the book I am tweeting the thoughts and questions it is provoking in me. The first deals with information, where we get it from, how we get it, and what we do with it.

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We, and our students, can find all the information we need online; what our kids need is to ‘master the skills of information filtering and critical thinking’ so that they have the skills to thrive in their world. That is the role of the teacher.

The 2nd argument is that of economics. We’ve all heard it said – the jobs our kids will do haven’t even been invented yet, automation has taken our jobs, a job won’t be for life. Shareski and McLeod suggest that manufacturing jobs are being replaced by higher skill service jobs and creative jobs. They ask ‘what value do human workers add that software robots don’t’? Critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, high level communication, collaboration…

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 16.51.28Then we come to learning. How we learn, how we teach, what our role as teacher is, whether we are meeting the needs of our learners.

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A blend of digital and kanohi ki te kanohi learning provides both content and the interactions necessary for developing the soft skills needed to manage the information.  We need to prepare our students to be fluent navigators of an online world, to have a positive digital presence, to understand the ethics and legalities of a digital landscape, to be able to share their knowledge and skills as both consumers and creators. We need to prepare students for learning agility – they need to know how to ‘flounder intelligently’. (Guy Claxton)

I think online learning offers us some really positive options especially for kids who are isolated or marginalised, but also for those who sit in a system that sort of works for them but sort of doesn’t.  I’m thinking of the majority of middle of the road kids who get by in spite of a school system that is out of date and not a good fit for them.  The kids who are ‘passively disengaged’.

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This is dealt with in Chapter 4: The Boredom Argument.   A question for every teacher….

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How much time is spent in your classroom when the student is ‘passive’?  What activities motivate your students to learn? My wero to you is to time some of your lessons, or someone else’s, and reflect.

George Couros asks in one of his blogs;

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‘Different’ schools could be online schools but there is a danger that all we do is extend a traditional model of learning into an online environment.  We need to think of ways to allow our kids to learn without just replacing an exercise book with a device.  Teachers need support to design blended learning opportunities that allow pathways for all learners.  Students need to collaborate – the classroom should be a space for ‘doing’, asking, sharing, exploring, then go home and use a computer to reflect on content, write up notes etc. So, there has to be a lot of thought as to how online education is blended with face to face interaction. And online doesn’t mean ‘robots’ delivering courses as some have said. It means carefully constructed pathways of learning created by teachers, with discussions facilitated by teachers and learners with multiple ways of accessing content and creating responses.

This brings us on to the Innovation Argument; Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen (2009) suggest that innovators possess 5 key skills;Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 17.40.43

and that we need to create an environment in school which allows for those skills to be developed and flourish. My question is;

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We are constrained by top down drivers – results and standards, which can be used as an excuse not to provide opportunities for genuine inquiry and experimentation, to limit questioning, to stimy divergent thinking, and to prevent kids from forming and using networks to amplify their learning.  I can see so many possibilities to support and develop these 5 key skills by using a powerful blend of online and face to face learning.  At the moment, though, our assessment system isn’t playing ball and too much testing is still geared towards passive ingestion and thoughtless regurgitation.

The final argument is one of equity.  The obvious is a lack of access to digital technologies and thus online opportunities. But it is also a question of usage – even with access what do kids from different socio-economic backgrounds use digital technology for?  Studies done in the USA suggest that substitute tasks such as drilling and practice are overwhelmingly done by African American kids whilst more affluent students use technology for creative, higher order thinking activities.

I haven’t had time as yet, to explore my thinking about how online learning would solve the issue of equity – my initial thought is around attendance.  It is clear that lack of attendance at school has a profound effect on kids learning outcomes. Barriers to getting to school are many but if kids can access learning from home when they can’t get to school, surely that helps to reduce the inequity in some small way?  It is also a question that Shareski and McLeod don’t really answer either apart from suggesting that we ask questions of our communities to get a clear picture of who has access and who hasn’t, and to build partnerships with community and businesses to support access.

When we think about ‘different schools’ we are not talking about the physical or virtual space, we are talking about pedagogical philosophy.  As teachers we can all be part of the conversation, pushing for dialogue, questioning our own assumptions about how we teach and how our kids learn. We can demand (in reasonable terms) that those in power think very carefully about how to implement what could be a very positive model for learning. We also have a responsibility to read widely all of the information and assess critically, not jump to conclusions and onto the ‘sky is falling’ bandwagon. Online learning in some shape or form is going to happen so we might as well work together to ensure that we implement the best model possible which works for all our learners.

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#28daysofwriting Day 28 Reflecting on a month of writing

Meme with a picture of hot chocolate and marshmallowsSo it is the final day of Tom Barrett‘s challenge.  I am not sure whether, for me, it has been a challenge I have succeeded in.  Certainly, in terms of writing 28 minutes every day for 28 days, i have not been successful.  I missed out days, I doubled up on days, and I often spent more than 28 minutes writing.

I teach English.  I am a very new teacher of English. This is my second year teaching English to Year 9 students after teaching French and Spanish for over 25 years.  I still teach Spanish.  For some reason, the fact that I speak English, means that I am qualified to teach it.  I have had a very steep learning curve and have spent many evenings and holidays researching how to teach English, how to teach students how to analyse a film or a piece of poetry or a novel, or how to write an essay and give a speech and how to create the wonderful artefacts that are “Static Images”.

One of the things that is always suggested to develop students’ writing skills is to write something every day.  We are encouraged to get the students to keep a journal and write for a short time every lesson.  The problem then is, how do I assess that?  How do I find time to read 30 pieces of writing every day and give feedback?  Anyway, I tried.  I asked them to write for ten minutes each lesson.  “What about?” they asked.  “Anything,” I said.  “But we can’t think of what to write about,” they said.  “It doesn’t matter,” I replied.  And they sat, and sat.  Some wrote frantically, scribbling madly to get their ideas down on the paper.  Some wrote bland descriptions of their day; what time they got up, what they ate for breakfast, what they watched on the TV.  Some wrote complete nonsense and some, well, they wrote nothing.

I didn’t find the exercise a very positive one, and most of my students didn’t either.  So I abandoned it and looked for different strategies to encourage writing.  One thing I came across when I googled “encouraging writing” was the idea of Story Bursts.  These entail writing from a visual or written prompt and rather than limiting the students to ten minutes (which those with ideas found frustrating and those with no ideas found an eternity) I let them have all lesson if they wanted.  I also allowed them to write in any form they wanted – they could create memes, write haiku, poems or stories. Different activities were available for those who finished earlier such as reading each other’s stories and commenting on them, reading their chosen book or article, or “Fast Finisher” games such as Boggle, Scrabble or Pictionary.

We would have a lesson like this once every month or so and it also became a “Fast Finisher” for those who enjoyed writing.  My girls rose to the challenge and although some still struggled with ideas, having a starting point helped get them on their way.  They even started bringing in their own prompts!

So what has this to do with #28daysofwriting?  I think I have understood more fully the difficulties some of my learners had in terms of getting started, thinking of a topic and maintaining a time limitation.  Some days the idea of my blog was clear, on others I really had to search for it.  When I was tired, it was hard to write coherently (I am not sure I always did!)  There were times when the subject about which I was writing was so absorbing that I ran way over my allocated 28 minutes.  But I have also had to push myself and found that sometimes the imperative of fulfilling a challenge actually focusses you to do it and if that imperative isn’t there, then it is much easier to give up.  I have also learned that it may sometimes be better to not write at all than to write a load of rubbish!  So, I apologise for any of my posts that seemed rambly and pointless, but I think they have all been part of my writing journey.  Thank you, Tom Barrett for putting out the challenge.