Thoughts on Critical Reflection, by Mark Barnes

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Six What If Questions That Great Teachers Ask Everyday

If you’re a teacher and you’re not questioning your methods daily, you might want to consider another profession. Great teachers always think they can do more for students. Outstanding teachers feel like they can be better. The best teachers ask themselves questions every day that begin with, “What if?”

1-What if my homework assignments are a waste of time?
2-What if my students use mobile devices?
3-What if my planned class activity is boring?
4-What if my room is noisy and chaotic?
5-What if I don’t grade this?
6-What if the Common Core is just another bad idea concocted by bureaucrats?

I came across this this morning as I was waiting for my coffee to be finished running through the coffee maker. This week I sat down with my young colleague, and intern to complete her evaluation for the University. I dreaded doing it but I think we had a good conversation. Underlying the conversation was my conviction that I could not adequately do her justice on the check list provided by the University. She even express this thought herself as we work through each item together. While all good teachers constantly evaluate themselves, and ask themselves similar what if questions to the ones posed above, the fifth question really strikes home.

One question I would like to add to his list is “What if I am doing harm?” Another question that we have been encouraged to pose to ourselves is, “Whose interests does this serve?” Good people with power should live in the tension between empowering conviction and paralyzing doubt about their actions.

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5 Hypocritical Rules

“So what things are we expecting students to do that we would probably not submit to as adults? Expect them to work hard all day with few breaks. Silent hallways. Only go to the bathroom during breaks. Do hours of homework. Be ready to show mastery on the same day.” 5 RULES WE IMPOSE ON STUDENTS THAT WOULD MAKE ADULTS REVOLT

I agree with Ripp, we impose unfair expectations on children and teenagers as we rush them through the factory classrooms. Much of it is crowd control. The spaces we design for learning rarely accommodate the natural flow and interaction of large groups of people. They certainly take little account of the natural needs of introverts and extroverts.

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Take the Step Back

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This last week was student led conferences. Better than half my teaching career these biannual meetings were parent teacher interviews. The parents and I had some great exchanges. Some were even candid. Even then it often felt like the student aught to have been there. Remember, we invited the students into the room, but largely to listen. It has taken me decades to transform my conferences into genuine conferences led by the students. I must be an old dog. When my students get to the point where they ask, “Do you have any questions?” I assume this is the moment parents start grilling me. Indeed, this is what usually happens because they are old dogs too it seems. A couple this week addressed their questions to the students. It was salutary for me. I won’t forget those interviews. The parents kept their children at the centre of the conversation, responding to their brief presentations. Student led conferences need to work because our students have things to tell us.

The student pictured above surprised me during the conference. Each week during genius hour she was absorbed in creating the model she is proudly explaining to her parents. I might have talked more with her during the last month. She shared her thinking with my intern. I guess that is one outcome of stepping back during the intensive three week break. Sometime during the last month her maker project took on greater meaning to her. She used it to work through her thoughts on materialism and where contentment comes from. She explained this to us from notes she had developed. Genius Hour worked.

Genius Hour is not working well for many of my students. It is too new for all of us. As much as they all love the activity, most don’t know how to focus on a question they genuinely care about. I have not yet developed the strategies that will guide them. We will keep at it. I celebrate the moments when my students find a way to tell me it’s okay to step back and let them guide their own learning.

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Teaching Organically, Students First

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The thing is, though, that the fruit is the part of the plant that serves us. Sure, obviously fruit also serves the plant; it is the reason why generations of plants have and will continue to grow on Earth. But the cultivating of a plant’s fecundity serves only us; the plant will make enough fruit and seeds to serve itself; any more is a useless energy-waster for the plant. Teaching, Learning, & Education by Chris Baker

Like most of us, I have one of those gardens in the classroom that is somewhere in between Chris Baker’s carefully tended garden and the wild Forest. I think the saving grace for all of us is that while we may cater to outcomes-based learning and careful assessment, Our students by their nature demand that we allow them to grow in their own directions as well. I cannot even imagine a classroom where there are no digressions or spontaneous moments where the student takes charge and the excitement builds into authentic learning and sharing.

What a wonderful ride teaching has been. And it is not because I created wonderful units and excellent tests but because I saw people grow.

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Understanding a Growth Mindset

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The light within

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Again and again, young people remind me of the beauty, depth, and potential within us. I am so grateful for the constant demonstrations that keep me grounded. We all learn through modelling, but the authoritarian structure of schools reinforces the self centred assumption that the teacher is the primary model. We forget the students have had many mentors before us. They come with so much.

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EdCampHOME

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Saturday I attended my first on line EdCamp at the suggestion of Kelly Christopherson made during this last week’s #saskedchat on Twitter. I had a good time, despite feeling guilty about ignoring my wife for a few hours during our coffee hour. My conversation on the Maker mindset was helpful. I came away with some ideas to try in my classroom. My curiosity was satisfied about the EdCamp format, and I would like to do it again on line, but also attend an EdCamp somewhere here in Saskatchewan.

As we talked about Maker Stations I arrived at the conclusion that my assumptions about implementation were different from those of the people leading the conversation. My making/20% genius hour hacks into the Saskatchewan curriculum in multiple places, and it is classroom based. The students in my class are doing it on their own with my assistance. I was hearing discussion from other participants about strategies for getting administrative support for school and district programs. They were excited about their progress with this. I had the impression that they were under great pressure to align student projects to curriculum to justify their programs. It felt like a very different plan. My take away from the conversation was to invite parents into Making and start offering students some focus questions based on our curriculum. Damn, I’ve forgotten the term they shared. It might take the form of a wonder wall, where students pose questions or challenges.

The EdCamp format was comfortable and democratic. There were initially two windows to attend to. The first was the conference home page with chat stream and a shared Hangout where the organizers could introduce and moderate the conference. The second window was a space for proposing and voting on discussion topics. The moderators created Google Hangouts for topics generating sufficient interest. We joined the group we wanted, and then chatted and shared. The EdCamp closed with a return to the the larger group.

I would like to attend a live EdCamp and see how that works. It seems a democratic form of professional development. There are times when professional development needs to be planned in advance, but so often, we fail to anticipate the real or emergent needs of teachers.

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Some walk, some run

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This poster connects to my Thursday conversation on homework and grading (the contentious zero debate) with Saskatchewan educators on Twitter. By the way, join us Thursday’s at 8:00 PM Saskatchewan time #saskedchat. It also connects to my previous post here on edustange, where I ponder the best way to bring students to personal reading.

Most days the students (and I) go InMotion after recesses and lunch. It takes the form of a simple walk following the paths of the adjacent park. We do the loop, run the rhombus, or follow the cross country route passed the Gazibo I like to use for reading from time to time. A small number of the 100 students run the course in five minutes. More alternate walking and jogging behind the leaders. Most walk with me, and a few drag their tails tossing footballs back and forth or having a chat. They take the full ten minutes.

The InMotion moment is not timed, but we mark the courses with this unofficial 10 minute deadline in mind. My classroom schedule is something like that. Part of the time is spent encouraging the ones rambling along in their own moment of sunshine to focus on moving forward. The objective is achieved and we all gather together in the end.

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Silent, sustained personal reading

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I suppose I always appreciated being read to as a child, but point of singularity for me was when I began adolescence. At twelve or thirteen I became a ferocious reader. Summer camp has its memories of deep woods and canoe trips, however, by my last year the memory I love best is slouching in an old leather couch in the cozy camp library burning through books. Back home and back to school, it was mining the public and school libraries for books. By age fifteen, I was done reading my father’s extensive science fiction collection. I still have the best of those on my shelves.

I do 20 minutes of silent reading most days with my fourth and fifth grade students. Perhaps a third can immerse themselves in something daily. The rest are compelled to make reading a connected experience. They try to read alone, but turn to classmates constantly to share. Some cannot engage with their own books, but need to turn to neighbours hoping they are reading something better.

Perhaps I am not supposed to discourage this process. Maybe they are not ready for intimate personal reading. I am trying to establish the conditions for sustained reading. Perhaps for many, it will start through the sharing. What are other people’s experience?

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Will Superintelligent AIs Be Our Doom?

Will Superintelligent AIs Be Our Doom?

Nick Bostrom says artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to humanity.

There is a kind of pivot point, at which a strategy that has previously worked excellently suddenly starts to backfire.

We may call the phenomenon the treacherous turn. While weak, an AI behaves cooperatively (increasingly so, as it gets smarter). When the AI gets sufficiently strong—without warning or provocation—it strikes, and begins directly to optimize the world according to the criteria implied by its values.

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. After reading this, I understood how applicable this principle, or social dynamic is to education (or a military industrial complex, corporation, union, etc.). Data collection services begin as the servant of learning, then there is a treacherous turn where the relationship pivots and learning becomes the servant of data. I stress about this during our team meetings. There is insufficient time spent on discussing strategies for reading comprehension. Energy is consumed on creating and interpreting data. Since there is no credible way to document a series of conversations in which connections (for example) are revealed through reading, we dismiss informal, extemporaneous conversation as a meaningful strategy in the classroom. The learning strategy is optimized according to the criteria implied by testing’s values….

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