Archive for May, 2010

RSA Animate – The Secret Powers of Time

May 31st, 2010 No comments

I find this approach fascinating.

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“Choice theory” and student success. Glasser, W. | We Teach We Learn

May 30th, 2010 No comments

Glasser makes a case for choice theory to combat the common reinforcement of a stimulus/response (SR) psychology in today’s classrooms.  He asserts that “SR is completely wrongheaded and totally destructive to the warm, supportive human relationships students need to succeed in school” (16).  With choice theory, students take ownership and responsibility for their actions.  “Accepting that you can control only your own behavior is the most difficult lesson choice theory has to teach,” states Glasser (17).

I should preface my remarks by saying I teach grade four and five. That informs my response to the topic of needs, management and learning. Maslow presented his hierarchy of needs and I have been reading Tomlinson’s The Differentiated Classroom (1999) and she offers the premise that human beings share the same basic needs for nourishment, shelter, safety, belonging, achievement, contributing, and fulfillment. These are variations on a theme. I tend toward Glasser because it is simple. I like Maslow’s because he acknowledged learning and self actualization as needs. In education it is worth differentiating learning needs. In my own belief statement I limited it to Glasser’s power: the ability to do something. learning accomplishes that.

Glasser’s point that we can only control our own behaviour has remained a central tenant of my own classroom management. Our school does focus of Ronald Morrish’s Real Discipline At first glance it seems like behaviourism because it starts with compliance to responsible and cooperative behaviour. The goal is to help young people learn how to handle independence. “Today’s popular discipline concentrates on this part to the exclusion of the other components. What we have forgotten in our rush to provide children with freedom of choice is that adults are supposed to prepare children to handle choices and make sure they are ready. It is well-trained, well-taught children that handle choices responsibly and with respect for the rights and needs of others.” This process does not have to be an unreflected one. Glasser is right, we cannot control other people, we need to influence them.

What does this look like in my grade four and five classroom? It would be an imperfect vision. I teach trailing the chains of my past practice: bad habits learned through watching other teachers, my own lizard-brain impulses. Things go awry still. I am moving learning in room 7 ever closer to a differentiated model. I have no faith in unschooling models.  Student-centered learning demands student-centered discipline: Self discipline. This means good learning habits. I believe there is a functional logic to self-discipline and in many cases the traditional norms of our society translate well into the classroom. Never-the-less I am a student of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and thirty years has offered me some insights into the ways young people meet their needs for fun, power, belonging, and security. Things can fall apart in unstructured groups.

Young people need mentoring in successful learning habits. It comes down to compliance in my classroom at times. Compliance is a dirty word it seems. It sounds rather totalitarian. I suppose it can be.  Ronald Morrish offers some simple illustrations to support the idea that we need helpful habits. An example he gives is driving. Commuters depend on mutual compliance to traffic rules. In the 1980s I drove my motorcycle in Central Nigeria. I have some experience with how even minor non-compliance led to chaos. The reasons for compliance to a particular habit need to be discussed.

We do this at the beginning of the year or when a new procedure is being introduced. Critical reflection is paramount. Flexibility is also a value in my classroom. Compliance is valued, but our decision making is also situational. There are appropriate moments to break habits. Compliance is also for the big picture. Habits like sharing, respectful dialog and behaviour, and safety. In my differentiated classroom we do not disrupt others (you know this happens with my ten-year-olds), but I am moving away from micro managing things that interfere with connected learning and learning style. I tolerate discrete movement and collaboration. Negotiating the details of learning is encouraged.

Next year I will be take a few more steps (its happening now). I will need to think through what it looks like, feels like and sounds like in my classroom. I will boot-camp the new class and we will reflect on the habits we need and agree on where compliance is necessary. Then we will trip up so often I think I might scream — except that was one of those bad habits I picked up along the way and it does not comply with the culture of respect we need to share. Last week a student said I never get mad and she wondered what it would be like if I did. I said it was very ugly. You have no idea how much it means to me that she thought I never got mad. She is wrong of course. I have been angry this year. Perhaps I am just breaking some old habits.

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Bill Nye Breaks Down the Oil Spill in Laymen’s Terms

May 27th, 2010 No comments

You can count on Bill Nye every time it seems.

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For the Love of Learning: Distracted Intentions

May 25th, 2010 No comments

Peter Bergman warns us to not get distracted by our plans:

Every once in a while there happens to be a trail that travels in the same direction we’re traveling so we follow it. It makes for easy walking.
But a dangerous thing happens when we follow a trail: we stop paying attention to the environment. Since the trail is so easy to follow, we allow our minds to wander and neglect to observe where we are.

Then we forge ahead, moving with speed and purpose, right to the point where we look up and realize, like I did that day, that the environment around us is no longer recognizable. Our focus blinded us.

This is not just a hiking thing.

When schools cut recess for academics – our focus blurs.When teachers give up on the weakest students to help the bubble kids – our focus dissipates.

When parents bribe students to learn – our focus crumbles.

When whole teaching staffs are fired – our focus decomposes.

There’s a lot wrong with education reform – no wonder people like Sir Ken Robinson talk less about the need for evolution and more about revolution.

I like the trail metaphor. I don’t think I entirely agree. I suppose that is largely the weakness of analogies. Trails usually follow the geography rather than cut across them like a Roman road or our modern interstates. Interstates rush past the points of interest in their hurry to move large numbers of people to predetermined destinations. National initiatives in the States like Race to the Top seem good examples of that. Teachable moments and differentiation seem lost in the single-minded obsession with preparing for tests.

Trails are well traveled because they make sense. There is also rarely a single path. Following a trail, you see other paths braiding in and out as people seek better paths to follow or make detours to interesting points. I’ve always followed trails. There is no rush, you can stop to look at the geography, you can detour easily. Trails are cooperative experiences when they are not solitary journeys. A person does not mind so much when they stop to examine something of interest. I feel a sense of urgency when I stop by the highway to look at something. Cars and trucks speed past and you are left with this unpleasant feeling that you are falling behind in some way. Interstates are too much like race tracks and so is our testing mania.

Moving without a path has little to recommend to me. There is adventure I admit, but I am not sure you make better progress. Moving through the brambles, fighting the undergrowth drains energy and leads easily to misdirection or deflection from your goal. It leads to circular motion too. You can be a trail-blazer though. Create a path for others to follow. When you do that, you are discovering the contours of an unfamiliar geography.

Joe might speak for himself, but I think he was clear that the danger of familiar paths – familiar teaching strategies from our own educations – is they support unreflected teaching. If you are reconstructing your methodology, freeing yourself from a priori assumptions that young people are irresponsible, anarchistic, incompetent learners requiring micro-management and manipulation, then I think you will also become a more reflective person. Trail blazing takes thought.

My blogging and commenting tends to abstractions. I suppose this is because it takes effort to build the context of my teaching and in no small measure because I am cautious about story telling (oh the stories I have to tell too!). My comments above are shadowed by the current state of my classroom and methodology. I am feeling very much like a risk-taker at the moment and if failure is a part of growth then I am likely growing robustly.

This morning I discovered I have an intern for the fall. My last intern was prior to my decade in administration, some 15 years ago. That is a huge responsibility and it comes at just the moment when I am rediscovering and refining some differentiated methodologies. I am bringing someone into my risk-taking and that gives me pause.

I am replacing my rows of traditional desks with tables and chairs. I preferred more flexible flat-topped desks. They would be safe. I could shift them from groups to rows. I decided I needed to make a total commitment to a studio classroom and keep the temptation at bay. I’m trying to make the commitment to differentiated and connected learning.

The long weekend was not so nice, Joe can attest to that. It rained prodigiously around here and Tuesday morning brought more ugly weather. The students did not go outside at all and had no gym (art became very athletic). They were not all their responsible best. My attempt to introduce a daily planning log for my grade fives while the grade fours were involved with an independent station did not go very well. That happens; it helps explain why my comments turned to the problematic structure of public school classrooms. I had twenty-two people and not everyone was buying into autonomous learning. Centers generally work better than that. I wonder if it is a full moon? I forgot to check.

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Hunter, Gatherer, Teacher? « My Island View

May 23rd, 2010 1 comment

Back in the day, the teacher was the center of information. The teacher was the Hunter, gatherer, and provider of content. (That description always brings to mind visions from Lord of the Flies.) The teacher was the expert. The teacher was the “go-to person” for the information within the subject he or she was licensed to teach. The teacher maintained the position at the front of the classroom in order to dispense or provide the information to the class.

If the teacher did not have an answer, there were books and sources to help hunt down the information. Teachers would gather information over a period of years to provide to their students. The most experienced teachers had the largest collection of file cabinets in their rooms. When it came time to retire, they would dole out their dittos and files like hoarded treasure to the up-and-coming, fledgling teachers. Those younger teachers became the new controllers of content. It was control of information that was the power of education.

Today, there has been a shift in the acquisition of information. There is too much information for most people to be experts. Information is exponentially accumulating minute by minute. Publishing is instantaneous. Content that was non-existent this morning is available online by this afternoon. Teachers can no longer be the sole hunters, because there is too much to hunt. They can no longer be the sole gatherers because there are not enough file cabinets or rooms to house them. Without the ability to hunt and gather with focus and purpose, how can the teacher be the provider?

The reality is that we are not all experts in the fields we are assigned to teach. Even as a high school teacher I was asked to teach outside my specialty. This made resource-based learning difficult and I had to rely heavily on the experience of others. I taught in K-12 schools with eight or nine staff before internet made effective professional learning communities a reality. Mentoring learners to consume, produce and publish content in these areas was challenging to say the least.

As a learner, I followed the following pattern. When I became a teacher librarian I passed it on and still use it:

Encyclopedia or almanac
Reference work
Realia and pictures files

I would consume in that order, produce content organized around the first two on the list (using the encyclopedia as my initial outline) and then begin to take ownership of the content so that the published content was reflective of my own understanding.

Information technology has introduced a more flexible, less linear progression, but it essentially begins the same way: with a textbook or general summary produced by someone with more time and experience than I or my students have. It is really not where the content begins, it is what you produce and publish.

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Carl Rogers: Can Schools Grow Persons? > Richard Lakin’s

May 22nd, 2010 No comments

As I have thought back on my life and what I gained from my “education,” I remember very few teachers.  There was the second grade teacher with whom I fell in love – gentle, caring, personal.  But the two or three others could be characterized as “a scholarly spinster”; “a completely eclectic theologian”; “a genuine person teaching agronomy.” (I doubt if you know what that is!)  The last was teaching shortly after World War I, and his phrase was taken from war terminology, but I have never forgotten it:  “Don’t be a damned ammunition wagon.  Be a rifle!”

        I wish every teacher would mull over that thought, inappropriate as the words are, in the midst of a hated war.  Let me see if I can put it into more acceptable, if less colorful terms, and probably adding a bit of my own bias.  “Don’t be a damned warehouse of information. Be a person – with knowledge, yes – but with impact!”  Each of the teachers I remember was alive, absolutely absorbed in something himself, not simply filled with courses in educational method, but excited about something he or she was learning.

I engaged in a brief exchange about Action Research today on Twitter. Since the concept was introduced to me in the 1990s at grad school, and subsequently as part of professional development initiatives in Saskatchewan education, I have acknowledged the ongoing personal improvement teachers have engaged in. I know a very few teachers who do not have some reflective growth plan. The hollow formalization of this process in my province sooths administrative concerns about teacher accountability. Perhaps annual PDPs support my growth but they have never improved the process. A scan through my resume highlights the themes of my own learning.

I think Carl Rogers reflections in the 1970s should remind us today that we need to be the people we want our students to be: excited learners.

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xkcd: Infrastructures

May 20th, 2010 No comments


A student excitedly told me he had just discovered Open Office. I shared his joy but asked him if he had Microsoft Office at home. I quickly backtracked on the question and encouraged him to talk to his parents about adding it. I benefit from open sourced applications. We ran Sun systems in my classroom and for many years that also meant using Open Office. It was fine. I don’t pay attention to infrastructures as much as I should.

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Educational and Curricular Restructuring and the Neo-liberal and Neo-conservative Agendas

May 20th, 2010 No comments

Apple: There are a number of issues that I think are crucial. In my mind, the most important is what I have called in my most recent books (such as Cultural Politics and Education and Educating the “Right” Way) the conservative restoration or “conservative modernization.” That is, the movement more and more to redefine what education is for and how we are to proceed in education both as a practice and as a set of policies. There is a new alliance that is exerting leadership in educational policy and educational reform. In many nations there has been a shift from a social democratic accord or alliance to a coalition centered around 3 or 4 groups that are pushing education and social policy in general in conservative directions. This new alliance or “new hegemonic bloc” is a relatively broad umbrella; it is also tense and filled with contradictory tendencies. But taken together it has been very effective. Let me just mention something about each of the groups who are under the umbrella.

First, there are neo-liberals. These are economic modernizers who want educational policy to be centered around the economy, around performance objectives based on a closer connection between schooling and paid work. I want to stress the word “paid” here, because these people have a very patriarchal vision of the labor force. They tend not to think about who does the unpaid labor in this society – largely women. The economic modernizers are in leadership, by and large, in this new bloc. They see schools as connected to a marketplace, especially the global capitalist market, and the labor needs and processes of such a market. They also often see schools themselves as in need of being transformed and made more competitive by placing them into marketplaces through voucher plans, tax credits, and other similar marketizing strategies. Because neo-liberals are in leadership in this alliance, using the umbrella metaphor, we might say that they are holding the handle of the umbrella.

A second group are neo-conservatives. In most cases it is important to make a distinction between the neo-liberal economic modernizers and neo-conservatives, although in some nations they do overlap. Neo-conservatives often agree with the neo-liberal emphasis on the economy, but their main agenda is cultural “restoration.” Examples in the United States are people such E.D. Hirsch, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, and the late Alan Bloom. These are people who want a return to a totally romanticized version of schooling in which we have a standard curriculum based on that eloquent fiction, the Western tradition. They wish a return to teacher dominated, high status knowledge, largely based on the traditions that have historically been seen as the most legitimate knowledge at elite universities. I mentioned that this is a romantic tradition, since, by and large, there was never a time (at least certainly in the schools in the United States) where everyone learned the same curriculum, where all people spoke the same language, and where everyone agreed either on the Western tradition as the dominant model or on what should be included and excluded in that tradition. Thus, its position is based on a thoroughly romanticized version of the past, and either a romanticized vision of past students and teachers or a vision of them that assumes that without external control they will destroy “real” culture.

I realized this evening that I continue to offer terms like “critical stance” and “critical theory” in my conversation with other educators. I needed to reflect on this. I am struck by its aptness in the conversation I am listening to on Twitter and in the blogsphere. Is this just jargon I acquired at grad school or is it meaningful to the journey I am taking as a learner? I think our interest in democratic schools, differentiated learning and opposition to testing (and in some cases grading itself) does exemplify a critical stance to education. It is not simply practical criticism, but a call for emancipating learners in our public education systems.

Critical theory in education is reflection on ways to reduce entrapment in a system that continues to be based on the domination of learners by maintaining philosophies and practices that sustain dependence. I think we have an emancipatory interest in expanding the scope of our learner’s autonomy. Differentiation and related democratization of the classroom are aimed at reducing the scope of the teacher’s domination. So much of what I read relates to concerns about the way competitive testing perpetuates and rewards the advantages of established elites while deflecting attention from demonstrable economic factors that help explain why economically disadvantaged kids don’t magically improve when their teachers are threatened or the learning outcomes are made explicit. More rigor in teaching and effective formative assessment have a good deal of efficacy in learning. In itself they will not overcome the social factors many students face. Our discussions on integrating technology also focus on empowerment and democratizing learning. Technological integration’s goal should not harnessing technology to enhance teacher power and influence in the classroom or our policy maker’s ability to impose a crippling regime on the system. Technological integration’s goal should be empowering independent learners.

The overwhelming focus of the conversation I follow describes, analyzes, and opens to scrutiny otherwise hidden agendas, power centers, and assumptions that inhibit, repress, and constrain independent learning. I like to think the conversation is growing, perhaps not. Perhaps thanks to Twitter and Blogs I am simply able to hear something that resonates with my own convictions.

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Studio Classroom: Designing Collaborative Learning Spaces — Campus Technology

May 20th, 2010 2 comments

A new type of classroom design, often called the classroom of the future, is becoming popular in K-12 and college environments. It’s based on the desire to move away from the traditional lecture-based pedagogy toward what is referred to as “studio teaching.” In this model, the instructor serves as a facilitator, by handing out projects, answering questions, providing resources, and moving around the room as necessary. Students work in groups to learn, and activities are structured to emphasize collaborative, active, student-based learning.

1. They have multiple electronic display surfaces oriented on different walls.
2. A good portion of the perimeter walls are made up of writing surfaces.
3. In some cases, the furniture is lightweight, movable, and reconfigurable to accommodate workgroups of various sizes.
4. At times, there is a formal instructor’s workstation. Alternatively, it might be mobile and small. In either case, most of the time the instructor is a wanderer, listening in on discussions, answering questions, and furnishing resource materials.
5. Remote control of the room’s audiovisual technology often is controlled from a wall-mounted control panel.
6. Though the entire building might have wireless network connectivity, an array of hardwired outlets is furnished to provide connectivity to support ultra-high-bandwidth multimedia applications.
7. The lighting is zoned such that the fixtures closest to the projection screens could be turned off independently of the other fixtures. Indirect lighting provides a comfortably soft illumination and is daylight-balanced.
Making it flexible8. The HVAC is quiet and possibly even independently controlled from each room.
9. For students who do not own their own laptops, a mobile cart of these devices could be available to support computer-aided learning activities as necessary
10. There may be fixed work surfaces along a portion of the periphery of the room.
11. The room would have a dedicated computer and DVD player and would be able to receive cable or satellite, as well as Internet based video programming.
12. Ceiling or flat panel speakers would be used to provide the sound from any recorded or live program material.
13. Dedicated video origination capabilities, consisting of cameras located at the front and rear of the room would be used to capture classroom activities.
14. Commonly, these rooms are designed with an enclosed equipment niche that provides access to the technology when necessary and hidden from view when appropriate.

I realize that my classroom has been morphing into a studio classroom. I have a request in for tables to replace the current horrifying student desk-chair rows. We will see if this request is met. If I can break free of the concept of students owning a desk I think the entire working environment will improve.

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RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation

May 19th, 2010 No comments

If our goal should be to build an empathic civilization, doesn’t it make sense that we should begin by building empathic schools and classrooms? Competitive grading undermines empathy. I was reading this morning about the competition for federal funds in the United States. The idea of striving for excellence in education, even the idea of meeting benchmarks before receiving additional funding may be palatable to me but it seems to be designed around winners and losers. The pie is finite, so only a few can benefit from it. That does not make sense to me, nor does it lead to a sense of shared growth and accomplishment as people. I might as well tell my twenty-two students only the “top” five may use the computers in my classroom. The rest need to wrestle the privilege away from them. This is not a way to build empathy.

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