Posts Tagged ‘authentic learning’

The Ambiguous Authenticity of Collective Creations

May 24th, 2012 4 comments


Either I’ve started my prep day really well, or very poorly. I cannot decide. After reviewing my plans with my substitute (guest teacher… like I invited her in to contribute), I grabbed a laptop and headed to the staff room; the only available work room in the school. As I was occupying a corner of the table it was brought to my attention that we were out of coffee. That prompted a quick trip to the store. While I was driving back I thought about my lesson plans for the day and how one element of them parallelled my conversation with Kathy Cassidy last night. We were exchanging impressions of our second year experience exploring problem-based learning with Powerful Learning Practice. As a culmination to that experience we were asked to publish our reflections and share outcomes of our research. I feel challenged by this task, and wonder if my fourth grade students will feel equally challenged by the similar task I set them: to blog about their collective creations. I wonder if we will all feel challenged for the same reasons. I wonder if I have started my prep day well by buying coffee and blogging, instead of organizing my end of year assessments as I had planned.

I divided my twenty-four fourth graders into four random groups, gave them a cardboard pillar, told them they were to agree on a theme, and then represent that theme through colour, images, shapes, words, and movement. I then stood back and watched. Originally I had planned to limit the themes to curriculum we have studied this year. I decided my project might be more authentic to them if I left it open-ended. They settled on mythology, space, ocean, and fast food; then they set to work with all the enthusiasm I might have hoped for. They impressed me with their ideas, construction skills, and collaboration. The groups sustained engagement for about four hours (5-6 periods over 2 weeks). Predictably, there were varied levels of engagement. There was also a good deal of negotiating. The project did allow them to work to individual interests and strengths. Many of them took ownership of their work in as much as they are fighting over the right to take the finished project home. It turned out to be a success, except I’m not sure what it has achieved.

I created artificial groups. They had no opportunity to discuss themes and products, before moving into groups. Their themes were mostly compromises. I constrained the form of publication as well. So I don’t feel the result is authentic as I interpret the word as it applies to learning. Learning in school creates so many boundaries and expectations: curriculum, policy, time, resources. Then too, the process held value, but the product is a limited exchange of learning. Now I am asking them to briefly describe what they did together and share their thoughts.

This connects with my experience with PLP this year. I was grouped with five others around a general topic and we were tasked with developing a collective creation. Our problem, storytelling, was a compromise. Like my students, I think I learned something about the process, and unlike my students we did not complete our collective creation. Perhaps if we had accomplished our plan in the time we had available, it would have connected to the flow of learning in my classroom. As it is, it feels all unfinished. Is an incomplete journey. The students’ collective creations are displayed in the hallway now. Some students don’t feel they are finished, and I share that view. I’m not sure what we built.

Project Based Learning

March 21st, 2012 No comments


I stepped into an Elluminate room session on differentiated instruction as four of my fourth grade students worked after school to finish the display boards for their Canadian Heritage Fair projects. They share their learning tomorrow in the school gym. I listened to one assertion that differentiating was hard work. It keeps the teacher on the run right up until the end of the day.

It can be that way. It is a challenge to group students, to give them what they need. Because of this, I don’t differentiate nearly as often as I should. But differentiation is just part of the equation. Inquiry based learning, autonomy, and some measure of authenticity are important. Students need to be relatively independent learners. That needs to be developed systematically. Their learning choices should be authentic – connect with their lived experiences and interests – so independence is not simply habituated compliance. When people have an intrinsic investment in the subject of learning their focus, creativity, passion engage. Teachers move with the flow of learning, not against. The days are not a challenge that drains us.

When do we publish learning?

November 9th, 2011 No comments


My fourth graders are presenting comparisons and contrasts between each other to there classmates through PowerPoints. Its the usual learning experience: how to be a respectful audience, presenting the main ideas visually, and supporting those ideas with details. It is easy to forget how intimidated a person can feel talking in front of people you work with daily. They are publishing their learning in a now familiar way to the classic audience, their peers.

To a child, peers are a significant audience. Parents would be another. Knowing your audience is important. Deciding how to publish seems to follow. I spend a great deal of time on this with my students but it isn’t always like that, or if it is, then we forget that at the heart of authentic learning, our first audience is ourselves. I’ve often learned something and then cast around for an appropriate audience. Once I have found one, I consider the best way to reach them. Much of personal learning, our authentic learning, is never shared. There is nothing wrong with that.
That is why it is hard to see my student’s learning as particularly authentic. They worked collaboratively on a goal set by the teacher for a required audience and then published in a proscribed form. Perhaps this is a good way to build the skill set for representing learning. Its not the outcome I’m looking for.

This process should bring my students to a more authentic inquiry-based learning. Should I reach that point, audience and form of publication should follow. If we reach this this year, the learning will be personal first. I say this aware that authentic learning is always constrained by curriculum and accountability. Everything seems to be subject to established outcomes and indicators. My students proved how independently they can work as pairs. I’m not sure they imagine there is much room for their own interests. That is something I need to emphasize.

The FedEx-project periods I have introduced are the vehicle for this. Right now it is more of a catch-up period. I want to build authenticity by having them pursue their own goals.

Obsolescence in Education by 2020 – Judging the pace of change

December 11th, 2010 No comments

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is’. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.

4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.

8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years’ time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the ‘feel’ of paper. Well, in ten years’ time you’ll hardly tell the difference as ‘paper’ itself becomes digitized.

9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. ‘Nuff said.

10. Lockers
A coat-check, maybe.

11. IT Departments
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade’s worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT — software, security, and connectivity — a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. Centralized Institutions
School buildings are going to become ‘homebases’ of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.
(Ed. Note:  Check out Plock’s 2010 nomination for best blog post:Why Teachers Should Blog”)

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN in their backpockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide prof dev programs. This is already happening.

16. Current Curricular Norms
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade — in the best of schools — they will be.

20. High School Algebra I
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we’ll have finally woken up to the fact that there’s no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and IT in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. Paper
In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Its easy to miss when we try to extrapolate current trends ten years into the future; particularly in a period of technological hyper-change. Experience demonstrates traditional practice and attitudes are far more tenacious than we would like them to be. Education’s failure to actualize John Dewey’s ideas about education is a case in point. My current excitement attempting to integrate inquiry based, differentiated learning into my classroom is actually a reintegration. I was trying this in the mid 1980′s and I modeled my approach to projects from my tenth grade English teacher at Campbell Collegiate Institute in Regina, Saskatchewan (1972). Forty years later, his differentiated approach is still not the norm.

Never-the-less I agree technology is driving educational reform and learners are grasping the tools of democratic learning. Only a general totalitarianism would stop that. We see tentative efforts to limit the freedom of information, so it is possible but I am optimistic the movement is too powerful. Predictions related to technological integration are going to be realized. Changes in our thinking about what it is to be an educated person will come much more slowly.

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Lessons in the Everyday | Wright’sRoom

November 28th, 2010 No comments

And I’m not sure how to categorize what is going on in my classroom.  But it’s been the strangest teaching experience I’ve had, and I often find it difficult to explain to other teachers, especially when many have a teacher-centered model of teaching.

There’s something humbling about not being all that necessary in your own classroom. And yet, for their sake, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

While I have a basic plan of what we may do for the day, there have been many times this has to be drastically adjusted in the moment.  I basically arrive at class each day to find out from my students where we’re at and what we need to do.  Sometimes there’s a crisis we need to solve, other times details that need to be attended to.

This reflection by Shelley Wright resonates with my own experience last year at Sunningdale School with a grade four-five combination. As I approached the beginning of this year I wanted to duplicate the learning environment I had last year and make changes that would move us toward more autonomous, student centered learning. As September approached I realized I could not reduce my practice to a comfortable system I could replicate with a new group of students. So much of the success for connected learning in last year`s room can be attributed to the students themselves. I stepped back. Stepping back was difficult for me and I agonized a good deal about the appropriate pace for relinquishing control and offering autonomy in my classroom. Last year connected learning grew gradually over months as each student accepted (or did not accept) ownership by degrees. So much depends on your group.

I had the forethought to recognize this before the year began. I realized that reducing my authoritative footprint in the classroom meant that I could not recreate the exact conditions that had led to my modest success last year. The new group of students would bring their own uniqueness to the room`s learning culture. As I anticipated, it has been different. They have different strengths and interests.

Shelley’s comment about a basic plan transformed by the day is the experience of most of us I think. Learning is connected. If we forget that learning is a conversation among many people and when we only hear our own voice many things happen. The classroom becomes a frustrating struggle and learning diminishes. I think we have all tried the experiment where we have to give a person directions for doing something without dialog or visual cues to their progress. The more interaction we are allowed, the more successful the task. It is a salutary lesson for teachers. We are connected learners. Our plans are simply guides.

Shelley describes watching students collaborating in the snow. That was a description of authentic connected learning. Sure we need to bring that into the classroom. I think another important point to gain from this is that we are not central to human learning. Schools simply represent an institution of formal education. We don’t create life-long learners nor do we discourage it. Our humanity makes us life long learners. What we can do is help people become better life-long learners. When my class gathers together in the morning, I am aware that they have come with more than I can give them and at the end of the day they will likely accumulate and reflect on so much more.

Open doors and step back; offer questions and paths to follow; always remember you are in a conversation with someone just like you, just younger. There is no reliability to our practice because each person, group, and experiential moment is unique. Resist anyone who thinks differently about learning.

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