Learning: that’s how we live

Learning is not something that can be captured, predicted or assumed. It doesn’t fit neatly in a table, it’s not defined accurately in a chart, a survey, it doesn’t happen the same way for you as it does for me.

We try to prove that we understand it, control it by conducting research, analysing results, following assessment rubrics, but we should just keep our eyes open and watch. It’s happening around us, at breakfast, in the classroom, the playground, during the holidays, on the bus, and even as we sleep.

Sometimes, as educators, we think that we haven’t influenced the learning process in any of our students (or even our colleagues). We may have been too impatient, too hasty in making that assumption. Evidence of learning can surprise you at the most unexpected times.

I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to return to school after many weeks of holiday, but it had to happen. Last year I was very happy to join forces with a dear friend, teacher of English, who was brave enough to weather the uncertainties and hazards of ning learning. We tested the Web 2.0 waters together, and made learning interactive with real-life connections and conversation for our students. It seemed that this kind of teaching and learning was not going to catch on fast.

In the first couple of days at school this year, to my delight, several teachers have approached me to help them create a ning, blog or wiki for their class. I’m stoked. I hope that this year will be as fulfilling for them and their students as it has been for me in my own participation in learning communities online: learning from each other wherever we are.

One (or even two) of our classes will be participating in a photo blog project with Marie Coleman in Florida, USA, and Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow. Inspired by our own experiences in the Flickr 365 day photo challenge (and similar projects) – and this is how we met – we wanted to try this out in the classroom. With a weekly theme for photos, we hope that students will enjoy learning from each other,, and that literacy development will naturally spring from curiosity and an exchange of cultures.

A seemingly simple task, posting a photo and writing about it, can actually be a higher order exercise. Marie’s and Sinikka’s posts attest to the depth of thought which can be achieved.

Sinikka’s post:

Today’s Daily Shoot also became the theme of my 365 photo:

“Let’s have some fun on a Friday. Make a photo that goes with the title (or lyrics) of a song. Interpret away!”

Another ordinary day at school, in the familiar red-brick environment. I am thinking what is the state and purpose of education today. I’m sure many students would still sign Pink Floyd’s message of not needing any education from back in 1979. At least not the same old, numbing and repetitive, factory style.

Aren’t schools still too often working like the meat grinder in the brilliant Gerald Scarfe animation of the song where kids are dropped only to spew out uniform minced meat at the other end? Is there any space for individual thinking, learning methods and goals, or chances for each individual to realize their full potential? Why does it seem that the spark, the passion, the joy and creativity are all buried and forgotten inside these walls? Can our students, in their bright pink and red coats, be themselves, and not just other bricks in the wall?

By the way, there is a Finnish expression ‘counting the ends of bricks’, meaning to serve a prison sentence. Sometimes, for me as a teacher, the brick school seems prison-like, too. There are too many outside pressures, constrictions, national assessments and rigid attitudes, which tie my hands.

Marie’s post:

While keeping an eye out for right angles (today’s @dailyshoot assignment), it became apparent that there were a large number of examples in ‘man-made’ structures. On the other hand, there were fewer (or perhaps less obvious) instances in nature and humankind.

Though there is an expectation of support from the angled structures, this cobweb’s network may exemplify the ‘real world’ much more accurately! It certainly reflects the ‘hyperlinked’ nature of today’s youth in their learning and in the interconnectivity of the Internet and all of its tendrils. The web is also much more appealing to the eye, but where would it be without the support and structure of the foundational right angles – guess we need the synergistic relationship of both!

I think these examples illustrate the depth of thinking and fluency of writing which can result from a single image selected to address criteria which still allows choice.

One more thing…

The learning that springs from passion is a wonderful thing. My elder son, who has never studied photography or even art (as an elective) at school, has recently discovered a love of photography, and is learning on the fly. He has joined Flickr groups, and has challenged himself to a daily photo blog. Just last week, he was approached by Zulya and the Children of the Underground for a photo shoot for their next album!

I’m holding onto these examples of learning in the hope of making a difference to student engagement with learning, not for grades, but for life.

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14 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, learning, networking, photos, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

14 responses to “Learning: that’s how we live

  1. Enjoyed your post! I love the idea of the photo blog project as a learning experience for students. Totally agree that posting a photo and writing about it can be a higher order exercise!

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  3. Honored to be included in your conversation and thinking! Learning is ubiquitous, but we don’t often recognize it anymore (ironically) in our educational institutions – how did we create such as chasm between learning and schooling? Reading this blog post led to a photo/question posting on Flickr group (Great Quotes about Learning and Change) – Learning v. Schooling (http://www.flickr.com/photos/colemama/4316435129/)

    • You ask an important question, Marie. Is it because the learning in schools isn’t made transparent to parents and everyone else, and remains a mystery? My father had to leave school at the age of 14 while living in Iran (Persia then), and he had a deep respect for education, but once he realised some of the things I was doing in school and at uni, he was disappointed! Is school education some kind of closed, mysterious institution? Shouldn’t we open it up, and realise that there’s learning happening everywhere?

  4. Thanks for making this connection Tania. Just set up my yr8′s with new blogs at http://kidblog.org/home.php
    I will include a photo / writing task that should be fun.

    • Hi, Pam. I’m interested to see how kidblogs go and how they compare to WordPress, as well as what age groups they’re suited to. Thanks for sharing that.

  5. Lots of food for thought in this post, Tania. I, too, am often struggling to instill the passion and voluntary curiosity of students at school. School as an institution has got stuck in a time warp of the old world of scarce and limited information, where the teacher was the magician who held to key to open any door of information to the students. Gone are those days, but school systems are not responding to this change yet.

    But change is on its way, don’t you think? Little ripples, like our planned project, are slowly but surely starting to rock the boat. And look at the change at your school. Must be really gratifying to see so many more teachers getting onboard this year.

  6. This is when I really wish I were back in the classroom. Would love to help in any way.
    Change is hard and there are many who fight against it, – often teachers. We have a situation here in Quebec. We have the most amazing education programme which is competency-based – developing higher order thinking rather than low-level (but not at the expense of the skills we need). Teachers are fighting against it, not wanting to change the way they teach and the minister of education, rather than trying to understand the programme supports everything retrogressive, from marking students with percentage even in first grade, showing where a student stands against the average, back to frequent testing (of learning not for learning). She talks of making report cards more understandable to parents, rather than teaching parents why things have changed and how to understand what the current report cards reflect. Feeling quite discouraged.

  7. I have just found your blog and really enjoyed this post. Learning for our children as they grow up in an ever changing 21st Century, is so important. Yet so many of our schools are stuck in a 19th Century education system. Many of our teachers want to be more creative and want to help the children develop the skills that they are going to need but then get bogged down with tests, targets and wave after wave of demanding initiatives.

    I also feel that things will get better – once school leaders start to communicate with one another and rediscover that there is a better way.

    We also need to learn from the children. I once read that only 15% of learning takes place in school. So what’s happening with the other 85%? what can we learn from the way our children learn when they are not in school?

    I love the idea of posting a photo and blogging about it and the two examples in your post are great. I hope you don’t mind if I copy this. I recently came across a similar idea where Professor Stephen Heppell was doing this as a ‘phoneblog’ http://phone.heppell.mobi/

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