Tag Archives: critical thinking

Rest, recharge, and ready for another term!

National Gallery of Victoria (Städel exhibition)

I don’t know how non-teachers survive with so few holidays.  I’m not feeling guilty about teaching holidays though because that’s what I do, and I work hard, so if you’re not a teacher and feeling resentful, why don’t you do a teaching degree?

Seriously.

Teaching is one of the most satisfying careers. Yes, it can be frustrating, infuriating, depressing, tiring, all-consuming – but it’s definitely a privilege to have a hand in shaping young minds, the shapers of our future.

For me, working with people who love shaping those young minds is more than satisfying. Some of these educators are at my school, and many are elsewhere, and I’m grateful to them wherever they are.

Photo courtesy of Jane Hewitt on Flickr (Great quotes about learning and change)

I’ve really enjoyed these two weeks of holiday, and  balanced a nice mix of everything I need to recharge – enjoying the company of good friends, catching up with news and exchanging stories and ideas; going out into various parts of Melbourne in the winter (Melbourne has its own Winter style which I really like); appointments(!); domestic chores (not fun, but inevitable); reading and thinking, reflection and re-evaluating, shifting perspective, gathering strength and resolve, making plans for the new term ….

Amazing that I managed to pack in so much in the two weeks, including (possibly too many) musical concerts, for example, the Goodbye Hamer Hall concert in which my younger son played in the Melbourne Youth Music orchestra, the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI, and I also went to see the European Masters from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. AND I still had a lot of me-alone-time.

I finished reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson - a young adult novel written by John Green and David Levithan about two separate Will Graysons whose chance meeting changes their lives – and I’ve also started Seth Godin’s Linchpin (incidentally, Seth has just shared a free e-book) and Ali Shaw’s The girl with glass feet. I hope the reading doesn’t stop but somehow school projects always spill into the evenings and reading only begins just before my eyelids glue themselves shut.

The Tim Burton exhibition made me want to drag all the students out so they could be inspired by Tim’s prolific and imaginative illustrations. I could see so much potential for students writing, drawing, animation, sculpture, photostory, film-making – so many possibilities. I think the exhibition inspires because it shows early work back as far as school, and makes you want to have a go at all that zany creativity yourself.

So, what is my direction for third term? Well, apart from existing partnerships with classes, I want to trial more of my Writing Prompts. I want to give Howard Rheingold’s expert crap detection program a go, as well as teach some serious critical thinking.

Apart from stuffing my literature blog with new reviews by different members of my community, I’d like to take some of the ideas from Joyce Valenza’s Reading Wiki and run with them. There’s so much in this reading wiki too, and this one is bursting at the seams with resources for teacher librarians.

Plenty to do, and I’m even starting to get a little excited. I hope that you all have a great term, and for those of you in the middle of things, be inspired and re-inspired!

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Filed under Collaboration, creativity, Musing, reading, Teacher librarians, teaching

How do you explain a ning without sounding silly?

This is cross posted from my other blog, English@wfc

 ningvideos

Following our school’s involvement in Powerful Learning Practice, our team has been asked to present to the whole staff next Monday. Maria and I will be talking about the ning in our English classes. We decided to present collaboratively, with Maria doing most of the talking and me driving the ning tour. Our idea was that teachers would find the ning more relevant and convincing if a classroom teacher presented. Sadly, I think that they would be less likely to listen if a teacher librarian was presenting, because we’re associated with the library (which means we’re seen as chained to the library circulation desk and focus on books).   Today we got together to decide how we were going to proceed.

The most difficult thing is deciding what is essential – we don’t have more than 10 minutes or so. We don’t want to overwhelm everyone but if we don’t present in some detail, it won’t make much sense to anyone.

For me, the essential part of the ning in supporting the English curriculum has not been the technology, but the possibilities for discussion and interactions. Within online discussions, every student gets an equal chance to participate in discussion at his own pace. The authentic audience and connections with others form a community of learners. Instead of responding to the teacher, students interact with each other; their learning is social. Although it’s not exactly Facebook, the ning has provided a Facebook-like platform for classroom learning.

What we’d like to stress is that the teaching is more important than ever. Yes, the ning is technology, but that’s not the focus. The ning is not some technical textbook with multiple choice questions and answers making the teacher redundant. Scaffolding the learning process is even more vital than ever to ensure rich discussion and push students’ thinking towards  critical and reflective responses.

During our planning session,  Maria and I focused on identifying the way the ning enhanced teaching and learning beyond traditional teaching methods.  We anticipated teachers wanting to hear why they should tackle the technology, what was special about the ning. That’s a fair enough question: there’s no point in using technology for its own sake. So let’s see…  Well, as I’ve already said, there’s the authentic, peer audience, and the interaction within that, and secondly, there’s the threaded discussion. When students are asked to write down their thoughts in class, it’s normally just the teacher who collects and reads them. Perhaps a few might be read out in class. The ning provides the transparency for all students to read everyone’s contributions, but also to reply to a specific one. Students can read every other student’s ideas, and respond to any of these.

Apart from the connection to the other students in the class, our class was joined by The Kings’ School boys in Parramatta. The ning has also provided an opportunity to bring in an expert, in our case,  our book’s author, Allan Baillie, who was able to answer specific questions of each boy individually. We provided authentic, engaging learning. The boys got a kick out of having their questions answered by the man himself.

I also love the simple fact that the ning contains everything so neatly – from a teacher’s point of view, assessment is made easy because everything that has been written is easy to find. I imagine it will be easy to see development in the boys’ writing as the year goes on.

Using videos to spark discussion has never been so easy. I embed videos when I come across them (handy for on-the-spot activities), and all the discussion following the viewing is neatly recorded underneath. Students regularly practise literacy without even realising. Somehow they think that discussion of a video isn’t real work. Videos are great for visual literacy -something I’ve noticed doesn’t come easily to young people regardless of what is said about the internet generation. They need lots of practice ‘reading’ visual clues, following visual narrative and interpreting and critically analysing visual messages. Of course, audio is also important, and our class has also enjoyed videos with music.

We plan to show teachers the variety of resources that can be included in the ning. Our videos cover many subjects – even grammar, information literacy (eg. evaluation of websites) and responsible online behaviour. I’ve started embedding TED talks which I think will be suitable for this age group. I’ll be looking to include more TED talks because they’re so inspiring.

I hope our presentation will demystify the ning and similar technology and open up practical suggestions for the use of such technology in the classroom. As long as the internet connection works! Keep our fingers crossed.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0, writing

Teaching 21st century literacies

Howard Rheingold  has written an article for City Brights on 21st century literacies.  His opening paragraph asks essential questions for the future (and present) of education:

Will our grandchildren century grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?

And here in a nutshell is the definition for 21st century literacies in plain English. What concerns me, and many others, is that the shift from traditional literacy to these 21st century literacies is not occurring in schools on any significant scale. An understanding of the critical need for a focus on these literacies isn’t happening from the top down, nor from the bottom up. And it’s not going to happen unless we, educators, step out of our teaching role and immerse ourselves in the 21st world as learners.

As far as I know, on the whole Australian schools still view online involvement for students as ‘a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?’ This is part of the reason for inaccessibility and filtering; for the rules prohibiting the use of online games and mobile phones at school. We talk about integrating technologies into the curriculum, but we still view these technologies as the enemy.

Perhaps many of us are uncomfortable about using new technology. We figure our students are naturals, that they’ll figure out the technology thing by themselves, better without us. Howard Rheingold questions the term ‘digital natives’ applied to our students:

Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection.

Rheingold makes it very clear how urgent it is for our students to be educated in 21st century literacies:

If you think that forgetting to teach your kids the facts of life is dangerous, wait until you witness the collision of a global superempowered infrastructure with a population of illiterate users.

There’s no mincing of words. According to Rheingold, our students will be illiterate if we don’t redefine our concept of literacy. What literacies are we teaching our students at present? Are these in line with the world in which they will live and work? We may not like digital media as much as our students, but isn’t our job as educators preparing them for their future? Their future is digital, global and networked. Digital literacy is not so much about the mechanics of digital tools; it is much more than that:

The most important critical uncertainty today is how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely.

One of the commenters identifies the importance of teaching critical reading skills. Howard adds that ‘some, perhaps many, view critical thinking as a frivolous distraction from “the basics”… Others say that there is nothing new about this requirement’.  For teacher librarians, teaching critical reading and critical thinking has been part of their role for some time. As a teacher librarian,I find this problematic –  not the fact that we are delegated this teaching role, since we are ‘information specialists’, and our role must evolve in line with developments in the world of information – but that this teaching is seen as somehow separate from ‘the real curriculum’, that we come in for one lesson or two at most, and teach ‘information skills’ as discrete skills. We all know that this doesn’t work, that the integration of critical, digital literacies must be integrated fully in everyday teaching, and that curricular material must be selected with this teaching aim in mind. Our choice of medium must support the teaching of these literacies. If we use blogs, wikis or nings, it is not because we are ticking off our use of Web 2.0 technologies for the sake of being recognised as Web 2.0 savvy, it’s because we recognise that a networked learning  environment is the best way to prepare our students for their future. If we teach our senior students to critically evaluate newspaper articles and advertisements, shouldn’t we finally take the leap to teaching them the skills they need to navigate the deluge of online information?  They’re not reading editorials as much as they’re watching YouTube videos. Will they continue to get their news from newspapers? Or will they prefer real-time, real-people news reports on Twitter?

What are your thoughts? Let’s have a discussion.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, internet, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Houston,we have conversation!

new-1

A couple of posts ago I wrote about Thinking and writing about biology, and featured a NING called ‘Principles of biology: bringing life and living things into focus’ created by Sean Nash.  I wanted to show off Sean’s NING because I love the way he teaches biology, incorporating Web 2.0 technologies, critical thinking, creativity, reflection and even poetry. The NING, of course, is perfect for collaborative learning, and brilliant for discussion.

It was a thrill to have Sean comment on my blog, not just as a polite hi, but sharing information about his students and his teaching. It’s worth going back to the post and reading what he says.

What I found most interesting was our little conversation. I had pointed out that Sean’s teaching combined literacy with science.  He commented back:

Science and literacy had certainly better go together. We are in a heap of trouble as a species as it is. We can’t afford to continue to create a scientifically-illiterate populace. Where science and literacy are separate, science is but mystery and mythology to even our brightest.

What happened next really made my day. Two students left comments for me here on my blog.  These comments blew me away; they revealed a love for their learning experiences in Sean’s classes and NING, and an ability to reflect and analyse that our teachers would kill for.

I wanted to post these comments in full because I think they’re worth reading.

Here is what Tori Scott wrote (the bold type is my emphasis)

This is my classes website! I’ve always loved science, but this year was a whole new experience for me. In our class Mr. Nash gives us multiple ways too look at science. There are so many new things to learn that it’s truly fun to experience it in different ways. I came into this class thinking it was going to be him lecturing and us taking notes. This year was the first year that it’s all been so hands on.

This class really makes us think. Mr. Nash will just give us something, for instances a visual, and ask us to write about it. Like what we think it represents and our thoughts and opinions on it. I really enjoy doing this. It allows us as students to share what were thinking. That’s one of my favorite things about the website. Were able discuss and blog about the things we do in class. We each get to share as individuals, which is pretty amazing because each one of us think differently. This also allows us to learn on a completely different level.

I’d have to say that if there is one thing i’ve learned this year would be that science is not black and white. Thats a big misconception i’ve had. Through the year though i’ve began to learn and realize that there is always a gray area. The site gives us the opportunity to talk about it and understand more.

Rachel Huntsman wrote:

I am a student in the dual-credit biology class that uses the blog you have been discussing. I just wanted to let you know my thoughts on our use of the blog.

I really think it is a beneficial way of learning, and would recommend it to any teacher in order to get their students to actually think about learning.

I will admit I was one of the students who took the class just to get this major required science class out of the way before college. However, this coming from a person who really doesn’t enjoy science at all, I have found that I enjoy this class. I feel like I can analyze what I learn and discuss things with other students rather than simply fill out a work sheet and answer test questions.

I honestly think I will retain things from taking this class, and I can say I have benefited a great deal from it.

I also like the idea that other people, such as yourselves, are actually reading this blog and looking at what we are learning and how we are learning. It makes me think about what I will post because I know someone from the other side of the world might read it.

Now, you might have noticed that I’ve recently heard Will Richardson talking about network literacy, passion-based learning, and an authentic readership. Well here it is – an inspiring example of the best kind of learning. It makes a difference when it’s real writing to real people, not just writing what you think your teacher wants and what will get a good mark. As Rachel says, analysing, discussing, learning collectively – not filling out worksheets.

I wish more educators, parents and students could see  how good this kind of learning is. Thankyou Tori and Rachel for sharing and inspiring us.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, network literacy, Web 2.0