Monthly Archives: August 2009

Live stream from ELH09 Lorne – Jenny Luca’s talk

Steve Collis was kind enough to livestream (not sure if that’s a verb) Jenny Luca’s presentation at elh09 technology and learning conference at Lorne today. Brilliant for me for two reasons: firstly I couldn’t afford to go, and secondly it’s my day off so I could watch it. Well done, Jenny! As always, Jenny has presented an engaging, informative and inspiring talk about nings, social networking and participatory learning.

I’ve been lucky to get to know Jenny well since my involvement with Powerful Learning Practice, and anyone else who knows her will appreciate that Jenny speaks from experience, not hiding behind jargon or titles, but saying it how it is. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to reach a wider audience in the conversation about 21st century learning and teaching.

One of the most powerful messages Jenny transfers, both verbally and in terms of modelling, is that she is a learner first and foremost, and that this has given her the wings she needs to fly as an educator (I’m paraphrasing). Listen to Jenny. Read her blog.

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Jenny Luca’s talk about ning

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

more about “Jenny Luca – Ning“, posted with vodpod

 

 

 

I’ve just listened to Jenny Luca’s presentation from the elh09 conference in Lorne. This is the slideshow that accompanied her talk. You’ll find it here on her personal wiki. I’ve had to put the live stream (well, it was at the time) of Jenny’s presentation into the next post; I couldn’t seem to send both at once from Vodpod. More about Jenny’s talk in the next post.

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What would happen if maths and language arts teachers swapped jobs?

bobrobertasmith

Art21 blog has given me an interesting idea in their latest post:

Last year the Guardian asked its sports and art writers to swap pieces for a day. Tennis correspondent Steve Bierley reviewed a Louise Bourgeois (Season 1) exhibition, which Bob and Roberta Smith fell in love with and subsequently made into a text-based painting.

Hmmm…

But how can we translate that into the school environment? I mean, the idea is something I’ve been playing with for a while – wouldn’t it be good if school didn’t separate learning into subjects?

Life isn’t like that, so why….?

In my job as teacher librarian I write a blog to encourage reading – I’ve mentioned it before – well, it’s not only about reading but all that goes with it. Thinking, discussing, idea-broadening, understanding – you know what I mean. Ideally, I’d love for the blog to create a reading (thinking, etc.) community, one that links people within the school through interests and discussion, but also links the school community with the wider community. I’ve also spoken about this before. Yes, I have so far included a couple of book recommendations/reviews by teachers who aren’t librarians. This is good, this gives the students the idea that people outside of the library read and enjoy reading. But …. they’re English teachers.

What I would really love is if sports teachers wrote about their reading. Yes, sports teachers. Maths teachers. Legal studies teachers.

So what kind of swap could I do? Do you think it would be easier for the maths/science teachers to talk books than the other way around? At first I thought yes. What’s left of my own maths/science knowledge, the little I gained in secondary school? I wouldn’t really like to go there. But then I remembered Sean Nash. He blends Science with the Arts. I was overwhelmed by his approach when I first discovered Sean’s blog, and I continue to be overwhelmed because it’s so inspiring, and I don’t see many educators do it.

Sean’s wife, Erin, shares his way of looking at a blended curriculum. Have a read of Erin’s profile on Sean’s biology ning where she says:

The best thing about the study of biology is:
The opportunity it provides for invoking curiosity and questioning in students and instructors alike. There are so many interesting topics in Biology that, ultimately, bring about questions that just aren’t currently answerable, and this provides so many awesome possibilities for critical thought and analysis. I could have taught English or Biology, and I was drawn to science because of that one big question, “WHY?”

 Isn’t this also the point of literature? The WHY and WHAT IF?  What if a character lived in a particular time/situation? How would that character live out his/her life? And WHAT IF this complication arose? WHY would he/she act in that way/make those choices? Personal choices, ethical choices, any choices.

I frequently reflect on what I’m trying to achieve in writing the fiction blog. Why is it important to stretch students’ – and for that matter, teachers’ – concept of what a reader is like, why we read, why books grab our attention, how books and films get our reactions and lead us into discussion or debate. It’s not a library thing, it’s not an English thing – and yet, it is literacy. The kind of literacy that is important for all of us across disciplines and beyond school. Sean Nash sums it up excellently when he talks about the connection between science and literacy in his comment to my post:

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.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, creativity, Education, learning, Literature, reading, teachers, teaching

TED Q & A with Ken Robinson

KenRobinsonTED-reddit

The TED blog describes an interesting Q&A session with creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, author of The element. Reddit gave TED fans the opportunity to submit questions for Ken, with the 10 most voted questions being answered.

Here are the 10 questions Ken answered. Many of these are long, and I’ve tried to select the main part of the question, but you’ll have to go to the post to read the rest:

1. What specific actions do you recommend taking to overhaul, say, public education to maximize how we identify and nurture creativity? And what place do you think things like critical thinking and logic (also noticeably absent) have in basic education?

2. …why do we make these distinctions between “math”, “biology”, “history”, and “art”, when they are all linked, and when the interconnections so often make them meaningful? Is it OK if children are not “well-rounded,” as long as they are following their curiosities, or does a lack of “well-roundedness” mean we are not exposing them to enough bridges to new interests?

3. What do you think is the correct way to grade/rank/assess an individual’s academic performance? And what do you think should & should not be included in standardized entrance exams like SAT?

4. … some would advocate that video games are in fact best preparing kids for 21st century life. What’s your opinion on this, and of the place of video games in education?

5. There are so many individual teachers and librarians out there who GET IT, who want to help their students stop “playing school” and start having authentic learning experiences. How do they build critical mass to change our bureaucratic, cookie-cutter approach to educating children?

6. How do I get involved to make this change happen?

7. … What are your thoughts on the future of distance learning, and have you seen any signs of a breakthrough that will replace the status quo, while delivering interactive, powerful, social and visually simulating learning?

8. What is your opinion of the Summerhill School?

9.  I’m a maths teacher, in England, in a forward-thinking school (the head showed your TED talk to the whole school a couple of years ago at a staff meeting) and I believe in what you say about creativity passionately. So what three things should I do in September to foster creativity? I’m talking about definite, in-the-one-hour-lesson things I can do to my classes to change their experience.

10. … We all know you can find your element at any time in life but what more can I do to find out what MY element is?

 It’s definitely worth reading in full. I won’t summarise but I’ll pull out sections which resonated with me.

 The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do. You can be creative in anything — in math, science, engineering, philosophy — as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance. And you can certainly be involved in the arts in ways that are especially creative. And so it’s important to emphasize that it’s not about creating some small space in schools where people can be creative, and particularly not if that means just tacking on some art programs on a Friday afternoon. It’s about the way we do things.

Ken talks about a ‘grammar of creativity’:

You can help them think productively, generate ideas effectively, help them to think of alternative approaches to issues and questions.

It’s a series of processes, not an event. And helping people understand how that works is an important part of being creative. You wouldn’t expect people to become literate just by hoping it’d happen.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter…. So now, we live in an age where there are multiple variations of different disciplines — the merging of physics and chemistry and of engineering and genetics. And the problem is that schools and institutions are often slow to keep up with these changes.

It’s not that I am against standardized testing. What I’ve personally got a rant about is the extent to which standardized testing, firstly, has become a massive commercial industry which is detached, in most cases, from the real purpose of education. And secondly, the extent to which we’ve come to associate standardizing with raising standards. Now, everybody agrees we should raise standards in schools. Of course you should. But, the primary instrument that’s being used is standardized testing. And the problem with it is that it fails to do the one thing we know works if we want to improve standards in schools, which is to address personal development… It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.

So, my argument is that instead of standardizing everything in schools we should be going in the opposite direction…. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.

 On the whole, people in education get this as much as anyone else. And they don’t like it. They know there’s a big problem in the system, and they want to change it…. 

The real place to focus, initially, is on the work you do yourself. I’m always keen to say this: Education doesn’t happen in the committee rooms of Washington, or London, or Paris or Berlin. It doesn’t happen in government buildings. It happens in the minds of students and learners. It happens in the classroom… So what I would say to teachers is: Change your own practice, today. The education your children are getting is a result of what you’re doing with them.

Don’t wait for the government to change things; get on and do it yourself. But also, if you’re in a position to do it, you should try and influence policy. There’s an opportunity to do that in many countries. It depends on your position.

Just dumping stuff online isn’t the answer to it. But there’s a massive thirst for ideas, for this sort of content, as illustrated by the mushrooming of social networking and user-generated content… Because we now have the ability to put the best thinking, materials, pedagogy, resources in front of everybody. This should be seen by schools as a massive opportunity to — not to replace what they do, not to replace their own teachers and curriculum, but to enrich and enhance it.

But there are some characteristics of good teaching which are concerned with promoting creativity. One of them is to engage children’s curiosity to get their imaginations fired up. I was saying earlier that the fundamental capacity is imagination. Well, what I mean by that is you can’t be creative if your imagination is not engaged.

If you want to promote creativity, you need, firstly, to stimulate kids minds with puzzles and questions which will intrigue them. Often that’s best done by giving them problems, rather than just solutions. What often happens in classrooms is, kids sit there trying to learn in a drone-like way things of not much interest that have already been figured out.

I talked about, in the All Our Futures report, two things, one of which was “teaching creatively”: teachers finding interesting ways into material. Presenting unusual points of entry or interesting angles or perspectives, and enjoying the process of finding them. So, that’s important. Teachers themselves should try to evolve their own creative capacities and enjoy what they do, creatively. Standardized testing has taken the joy of teaching away from them.

The second big part of this is asking open questions as much as we ask closed questions. Giving people questions they can explore, rather than ones to which they have to find answers that have already been given. That, to me, is the fundamental piece of all creative processes. Giving area for exploration.

One thing I didn’t touch on earlier is, the creative process is a bit like a DNA strand. There are a lot of things weaving through it. One task being creative is to hypothesize and think of possibilities and look at alternatives ideas — to speculate. To be imaginative. But an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them.

… group work. An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.

So I think its three things: it’s stimulating imagination, it’s telling them problems with open questions, and knowing how to organize groups. And I think in there are the answers to things we can all start doing tomorrow.

Fertile ground for personal and professional discussion, don’t you think?

 

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The research process is full of twists and turns

whichway

Photo courtesy of Hulalulatallulahoo p

My younger son, currently in Year 9, is taking part in an interesting research project outside of the school. His school has made a smart decision to run several programs which take the students out of the classroom and textbooks. This makes a lot of sense at a time when disengagement with normal classroom routine is possibly at its peak. Putting young people in a different learning environment, giving them a bigger-picture problem to solve, and a choice about how they are to present their findings, is a smart move. In his case, my son’s school has joined with La Trobe University and some of its lecturers, tutors and student teachers, in order to support a two-week research project.

What interests me as an educator and teacher librarian, is the affective aspect of the research process. After a week, my son is feeling overwhelmed and insecure; he feels he’s a failure because he hasn’t come very far. As I talk with him about how he’s feeling, I wish that a discussion of these feelings were part of the support given to the students.

It was a relief to me when I read Carol Kuhlthau’s research into the affective stages of research. I’ve written about this in a previous post. I discovered it was normal to feel confused and overwhelmed at the start of your research because you hadn’t defined what the question was. It was normal to feel the same way before you had found relevant information to support your research. It was normal to feel happier and more confident having found those resources, but also to plummet again when you faced the task of synthesizing this information into some sort of argument or presentation. And so, as each new stage of the process is faced, it would be so good to acknowledge that the way you’re feeling is to be expected.

Reflection is a good thing, and leads to self-awareness. The more you understand how you’re feeling, the less frustrated you’ll feel. Instead, you’ll be able to navigate these different stages of information seeking and synthesis, or any other learning process.

I wonder how we deal with this as educators. How can we identify how students feel and empathise with them, or provide context, if we don’t understand our own internal processes? I’m not sure that teachers’ busy schedules, with the ongoing face-to-face teaching of classes, interspersed with constant correction and preparation, allow them the time to stop and reflect. And that’s a great shame.

Blogs are an excellent way to routinely reflect on teaching practices, and document highs and lows, problems and celebrations. On the one hand, blogging has been embraced by so many people that there seems to be a hundred blogs for every topic imaginable. Blog writing is often made fun of, in the same way as superficial twittering. On the other hand, there are few educators in my school who blog, who see the point of blogging, or who regularly read blogs.

Recently, as I’ve mentioned before, I started a blog to record the progress of my collaborative teaching of a year 7 English class with Maria. It’s called English@wfc and it’s a space for me to write down what we do in class, how the students responded, how Maria and I felt, what worked and what didn’t, and what we learned from this. For me, this is a valuable exercise; it doesn’t take long, but it’s useful both for me and, I hope, for teachers if they would read it.

This blog also has a list of links to English-related blogs – all fantastic. Some of them are

As a teacher, I’m so much more comfortable and happier to function as a learner, continuing my own education and understanding, learning as I go, learning from others, with students – instead of just being the provider of information or the so-called expert. I appreciate looking into others’ teaching experiences, just as I enjoy writing out my own.

I hope that, as a parent, I’m able to support my son in his research agony through discussion, broadening his understanding and developing self-awareness. I hope that, as a teacher, I can provide the empathy and wisdom to go with the provision of information.

 

 

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Green Pen Society – Gold Rush

quoteflections

Paul C. from Quoteflections has invited bloggers to a GPS group with a monthly theme. Not sure what GPS is? Find out on Paul’s blog.

Paul writes prolifically on his rich blog, and regularly drops in on me here with valuable comments. Against my better judgement – no, that doesn’t sound right – despite the fact that I might find it challenging to write a monthly post of substance, I decided to take up the offer.

Gold Rush is the August GPS theme, which means I get to recommend a website which is valuable to me. I’ve chosen the ning, The English Companion. 

englishcompanion

Created by Jim Burke, the English Companion Ning is a rich learning environment for English teachers. The subtitle reads ‘where English teachers meet to help each other’.

The English Companion ning has 6,146 members – I think that’s a good indication of how valuable educators find it.

So far I’ve been busy and have only dipped in and out, but this ning has so much discussion and sharing of resources and ideas, that I don’t know where to start. Although I may not the best person to talk about The English Companion since I haven’t been involved in conversations yet,  I can definitely see how rich it is.

Just a quick tour through the tabs at the top:

Under Curriculum – there’s a whole variety of stuff on teaching: texts, writing, reading, through discussion, with technology, with blogs and wikis, and assessment, research, lit and language.

under multimedia: photos, videos and showcase

Events –  Poetry round table, Ning book club

Community: Forum, blogs, groups, Diigo bookmarks

There’s so much here, I’ll just give you a taste.

Looking around recently, I found some great Shakespeare resources which support our curriculum, and I added them to my English wiki.

Shakespeare Resource Centre.
50 best Shakespeare sites
Romeo and Juliet resources and activities from Teachit.co.uk (free registration)
Romeo and Juliet Enhanced e-text with modern translation
Discover Shakespeare on the Folger Shakespeare Library
Shakespeare teaching resources on the Folger Shakespeare Library
Romeo and Juliet Interactive folio and study guide

What I love the most about the ning is the plethora of discussions on every topic imaginable. It’s like the cornucopia of English teaching. Here’s an example:

Kate Messner started a conversation about using Twitter in the classroom:

I’m meeting with our ed-tech coordinator next week about creating a classroom Twitter feed that allows my ELA classes to share what they’re doing & reading with followers as well as connect with other classes & authors. Since it would be a classroom feed, only I would have access to it and could carefully screen conversations before sharing them.

All I can say is go in, have a look for yourself. It’s a rich community of educators, all with ideas, questions, practical suggestions. The English Companion is a giant staffroom with many and varied conversations.

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