Tag Archives: learning

Why I teach #ccourses – Unit 1

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This is my Task 1 post for Connected Courses Unit 1: ‘Why we need a why’ which will be added to the collection here

Why do I teach?

Well, for starters, most people wouldn’t think that I do teach.

“What do you teach?”

“Well, actually, I’m a teacher librarian”.

“Oh, so you’re in the library”.

(Here we go again…)”Well, I’m not always in the library. And although I’m not a classroom teacher, I am a teacher but my role is very diverse”.

“So you take library lessons…”

(Ugh! Library lessons….) “No, I’m lucky to be able to support teaching and learning in a lot of different ways. I teach skills – information literacy skills, digital skills, critical thinking skills -”

“Aha… “(blank face)

Me thinking: Forget it.

So even before I answer the question “Why do I teach”, I should preface this with a deconstruction of ‘teaching’. Why does it have to be limited to teaching ‘subjects’ – content? Why does it have to be based on specific disciplines? Surely it’s not all about standing at the front of the classroom and commanding authority, of pouring information into students, and covering curriculum. Why are you not considered a teacher unless you are swamped with marking, exhausted by writing reports? Truly, it seems that being deflated by these things is what proves you’re a ‘real teacher’.

What about learning itself? What about the skills in between the subject content? Collaborating with teachers and co-teaching – filling in each others’ gaps? Having the time to think about authentic differentiation? Thinking about thinking. Playing around with social media platforms and authentic audience, encouraging peer feedback, asking the hard questions about the credibility of online information – isn’t all this teaching?

I used to teach English, German and French, and some Russian, and in the last 8 years I changed my teaching role to that of teacher librarian – school librarian or library media specialist in some countries. It seems that the role is so elusive that it’s not consistently defined.

So, why do I teach? What I love about being a teacher librarian is that there is so much freedom in the role, and so many opportunities to learn, to share learning, and to explore different ways of sharing ideas and information. I realise that I love teaching when I have the opportunity to keep learning especially from others, and when I’m a part of students’ learning. And although I’m very busy because I’m coming from so many different directions, I don’t have the weariness of subject teachers under the pressure of an ever expanding curriculum and brain numbing paper work (my impression only). I get to relate to students of all year levels regardless of their subject choices and I am privileged to be able to focus on learning itself while supporting teachers and students.

When my first born son was in preschool he was a questioning force to be reckoned with. His passion for learning was so wonderful to behold, and such a contrast to much of the disengagement I’d seen in teenagers at school, that I started thinking about how I could preserve his sense of wonder and thirst for learning. There is no simple answer to this, and although Montessori helped in the preschool and very early primary school years, going back into mainstream education as a very bright child was not the most positive experience, and almost damaging in some ways – certainly in a personal and social sense.  A primary school psychologist told him to ‘dumb down’ so that he would fit in, and I’m sure he is not alone in following that inevitable path to becoming a less switched on student so that he didn’t stand out. I don’t like to think about how unhappy he must have been. In later secondary years, and also in early tertiary (he is now in second year Masters), the passion to learn came not from school/University but recreational time, and my perception is that he kept himself ‘sane’ by following personal interests – thanks to the internet. Interestingly, his Arts degree (Politics and Psychology) morphed into a Masters Degree in Urban Planning – his formal education finally matching his personal interests.

So back to the question: Why I teach?

I think that people who love teaching love learning. I love being in the business of learning – my own learning; supporting the learning of students, supporting teachers in their role as learning facilitators. Being in the company of people sharing ideas, creativity, and debate. My role in supporting teaching and learning is very fulfilling. Usually I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m essential to the classroom teaching going on in the school. Occasionally I’m disheartened by teachers who tell me they have everything they need in order to teach their subject, thank you very much. The teachers I see engaging students are the ones who love learning and are always looking for new ways to teach.

I think that learning is not always easy, and that lifelong learning really needs to be taught, or rather, practised. The learning process should be the focus at least as much as the content, if not more. The process should be made transparent to enable shared metacognition. I’m concerned that we are failing our students in terms of teaching them how to learn. Some are better at working this out for themselves than others. Without this support, many students will lose their self confidence and turn away from learning. I hope to play a small role in preventing this from happening in my school. My hope is that I help students to embrace learning, to learn from and with others, to never be afraid to admit they’re lost or confused, to learn the resilience and discipline they will need to keep learning in their careers and in life.

Task 2 

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The only answer to the best questions is another question – Michael Wesch

Photo source: Jesse Stommel

The only answer to the best questions is another question – Michael Wesch expressed this in his article Anti-teaching: confronting the crisis of significance (2008).

Michael goes on to say ‘Great questions are rarely asked by students in an education system facing a crisis of significance. Much more common are administrative questions: “How long does this paper need to be?” “Is attendance mandatory?” Or the worst (and most common) of all: “What do we need to know for this test?”

Assuming that we all agree that the above-mentioned questions are a symptom of an education system that has failed our students, what kinds of questions should we ask to propel us into a direction which engages students in learning that is not aimed at marks?

When marks are the most important goal of education, it follows that there is a right and wrong answer, or at least the answer teachers favour – which is the best way to stand in the way of genuine questioning and meaningful learning.

As a teacher librarian, one of my roles is to support students in the research process. What I don’t think works is presenting the research process as formulaic, a process that is sure to work if you follow the given prompts. Research is more like the behaviour of a detective uncovering truths when following clues. It is a thinking and reasoning path which leads anywhere and everywhere. There is no single path.

Today I was helping several students who were researching an ‘Old Boy’ who fought and died in the First World War. As one of the tasks within the Civics and Citizenship curriculum, students are given a list of questions to answer about the veteran: What is his name? his rank? When was he born? Where was he buried? and other questions. Sometimes there is no easy way to find the answers to these questions; you have to persevere and think about piecing together what you have found, making connections and intelligent guesses.

What kind of questions did these students ask me?

“I’m finding conflicting information – what should I do?” “What is the right answer?” What do you think I should write?”

The learning here is not just about the veterans and the war, it is also about the nature of research, it is about the critical process in discovering information. It’s about developing the confidence to make conclusions based on the collected data, and it’s about understanding what you need to find out, and finding the language to express your uncertainty when you ask for help.

I’m completely comfortable admitting I don’t know the right answers with certainty. I usually tell the students that I trust their instincts and that they’re heading in the right direction, that there are many questions that lead the research. In preparing our students for tertiary study, we need to remind them that research will always be difficult, and that it’s okay to feel confused and disheartened when facing a great unknown. Learning is process; let’s not forget the process.

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Participatory learning a prerequisite to 21st century teaching?

This is the introductory section of an article I’m writing for Synergy, the publication of the School Library Association of Victoria.  I’m sharing this section before I consolidate the second, more practical, half of the article. Feedback, ideas and opposing viewpoints are welcome in the comments section of this post.

Photo source: Top Design Mag

Twitter and participatory learning – how relevant are they to teachers and students?

New technologies have created opportunities for participatory learning for students and new, connected ways for teachers to access professional development.  Some of these, such as blogs and wikis, are suitable as learning platforms for students of all ages. Twitter is one of the most powerful tools in terms of instant accessibility to huge numbers of people, but it is one of the most challenging to set up to work effectively. I would suggest that Twitter is a tool most suited to teachers and senior secondary or tertiary students.

The internet has changed the learning environment dramatically. As a result we have changed the way we think about information – how we locate it, how we organise it or remix it, and how we share it.  Wherever we are, whenever we want to, we can use our smartphones to find information because the internet has transformed our phones into powerful and mobile information devices. Furthermore, technological tools have changed how we think and how we interact. An example of this is the texting facility on mobile phones which has been adopted by young people as a dominant way of communicating, frequently replacing the speaking option. Technology does not merely add to existing ways of functioning – it changes our social practices.

Through social media we go a step further to connect to others in a new culture of communicating and learning. Our learning environment may be in a constant state of change but one factor is constant – the fact that learning is now participatory.

As educators, we should be constantly evaluating our teaching methods by asking ourselves what constitutes effective learning in the changing environment of our students and their futures – an environment driven by digital technologies and social media. We have the opportunity to think about innovative approaches to learning and teaching especially when our students’ learning can extend beyond the textbook and classroom.

How motivated we are, as educators, to find new and innovative approaches to teaching will depend on a range of factors – one of which is whether we realise and appreciate the potential of digital technologies for relational learning, for example, when we see opportunities in our daily lives for the connective potential of social media.  When we understand the value of social networks in our own lives, we will be able to translate this potential into the educational environment.

In a recent blog post, What’s in a selfie, Tom Whitby (2014) discusses the recent news about Ellen DeGeneres’ massively retweeted photo of a group of actors at the Oscars to highlight the power of social media, and to urge educators to harness this connective potential.

Well, if you watched the Academy Awards last week, you witnessed the global impact that social media has in the world. Ellen DeGeneres was able to take a picture of a group of actors that, in the first half hour of it being posted, was re-tweeted 700,000 times, which temporarily knocked Twitter off the Internet. It has now become the number one tweet of all time.

Whitby identifies the hashtag as a connective device used extensively by the entertainment and news industries. The hashtag is a simple way to connect users online to a person, event or information, providing an interactive experience for hashtag users. Whitby explains that social media affords a new opportunity for actors and fans to connect with each other in real life. He goes on to say that the news and entertainment industries are taking advantage of this new connection with the public by bombarding them with hashtags for interactive involvement. Finally he questions why educators have not realised the potential of social media in the educational context:

What does any of this have to do with education? The idea that social media gives us a platform to send out information and have people interact with it, or just digest it, would seem to be an idea that would be snapped up and embraced by educators. They are the very people who make a living trying to get folks to get information and interact with it, or just digest it.

According to Whitby, educators could potentially blow DeGeneres’ Twitter statistics right out of the water when you consider the wealth of resources they have to share:

Imagine if every teacher shared just one of their best sources with other educators, who in turn could tweet them out to the tune of 700,000 tweets in a half hour. Everyone would benefit. The idea here is to get educators familiar with the concept of connectedness and its possibilities, so that getting comfortable with social media itself becomes less of an obstacle.

Sharing information and resources is second nature to teacher librarians. Perhaps this is the reason why many of us have been early adopters of social bookmarking and social media, since our roles centre on curating and disseminating information in all its forms across the curriculum, and because these tools provide us with effective ways to connect to other educators and extend our networks. The new connective possibilities make collaborative practice amongst teachers easier than ever before.  Whitby is clear about the urgency of educators moving to a culture of sharing information using social media tools:

Social Media is here to stay. Its form may change, and certainly the applications we use will not remain the same, but the idea of openly exchanging information in whatever forms it is produced is not going away. As educators we can use it or lose it. If we don’t start to understand and use this technology soon, we will lose the opportunity to harness it, because we will be irrelevant. We don’t need social media to teach, as much as we need it to learn.

It is concerning when educators who do not use connective technologies in their private or professional lives turn their backs on innovative educational practices made possible using new technologies. We should not determine our professional practice according to our personal preferences; we must remember that we are educating our students for their future, and we owe it to them to be well versed in the participatory culture of social networks.

Examples of new participatory learning environments include social bookmarking tools such as Diigo and Delicious; online communities such as Facebook groups, Google+ groups and wikis; image based platforms such as Pinterest and Tumblr; magazine-like RSS tools such as Feedly and Flipboard; book-based online communities such as Goodreads, and many more. One of the most powerful social networks used in the field of education is Twitter.

Feeling at home in Twitter

Twitter is not the easiest of social media to understand – in fact it takes time and perseverance to reach the stage where you are convinced of its value.

While trawling back through my blog posts to ascertain how long it took me to feel at home in the Twitter network, I was surprised by how long I had indeed been a Twitter user, and realised that, while it was now second nature for me to tweet daily, it was some time before it began to make sense to me. My archived posts have captured my reactions and reflections which may otherwise have been forgotten.

On 7th November 2008 I wrote about my first impressions of Twitter :

Twitter I’ve only recently added to my online life (told you I was a latecomer), and I still feel like an outsider there, posting the odd tweet in the hope of being heard, of being accepted into a conversation. Mobile computing is not part of my diet yet, and that may change in the future if I reinvent my commitment to the latest technology.

Whereas prior to joining Twitter, my main form of communication and self expression was blogging, things were about to change:

I don’t have that mania for a daily post as perhaps I did in the past. I’ve allowed various social networking and microblogging outlets to soak up a range of smaller spontaneous thoughts.

The hardest part, for me, was to connect to a meaningful network, and that always requires initial hard work and staying power. A little like developing readership and comments for blogs. Once you do that, the rewards are apparent. Previously, I subscribed to a teacher librarian network, ‘oztl_net’, and that worked well for a time, but the advantages of Twitter are the global connection, the updated status which connects to the person in real time, the fantastic stream of links, the fluid conversation.

On 22 December 2008 I discovered the immediacy of Twitter for communicating breaking news:

The first thing Mike Wilson did after surviving the Continental Airlines 737 crash when his plane slid off the runway in Denver was use his mobile phone to update his Twitter community.

A dedicated microblogger or …? Whatever he is, he has now made history as the first person to tweet a plane crash directly after an accident. Twitter might be the up and coming way to communicate after trauma. I think psychologists may eventually decide that sharing directly after a traumatic experience decreases shock or at least somehow alleviates stress.

On 6 March 2009 I recorded my discovery of live tweeting:

Earthquake in Melbourne: Twitter beats breaking news

Sitting on the couch earlier this evening, I felt a strange sensation of moving with the couch, as the bookshelf behind me creaked. Melbourne had experienced a light earthquake. Did it happen or did I imagine it? After a while I tweeted it in the form of a question, hoping to ascertain whether it really happened or not. Sure enough, Twitter exploded with tweets registering similar experiences.

Meanwhile, the TV was on, but no news about an earthquake. Look at ABC newsonline – nothing. Channel 7 Breaking News remained unbroken – just a repeat of the stories that had been broadcast several times already this evening.

Gradually, traditional news providers came on board. Channel 7 finally acknowledged the quake at 10.27 pm. Very slow, considering John Connell had already completed a post about the Melbourne quake from Scotland.

Here it is, and he has an image of the first 18 twitterers – I’m there on the right. I would have been quicker but my laptop was doing its usual slow-loading.

So what does all this have to do with education?

Where Twitter sits in education

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008):

supports the focus on digital learning and identifies the creative and productive use of technology as an indicator of a successful learner (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008).

The world of digital learning beckons, with opportunities for teachers and students alike to benefit from the opportunities and capabilities a digital world offers. Embracing digital learning is not a choice for students or teachers to consider and adopt – it is the modus operandi; the way we do business.

I think I learn better using technology than just sitting in the classroom and being told what to do because it gives me more flexibility and responsibility. I’m in control of my own learning which enables me to learn how I best learn and get the most out of my learning experience.

International research shows that integrating digital technology into the learning environment can: improve students’ confidence levels, attitudes towards their own learning, behaviour and attendance, promote improved opportunities for students to learn through collaboration and conversation improve connections with the real world and provide access to global communities with expertise and perspectives that can enrich learning.’

Teachers must keep learning

However, it is not just students that need support in this age of digital learning. Some teachers are comfortable in the digital learning space while others are still working to integrate the use of technology into their daily language and behaviours. In an environment where the digital space moves rapidly, teachers are also learners.

Educators who participate in Twitter networks are well placed to support students in the use of relevant digital technologies because the Twitter community shares knowledge, resources and expert advice. Twitter bios often lead to professional blogs, wikis and other online platforms which openly share ideas and units of work.

Students of all ages can learn how to learn in online learning environments such as blogs and wikis, for example, but Twitter is probably more suited to older students. Alexander’s post (February 9) testifies that Twitter is a powerful tool which can be used by more senior students to create and customise their learning network, and that this tool connects learning to a broad network people, as well as individuals who share specific interests. In a fast changing world, we should be aware of how important it is for our students to learn how to learn, so that they are confident players in a changing world .  Unlike the passive consumption of information in the traditional teacher-centred classroom, students using Twitter become proactive in setting up and interacting with their customised networks.

Helen Haste (2009), visiting professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, ‘claims that new technology tools are altering the ways students interact with the world. In a series of video segments, building on her four decades of research, Haste describes the 21st century student as a collaborative tool user who needs a new brand of competences to thrive within a changing environment.’

Two of the competences described by Haste are agency and responsibility, and finding and sustaining community. She points out that if students are encouraged to function as active agents interacting with their world, they will have to take responsibility for things, thus developing the confidence to deal with whatever comes their way.

She also talks about the competency of finding and sustaining community – managing friends, developing social skills, and managing online communities where they encounter a multiplicity of people, have to deal with strangers, and are involved in the multi-tasking of connecting and interacting. They recognise that they are part of a larger community, beyond their private world.

But how does the idea of students in charge of their learning and learning networks make us feel as educators? Are we also learning how to use social media to connect with a broad community, or do we feel uncomfortable with something which is foreign to us? How should we, as educators, react to evidence that our students are confident players in an arena we may not have stepped into, or in which we feel some uncertainty.

In a time of rapid and constant change, it is my opinion that there is one overriding prerequisite for an educator to thrive, and that is, to possess the mindset of a learner. But do we really need to be connected as educators? Couldn’t we leave that to our students – after all, they have been born into a world where technology is embedded into almost everything they do. Can’t they work it out without us, while we go on with the business of teaching?

I don’t think we can justify ignoring technologies we would rather not engage with. How can we justify turning our backs on the world outside the school walls? As Howard Rheingold (2014)says in his Social Media Literacies Syllabus: High School Level:

There is no doubt that ‘new individual and collaborative skills are emerging’ thanks to new connective technologies. As educators we should practise the use of these and assist students and other teachers to do the same.

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If I stayed in my library…

Am Fenster, 1922 by Hans Kammerer

In keeping with a limited budget for professional development, the question about relevant choices came up.  The conversation that arose centred on proven relevance for my role as teacher librarian, and in terms of being in line with we’re doing at school. I wanted to go to  Gary Stager’s part in a leadership seminar series. Here is an extract about the seminar –

For school leaders, the immediate challenge is to create productive contexts for learning where there are greater opportunities for inquiry, project-based learning and student leadership, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

The relevance of professional development is an interesting topic for conversation especially for me as a teacher librarian. My role is not subject centred, and I find that I usually have to explain the types of things that I do, and the types of PD which might be useful. I understand that a limited budget forces the question of relevance, and might lead to the opinion that Gary’s talk is not specifically targeted to my role or even what we are doing at our school. It might be reasonable to expect that the chosen professional development session should be specifically targeted at what we do in the library.

Why does this not sit right with me?

As much as I appreciate and enjoy professional development opportunities related to my profession (teacher librarian) – and there is so much variety here since this role has an impressive array of hats – what I love most is an opportunity to be stretched, challenged and even surprised; to be reminded about the basic core of our jobs at school – LEARNING! – and to interact with people from different walks of life.

People who attend Teachmeets will know what I’m talking about. We hear from educators in different roles – primary, secondary, tertiary, from principals, heads of elearning, IT, program coordinators at museums, non-school libraries, and the such. You get what I’m trying to say. There is so much to learn from each and every speaker, regardless of their role, and that’s precisely because of the diversity of experiences. Sometimes a primary teacher will have a unique approach to teaching which a secondary teacher will not have thought of. I know that I have so many connections and ideas while I’m listening to these people. And the conversation following is just as valuable. How sad, how 2-dimensional, to receive professional development which is carefully measured, predictable and safe.

What would I be like if I stayed in my library, if I stayed in my school, my staff room, my neighbourhood?

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Schools can no longer provide students with a complete toolkit for their futures

Schools and unis can no longer provide students with the complete toolkit for their futures; now it’s about equipping them with skills to be lifelong learners.

Our students need self confidence, adaptability, and strong values

School’s task to develop people as successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Knowledge remains vital but it’s not enough. Success depends on deep understanding and having the skills to turn knowledge to useful effect. Deep learning and the development of skills is important.

The curriculum should not be a catalogue of content – things to be learned. Students should be building networks and developing collaboration.

Deep learning and development of skills are critically important.

In the modern world, the evidence needs to be increasingly in advanced transferable cognitive skill – critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

There is a new emphasis on learner engagement. There is the idea that the learner has to take responsibility for his/her own decisions and has to be involved in his/her progress.

All learning has to become more ambitious. We have our new mission statements. We share the objectives but nobody has yet made the breakthrough to real 21st century practice.

When will we stop talking about this and start taking apart an outdated, irrelevant system?

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We are not where we need to be for what we want to happen

Still following the mental thread from my last post. I’m feeling restless in my professional position at the moment, a mini crisis which is usually a part of preventing stagnation and breaking through to a better flow. I’m not sure if I can adequately explain it (feeling unwell) so what I’ll do instead is share talks and articles which have resonated.

First off, I revisited Charles Leadbeater’s old TED talk. This article reminded me of this.

And Charles’ more recent TED talk. The man can talk. If only I could communicate so well.

The piece by Richard Elmore has a standout phrase for me which is that ‘a progressive dissociation between learning and schooling’. This is very disturbing, particularly if you believe it. It makes me question everything we do in school. It makes me think that whatever assessment we have for teaching is ineffective. Do our compulsory self-evaluations for renewed registration mean anything? Isn’t it relatively easy to justify what we do using the relevant terminology? Isn’t it really about the students? When are we going to assess our teaching based on what our students really need in life? I can’t recall that conversation in any staff meeting or curriculum day program.

A ship in the harbour is safe but that’s not what ships are for – photo by Joel Robinson

You might think I’m being negative but I’m just breaking things up a little, thinking about what I could do, in my free space as teacher librarian, unfettered by marking and curriculum guidelines, to create wonderful, surprising, fun learning opportunities. Anyone join me?

I leave you with this.

Wait, another one. Many voices and much sense here.

 

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Should teachers make their students suffer? Let’s not show them how to do it.

Scott McLeod shares this video from Michael Pershan in his post ‘A Japanese approach to Khan Academy’.  Michael raises the question: why do US students lag behind their peers in many other countries?’ It seems that the US and Australian teaching styles – showing students how to do something and then getting them to practice over and over – is not the best way to teach. The video shows a Japanese teacher giving students maths problems and leaving them to work out how to solve them. Listen to the video, it’s very interesting. So all is not well with Khan Academy for this very reason, and it’s interesting to project the possibility of Japanese educators’ version of Khan Academy. Problem solving, not practising ad nauseam according to a prescribed model, is the suggested alternative. It would obviously work with numeracy but also with literacy. If our students are disengaged in our classes, this might be one of the reasons. Don’t you think? And while we’re at it, why not give our students real world problems? How involved can they be in something that doesn’t matter to anybody.

Diane Curtis’ post about project-based learning quotes Seymour Papert on the reason why students are turned off by school:

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong!” exclaims the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician, a pioneer in artificial intelligence. “Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

I know what I would prefer – being challenged with real-world problems rather than work from textbooks which are predictable and uninspiring. Recently our year 9s and 10s received iPads – as I’ve mentioned before – and sadly the focus has been on the technology rather than how teachers and students can use these mobile devices to teach and learn differently. So far it’s been more about learning how to use the iPads to do what we already do, and throwing in a couple of apps. Hmmm…. No wonder the general consensus from staff is not overly positive. My favourite aspect of one-to-one devices is the possibility of connecting with others. If iPads are mobile devices then we should be using them to reorganise the classroom or even take it outside. Why don’t we connect with others outside the classroom, perhaps globally? Sharing ideas, opinions, photos and created multimedia is surely more engaging than practising skills in a theoretical situation.

What do you think?

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