Tag Archives: passion

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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iPads in – score!

In my new role as coordinator of learning enhancement, I’ve been thinking about providing enhancement on several levels, and focusing on these in particular –

  • the provision of resources to help teachers provide opportunities for learning enhancement in their classes
  • the education of teachers to change their practice so that they realise the powerful potential of a personal learning network (PLN)
  • creating opportunities for passion-driven projects within the school

There have been a couple of major shifts already which I’m really pleased about. The first is the shift in ownership of my blog, Fiction is a box of chocolates. This year I have offered students who love writing to become co-authors of the blog. For me, this means stepping back to support these students from the back row, allowing them to drive and initiate the direction of the blog (which will have to be renamed as it increases its scope).

The second shift involves a move to introduce iPads into the classroom as tools for those who fall into the category of ‘learning enhancement students’. Now, don’t get excited. We’ve only agreed on purchasing a couple of iPads for the music faculty, but to me this a big win. I was pleasantly surprised that a meeting with those who call the shots with regard to technology in the classroom agreed to trial the iPads. The fact that one of our music teachers (Stuart Collidge) was completely on the ball with the potential of iPad technology made all the difference. Even in his initial thinking in an early email, it was clear that the iPads would definitely be an enhancement and not just extra technology:

As a conductor, I would have all my scores in it and work with it on the podium.  As a brass teacher, I would have all of my performance repertoire that I would use with students in the studio.  As an audio tech I have a bunch of apps that give me info about the room, acoustics, sound levels, remote controls for lighting and audio equipment.  The most use seems to be the iPad as an instrument.  The best uses are synthesisers and then using them to teach boys about synthesising sounds.  As they are so visually based and easy to manipulate, it would be a good way of involving students.  Some of the performance instruments invoke compositional ideas in different ways, and there are possibly ways of having individuals use them for performance projects.  Certainly some of the VET Tech Production students should be putting their hands on these and seeing how they can drive sounds, automate performance, run backing tracks, manipulate sound for performances. I guess my perspective is that for $1000 plus cost of apps, I can own 8 or 10 instruments that would be worth a grand each to buy.

I hope that if we start small but think deeply about the creative potential of the iPads, we can inspire teachers from other faculties. Meanwhile I will start purchasing and playing with apps from other areas of the curriculum – so far I’ve focused on music and art.

Listening to Ewan McIntosh’s interview with Gever Tulley confirms for me that the introduction of iPad technology is not gimmicky and that, as educators, we should get our hands on an iPad and play with it in order to understand its potential in class,and also put it into the hands of our students.

“Gever feels that we’re finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there’s a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

In effecting change at my own school, two main obstacles come to mind:

  • the discouragement of the use of students’ mobile technologies which would enhance their participation in and driving of their learning
  • the need for teachers to book the internet for each class if they intend to use it

Cost has been quoted as  the main reason for the internet connection restrictions. I can’t argue against this, but my problem with this setup is that teachers will book the internet primarily when students are doing a project. This divides learning into two  – no internet access while teachers ‘teach’ and students listen passively, and internet only when the teacher steps back so that students can get the work done.

I would like to see students actively using the internet to clarify and research information while the teacher is teaching. We really  need to give students the opportunity to think actively and drive their learning during class. I still see too much passivity in the classroom.

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Is depth an obsession? And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Is depth an obsession?

And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Obsession can lead to deep understanding, rich skills, the ability to write the truth or create beauty, as in the meticulous illustrations of Shaun Tan.

My son, Maxim, is obsessed with music and composition. You can listen to one of his recent compositions here.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the richness of image archives online. I could spend the rest of my life searching and saving the image sites shared on the blog BibliOdyssey.

Some of the amazing resources I’ve been discovering just this morning are:

Graphics Atlas

Beinecke Library’s photo sets on Flickr

Digital resources from the Knitting Reference Library WSA (how’s that for esoteric)

(even more esoteric) The Renaissance Curioso

Pratt Libraries Ex Libris collection on Flickr

Sometimes you have to go deep to get somewhere.  My concern is that we don’t allow for this at school. We’re hellbent on cramming the content and discrete skills in our curriculum into our students.

Teachers are often distracted by what they see as duty to cover criteria. Distracted from what, you ask? From what they might do if they had the time to think about it, if they functioned in an environment that encouraged and valued thoughtful experimentation.

But an internal voice urges us: Move on, move on…

There seems to be little or no time for our students to go deeper, no time to evaluate – let’s look at what we’ve done, could we have done it differently? No time to reflect: how do I feel about this? Does this affect me? and how? No time to celebrate – lets’ showcase what we have learned/created.

And what about us, teachers? Do we have the time to think about these things?

It’s different for me as teacher librarian (but then again it’s different for every teacher librarian). My focus isn’t marking, my driving force isn’t keeping up with the onslaught of face to face teaching.  I have time to learn, to absorb. Resourcing others’ curriculum allows me to browse, soak up what I find online. Focusing on information fluency encourages me to think about how different people learn.

When we want to reassure ourselves about the future of a young person, as educators, we say that he will be fine as long as he has one passion, something to feel empassioned by, to follow through. But do we create the environment which allows our students to find their passion? And do we provide the time to pursue this passion?

I’m afraid that we distract students by pushing them through a schedule we ourselves are not empassioned by. Are we, as educators, empassioned by what we teach? Or are we trying our hardest to cover material, texts, skill sets?

I may be speaking out of turn here, so please speak up if I am.

I think  teachers and students are in a difficult place.

Don’t you think we need a new reason to teach, a new model for schooling?

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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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What if you do it differently…

Photo courtesy of neloqua on Flickr.

Personally, I have much to be grateful for this year. One of the best things to happen is my younger son being accepted into Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School to specialise in music during his final 3 years of school. It gives me enormous pleasure to know that he will be following his passion for playing and composing music, and doing this in the company of equally passionate students and teachers.

The first newsletter arrived in the mail today, and I so loved reading the end-of-year reports by the principal, the heads of the music and dance departments. Even second-hand, I’m going to enjoy my involvement in this school as a parent. For example, in the principal’s commitment to the students is very inspiring:

If I have been a good role model, offered you good advice and created a good environment for you, that is a pleasing year’s work and one I am proud of. To my students, please have a well earned break, enjoy some family and social time. Read the letter I have written to each of you carefully when it arrives in your mailbox, think about it, but beyond some new year’s reflection, forget VCASS for a little. Well done everyone, I am, as always, proud of you!

I think you can guess where this kind of approach will lead. How will the students react when they feel appreciated, understood, supported and spoken to as individuals? I’m guessing they will want to do their best.

As I said in my last post, I’m reflecting and rethinking now that our long break has arrived. This can appear to be a lazy time, as we understandably try to relax and spend time with family and friends, but this is also potentially the most fertile time, when output diminishes and input increases. By input I mean reflecting and evaluating what we’re doing and what we want to do next year. You need space for that. And patience.

I hope to return to school with a renewed vigour and commitment to the students, and with a refined focus which has come from the distance from the everyday school routine which we all need more than we realise.

I’d like to finish this post with a quote from the same VCASS newsletter. This has been written by Steven McTaggart, Head of Contemporary Dance. Although it speaks to dancers, I think it has metaphorical significance for all of us.

It’s all about the movement not just the shapes you make.

Could you be more flexible, fluid, smooth, sustained, controlled, dynamic, exultant, extended, continuous or explosive?

How can we improve our actions?

What can we do from here?

Where does our body want to fall or move to next?

Could you do it slower, faster, backwards, upside down or in reverse?

What if you do it differently…

What if…

What if…

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Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)

Hmm…

Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.

Hmmm…

I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.

Interesting….

Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.

Hopefully…

And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

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Student bloggers speak out eloquently

On the blog Free resources from the net for special education Paul Hamilton has written a very interesting post sharing his views on student blogging in Jan Smith’s grade 6 class, and a video where he interviews his students about their blogging. If you have any doubts about the value of student blogging, then watch this video. You’ll meet students with different capabilities and interests, explaining what they have learned from blogging. They’re very expressive and specific about how their writing has improved with blogging – and not all of these students like writing. You’ll also notice that they’re able to focus on their special interests and passions in their blog writing, and you’ll see how much work they’ve put in with research and visual presentation, and how proud they are of their efforts. It confirms for me what I’ve been raving about of late – that learning occurs when it’s student-driven, passion-driven, and authentic, with an audience consisting not only of the teacher, but of peers and even people all over the world.

When I listened to the kids on this video talk about their blogging experiences, I was amazed at their ability to reflect and evaluate their learning since taking up blogs. They have become experts in their area of interest. Their passion has driven their depth of research, and they’re more likely to learn from each other than from information presented to them by their teacher out of context and unattached to people they know.

Listen to the girl who loves blogging. She describes blogging as ‘another part of me’.  She blogs outside of school hours because she loves it. When asked to explain why blogging is better than normal classroom writing, she lists the feedback (‘The whole world sees my writing’); the fact that she can speak out and let people know what she has to say, that she can write. What does she write about? What has happened. She writes about what she has read, what has happened in her life, and in the rest of the world.

Take a look at the video. If you jotted down the advantages of blogging as these kids speak, you’d have a decent presentation for principals or staff in general in defence of student blogging.

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